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Research The Groningen Research Institute for the Study of Culture (ICOG) Research Research centres Centre for International Relations Research (CIRR) Chair Group on History and Theory of International Relations

HTIR colloquium - WERNER DISTLER: 'Enforcing Unity in the (Internationalized) Making of the Post-Colonial State'

When:Th 01-06-2023 16:00 - 18:00
Where:Room T12, Turftorenstraat 21

Research colloquium of the theme group History and Theory of International Relations.

For further information, contact Dr. Tilman Lanz: t.lanz


Why and how have international, domestic, and communal actors enforced ideas and practices of unity in the making of post-colonial states, despite considerable internal conflicts on identity and diversity? How has the threat of not achieving such unity, the threat of “falling apart”, shaped statehood in these societies?

These questions are at the heart of the study. Decolonization, even in the narrow understanding as the decolonization of territories and the struggle for self-determination of communities, is by far not a finished endeavor, with many unresolved or re-emerging conflicts between self-determination movements and central authorities in post-colonial states - legacies of the late colonial period.

The study focuses on a particular context of state-making in decolonization, namely cases with a substantial involvement of the United Nations, and offers a theory-guided, empirically rich analysis of two cases and the particular prominent role of imaginations of “unity” in these processes, namely the long-winding decolonization of Papua New Guinea (independence in 1975) and of East-Timor (independence in 2002).

The presentation will focus on the case of Papua New Guinea. Theoretically, the research adds to studies with a critical, post-Weberian focus on stateness, and suggests a conceptual operationalization from Critical Security Studies, arguing that the process of state-making is often shaped by negotiations and struggles against specific threat constructions.

I will illustrate the argument with reflections on the dynamic process of stateness in the Australian administered Joint Territory of Papua and New Guinea after the Second World War (with the territory of New Guinea under UN trusteeship mandate), which was predominantly driven by the threat construction of the “lack of national unity”, particular in the political process of deciding the “right” time for independence.

Archival sources from the 1950s until the mid-1970s offer a comprehensive insight in the general and rising distress by key political agents in various political colonial and post-colonial arenas, preceeding conflicts still visible today.