book cover SeverineA discussion with Séverine Autesserre, Saltzman Institute Member and Assistant Professor of Political Science, Barnard College

Peaceland suggests a new explanation for why international peace interventions often fail to reach their full potential. Based on several years of ethnographic research in conflict zones around the world, it demonstrates that everyday elements – such as the expatriates’ social habits and usual approaches to understanding their areas of operation – strongly influence peacebuilding effectiveness.

Individuals from all over the world and all walks of life share numerous practices, habits, and narratives when they serve as interveners in conflict zones. These common attitudes and actions enable foreign peacebuilders to function in the field, but they also result in unintended consequences that thwart international efforts. Certain expatriates follow alternative modes of thinking and doing, often with notable results, but they remain in the minority. Through an in-depth analysis of the interveners’ everyday life and work, this book proposes innovative ways to better help host populations build a sustainable peace.

First review of the book: International Peace Institute’s Global Observatory


“In this book, Séverine Autesserre makes another superb contribution to the study of peacebuilding, this time by exposing and analyzing the subculture of expatriates who participate in peacebuilding efforts on behalf of a diverse array of international and nongovernmental organizations. Many of the persistent dysfunctions of peacebuilding missions, she suggests, can be traced back to the routine practices, habits, and narratives within this subculture. It is a fascinating argument, of importance to both students and practitioners of peacebuilding.”
Roland Paris, University Research Chair in International Security and Governance, University of Ottawa


“Scholars and practitioners have needed an ethnography of peacebuilding for quite some time – and Autesserre is one of the very few equipped to provide it. Having spent years in different conflict zones, as both an aid worker and a scholar, she knows the terrain like few others. She expertly re-creates how peacebuilders live and practice their craft; how these practices contribute to failures on the ground; and why peacebuilders, who should and do know better, seem to be incapable of changing their ways. In showing how the culture of this transnational community constructs and acts on the local scale, she does for peacebuilding what James Ferguson’s The Anti-Politics Machine did for development studies. Peaceland is a pathbreaking contribution to our understanding of the contemporary practice of peacebuilding – and global politics.”
Michael Barnett, University Professor of International Relations and Political Science, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University


“Thanks to its empirically thorough, interpretively sophisticated, and analytically rich understanding of practices of intervention, this book raises the bar of academic research for the whole discipline of International Relations. Based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork in the hardest of theaters, Séverine Autesserre makes the definitive proof that paying attention to the ways in which the everyday world of international intervention goes around throws a distinctive and most useful light on a central phenomenon of our time. This book is the best thing that could possibly happen to foster the study of international practices.”
Vincent Pouliot, Associate Professor and William Dawson Scholar, Department of Political Science, McGill University, and Director, Centre for International Peace and Security Studies


“In this groundbreaking inquest, Autesserre builds on her previous work on the Congo to show the vital significance of ‘doing’ peacebuilding from the ground up, with sustained attention to the local dynamics of conflict. The number of case studies investigated, the originality of her methodology, the breadth of supporting evidence, and the range of arresting insights are among the principal merits of this outstanding contribution. One can only hope that it will be widely read by peacebuilders everywhere, but also by scholars, journalists, and policy wonks in search of a new angle of vision for making “Peaceland” a reality.”
René Lemarchand, Emeritus Professor, University of Florida


“Essential reading for practitioners, policy makers, and donors involved in international interventions in conflict areas. Drawing on her worldwide field experience, Professor Autesserre’s comprehensive research offers new perspectives on how and why interveners should develop a thorough understanding of the local history, culture, and customs of populations in conflict zones. Much can be learned from her critical insights as we endeavor to assist those populations in danger.”
Catherine Dumait-Harper, Former MSF Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders Representative to the United Nations


“In recent years peacebuilding has become something of a vogue in international circles. So Séverine Autesserre’s book is a timely and well-reasoned reminder for all would-be peacebuilders and the organizations that stand behind them that they need to be prudent and patient in both their prescriptions for peace and the way they go about trying to achieve them. Good intentions are not enough.”
Alan Doss, Senior Political Advisor, Kofi Annan Foundation