Accepted paper:

International state-building and cultures of governance: the case of post-1999 Timor-Leste


Hiroko Inoue

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines international state-building in Timor-Leste and demonstrates the significance of local culture of governance. To grapple with the malleable and ever-contested nature of local culture, it posits state-building as an interactive process in which culture is formed and reformed performatively.

Paper long abstract:

This paper, by examining the case of international state-building in Timor-Leste, demonstrates the significant impact of local culture of governance on the local reception of state institutions, and elucidates a variety of factors that uphold the culture of governance. Fistly, the local culture of governance was heavily influenced by the nation's colonial past. Democratic state institution-building reflected post-colonial characteristics of political culture; electoral democracy was continuously projected with, and redefined through, the sense of nation-ness, which had a strong emphasis on unity over diversity. Secondly, like many other post-conflict societies, large parts of East Timor had maintained viable customary forms of governance based on a kinship community. Village institutions built in the post-1999 period therefore became an intersection where the 'universal' ideas of governance, such as democracy and gender equality, met 'traditional' norms of governance. Thirdly, the local subsistence agriculture-based economy was also a key component in the resilient local 'traditional' culture. State judicial institutions were not particularly active in rural areas due to conceptual gaps and lack of infrastructural backing. Lastly, and most crucially, the significant presence of the international community and the introduction of the neo-liberal market economy in post-1999 East Timor also brought about rapid change in the culture of governance, influencing the local society's relationship with state institutions. In short, informed by the history of colonialism and embedded in socio-economic structures, the local culture of governance had significant implications for the way in which local society engaged with the state.

panel P143
Of the local, in the global: discussions on movement, development and governance