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Disaggregating hybridity: Why hybrid institutions do not produce predictable experiences of peace

Journal of Peace Research

Published online on


The term ‘hybrid’ has been widely incorporated into recent peacebuilding scholarship to describe an array of peacebuilding endeavors, including hybrid peacekeeping missions, hybrid criminal tribunals, hybrid governance, and the hybrid peace. However, while widely deployed, hybridity itself is under-theorized and variably applied by scholars. Major concerns arise, therefore, concerning the concept’s usefulness for peacebuilding theory, policy, and practice. Most problematically, while some scholars use hybridity descriptively to illustrate the mixing of international and local institutions, practices, rituals, and concepts, many today deploy hybridity prescriptively, implying that international actors can plan and administer hybridity to foster predictable social experiences in complex post-conflict states. This latter literature, therefore, assumes predictable relationships between the administration of hybrid institutions – of law, of governance, or of economics, for example – and the provision of peace-promoting local experiences of those institutions – experiences of justice, authority, empowerment, etc. This article argues that these assumptions are flawed and illustrates how a disaggregated theory of hybridity can avoid such errors. This theory distinguishes between four levels of hybridity – institutional, practical, ritual, and conceptual – characterized by their variable amenability to purposeful administration. The article illustrates how prescriptive approaches that assume direct and predictable relationships between institutions and experiences fail to recognize that concepts underpin local understandings and experiences of the world and, therefore, play a mediating role between institutions and experiences. Using examples from Sierra Leone, the article shows that while concepts are always hybrid, conceptual hybridity is inherently resistant to planned administration. As a result, internationally planned and administered hybrid institutions will not result in predictable experiences and may even result in negative or conflict-promoting experiences. The article illustrates the dangers of assuming any predictable relationships between the four levels of hybridity, and, therefore, between the administration of institutional hybrids and the predictable provision of positive local experiences.