Causes of and Solutions to Social Conflicts in Contexts of Weak Public Institutions or State Fragility

The thematic module Social Conflicts puts the emphasis on conflicts that result from particular types of deficiencies of public institutions, state fragility and the different variations of governance capabilities, as well as on ways and means for mitigating such deficiencies and reducing or avoiding conflicts.

photo collage Social Conflicts 


The research module focuses on three areas and the interactions between them: social conflicts; weak public institutions; and state fragility.

Conflicts, in the context of the r4d programme, can be violent or non-violent. They may range from inter- and intrastate wars to lower intensity violent conflicts, civil unrest and primarily non-violent social conflicts that undermine state capacities.

Weak public institutions involve settings in which political and/or social institutions are highly dysfunctional or have even collapsed. Such settings may range from failed states to war-torn societies in the process of rebuilding a political system to settings characterised by endemic corruption, strong inequality and a high degree of political instability.

State fragility involves a lack of institutional, organisational and financial capacity to perform basic state functions in governing population and territory. State capacity is achieved through political processes that foster and reinforce constructive relations within society and between the state and society. Enhanced state capacity, if achieved and exercised in democratic ways, strengthens state legitimacy and contributes to state resilience.

The three main research topics of the module are:

  • Political reconstruction and democratisation processes in fragile and conflict-prone states
  • Conflicts over scarce natural resources, with a focus on water issues
  • Chronic causes and consequences of state fragility and weakness of public institutions



Review Panel

  • Professor Dr. Dirk Messner, Director of the Institute for Environment and Human Security, United Nations University (UNU-EHS) (Panel President)
  • Dr. Ana Elisa Cascao, Center for International Studies - University Institute of Lisbon, Portugal
  • Professor Dr. Francisco Gutiérrez Sanín, Instituto de Estudios Políticos y Relaciones Internacionales, Universidad Nacional, Bogotá, Colombia
  • Professor Dr. Katharina Michaelowa, Department of Political Science, University of Zurich, Switzerland (SNSF Delegate)
  • Dr. Norbert Ropers, Peace Resource Collaborative, Chulalongkom University and Institute of Peace Studies, Prince of Songkla University, Bangkok, Thailand 
  • Nils Rosemann, Focal Point Conflict and Human Rights, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Berne, Switzerland (SDC Delegate)
  • Professor Dr. Gerald Schneider, University of Konstanz, Germany
  • Dr. Marjo de Theije, Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Vrije Universteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands 

Research Network



The 3 projects in the thematic module Social Conflicts started in 2014. They represent transnational research partnerships between 12 countries and Switzerland, involving 17 grantees.


26-27 September 2016, r4d Forum 2016 Social Conflicts, Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern, Switzerland (see events page)


 Ongoing projects



Ethnic Power Relations and Conflict in Fragile StatesEthnic Power Relations and Conflict in Fragile States
Fostering Pluralistic Memories and Collective Resilience in Fragile Transitional Justice ProcessesFostering Pluralistic Memories and Collective Resilience in Fragile Transitional Justice Processes
The Gender Dimensions of Social Conflict, Armed Violence and PeacebuildingThe Gender Dimensions of Social Conflict, Armed Violence and Peacebuilding

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