Towards a more comprehensive analysis of warlord politics: constitutive agency, patron-client networks and robust action

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Abstract

This paper serves as a critique against a recent American foreign policy formulation proposing to eradicate ‘warlordism’ and naively asserting that democratic institution can be directly created out of post-eradication anarchic chaos. Against this background, recent years have indeed seen a bourgeoning literature of ‘warlord politics’ in Southeast Asia. The majority commonly portray political actors as faithful followers of economic rationality and self-interest. Therefore, most are conceived as selfish predators who ruthlessly use violence for private gains at the expense of public interest. I therefore provide a critique of this version of warlord politics. By suggesting that comparative warlordism have been heavily influenced by the political economy perspective, I am going to develop a more comprehensive analysis of warlord politics.
Along the lines of patron–client network analysis, insights from moral economy and agency-structure sociological dualism are considered. Contrastive case studies will be used to illustrate how the alleged ‘warlords’ of Southeast Asia do not entirely fit into the political economy perspective. Caught in a vast patron–client network of competing interests and diverse powers across state and society, one’s agency is constantly constituted by discursive arrays of contending interests, juxtaposing rationalities and multiple intentions. In state building, this complication is regarded paradoxically necessary in compelling the alleged warlord-actor to redefine and elevate multiple private interests into public interest – the deployment of robust action.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-195
Number of pages22
JournalAsian Journal of Political Science
Volume16
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2008

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