Traditional Governance and Modern Statehood

PIKatharina Holzinger
FundingDFG, Reinhart Koselleck-Projekt
Period01.06.2012 - 31.12.2018

 Axel Bayer, Daniela Behr, Roos van der Haer, Clara Neupert-WentzRusen Yasar


In many states of the world, many people shape their lives according to traditional rules, principles, and customs. They arrange political matters according to customary law, solve their issues in customary courts, and draw on their traditional authorities for the provision of collective goods.

These traditional forms of governance co-exist with state institutions in many states. How they co-exist and how these traditional institutions influence the level of democracy and domestic conflict is relatively unknown. This is surprising considering the fact that this relationship might yield new insights into issues relating to the process of democratization and the occurrence of civil wars.

In this project, we will first conduct a worldwide macro-level quantitative analysis of the relationship between the scope of traditional institutions, their level of integration in state-level political institutions, and the level of democracy one the one hand, and domestic peace on the state-level on the other hand. The causal mechanisms underlying these linkages will, thereafter, be examined with a comparative case study design with a focus on African countries.

International Workshop on Traditional Governance and Indigenous Peoples 

In many states, ethnic groups and indigenous communities organize collective decision-making, service provision and jurisdiction according to traditional rules of governance. Traditional governance entails, for example, the selection of chiefs and elders, or rules and procedures for decision-making, customary law and dispute settlement, land allocation, marriage, and inheritance. These contemporary traditional forms of governance co-exist with political actors, as well as the institutions and laws of the state. There is great regional variation, however: while large shares of the population recognize and apply traditional forms of governance in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia or Latin America, traditional or indigenous governance is practiced by minorities in North America or Australia. In the workshop, we explored ongoing empirical research on contemporary traditional governance, indigenous institutions, and related political and socio-economic consequences. Participants had the opportunity to discuss their work extensively in a small group of 25 to 35 colleagues. Additional information on the workshop are available here.