Thesis (Ph.D)

There is no Afghanistan - the historic indeterminacy of Afghan sovereign identity


This thesis considers how we conceptualize the meaning of state failure with reference to specific so-­‐called failed states. The term implies certain prescriptions in an era of nation-­‐building projects, and as such imposes certain identity aspects on any state labeled as failed. Yet the specific histories, experiences and political culture of those states must also have meaning – not only in understanding how the current conditions came to be but also in understanding how and why we are able to talk and think about that state in whatever particular ways we do. The importance in this is that much of the academic and policy conversation around state failure takes into account the former, but not the latter. Accordingly, this project will focus on the specific case of Afghanistan. This country is largely seen as a very straight-­‐forward example of classic state failure. Yet it displays attributes which are quite different from many of those often assumed in both liberal and critical scholarly literature. Further, Afghanistan has a long history of interaction with the West, which this thesis analyses in episodic detail by way of critical discourse analysis. Analysis is leveled on narratives and discourse on Afghanistan through five historic encounters – the First, Second and Third Anglo-­‐Afghan wars, USSR-­‐US competition in Afghanistan during the Cold War, and the post-­‐September 11 intervention. This analysis suggests that Afghanistan has been assigned a certain indeterminacy in its character through the course of those interactions to the extent that assumptions of statehood which necessarily predate state failure are problematic. This project contributes to academic knowledge by bringing a careful deconstructive treatment to the notion of “state failure”. Through the recognition of binaries underpinning the narratives on Afghanistan specifically and its place as a “failed state” generally, this thesis seeks to disrupt certain “settled” knowledges about state failure too often taken for granted in liberal and critical approaches to state failure alike.

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Szarkowski, Shane C.


Supervisors: Browning, Gary; Managhan, Tina

Oxford Brookes departments

Department of Social Sciences, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences


Year: 2017

© Szarkowski, Shane C.
Published by Oxford Brookes University
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