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Research agenda

    Our network’s research agenda seeks to foster effective security and rule of law assistance by producing empirically-based, policy-relevant insights into how structures of local urban governance might interact with a plurality of local security providers in ways that deliver improved security outcomes for citizens. This approach privileges a bottom-up perspective, challenging both conventional state-centric security and rule of law assistance and local policymakers to better engage with modes of security provision that people view as legitimate and effective.
    The March 2014 roundtable identified guiding research questions for the network that have been clustered below around four main areas of interest: envisioning “success”, the multiple roles of plural security providers, the political and statebuilding implications of plural security provision, and legitimacy and ethical engagement.


Envisioning “success”

  • What constitutes “successful” engagement with plural security providers? Who decides what kind of security is provided, and for whom? Is it necessary to problematize the implicit preference for a formal state monopoly of violence?
  • Does “successful engagement” with plural security providers constitute an end-state, or a stop-gap measure?
  • How can “successful engagement” be understood in contexts where plural security actors provide protection for local populations against the state? In contexts where individuals and actors migrate back and forth between state and non-state domains?
  • If citizen security can be indicative of social stasis or inertia, what are the implications of “successful engagement” for long-term human development outcomes?
  • Are there illustrative anecdotal experiences of constructive local government engagement with plural security providers that can be analyzed for policy-relevant insights?


The multiple roles of plural security providers

  • What is the political economy of plural security provider linkages with transnational actors? How do they affect, and how are they affected by, illicit trade and markets, and how does that relationship impact the violence of security outcomes?
  • What are the internal characteristics of plural actors (ex. consistency, predictability, internal cohesion, command structures) that can be used to identify viable partners for constructive local government engagement?
  • What is the role and impact of the commercial private sector in relation to plural security provision?


The political and statebuilding implications of plural security provision

  • Is it possible for local governments to forge pacts or deals with plural security providers to reinforce positive citizen security outcomes and, ultimately, state authority?
  • How might local governments negotiate implementation of innovative approaches to plural security provision that are incongruent with the policies of other orders of government?
  • How can public resources be utilized in ways that enable poor and marginalized communities to realize their collective interests within complex security markets and a fractal security governance landscape?
  • What are the implications for engagement with plural security providers of understanding local government as just one actor in a panorama of local governance, and within the context of multi-level governance?
  • Can competitive statebuilding have a positive effect on citizen security and governance outcomes?


Legitimacy and ethical engagement

  • How does the consent of the population in relation to security provision (understood as “legitimacy”) evolve in contexts of chronic violence?
  • How do local understandings of groups’ legitimacy change over time, and how are adjusted social expectations brought to bear on plural actors (“social contract from below”)?
  • What is the impact of plural security provision on state-society relations, and under which circumstances can plural security provision strengthen or undermine those relations?
  • Can the popular sanction underpinning plural service provision offer sources of legitimacy that might be harnessed for bottom-up statebuilding?
  • How can vulnerable constituencies, such as women and girls, youth, suspected and convicted criminals, and households with insecure land tenure, advocate for and realize their rights in the context of plural security provision?
  • What are the ethical implications of engaging plural security providers? Is it possible to “do no harm” or mitigate unintended consequences?


    This emerging field of study is highly relevant to both the policies and programmes associated with international security assistance (including security sector reform, stabilization, peacebuilding, etc.) and the public safety and security policies of local governments in contexts of fragility. Comparing findings across cases will work to advance theory that explains different patterns and detects commonalities. The ultimate aim of this research is to apply these insights to praxis and policy, developing an action agenda to support local public servants and international policymakers to respond more effectively to the reality of plural security provision in urban settings.