IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

The Concept, Causes and Consequences of Failed States: A Critical Review of the Literature and Agenda for Research with Specific Reference to Sub-Saharan Africa


  • Jonathan Di John

    (Univeristy of London, SOAS, London)


This article provides a critical review of recent literature that has attempted to define what a ‘failed state’ is and explains why such states emerge. It is argued that aggregate indices of ‘failure’ are misleading due to the wide variations of capacity across state functions within a polity. The focus on ranking states also distracts attention away from analyses concerning the dynamics of state capacity. Moreover, many of the definitions either compare reality to a Weberian ideal, or assume that violence is ‘development in reverse’, both of which are ahistorical and unhelpful as a guide to policy. The second part of the article assesses the contributions of functionalist, ‘new war’ and neo-Tillean approaches to explain state failure. The article finds that while these theories take concrete historical situations seriously, they have important theoretical and empirical shortcomings. Finally, the conclusion outlines an agenda for further research.Cet article offre un examen critique de la littérature récente cherchant à définir ce qu’est un État défaillant, ainsi que les raisons donnant lieu à leur émergence. Il considère que les indicateurs agrégés permettant d’établir qu’un État est défaillant sont tous trompeurs en raison de la grande variation qui peut exister au sein d’un même État quant à sa capacité à assurer ses différentes fonctions. Il est souligné que les classements détournent l’attention des analyses portant sur la dynamique variable de la capacité des États. Plusieurs approchent comparent, de plus, la réalité avec un idéal weberien, ou bien supposent que la violence est une forme de développement « à l’envers », ce qui constitue une présupposition anhistorique et inutile du point de vue de l’aide à la décision. La deuxième partie de l’article se penche en particulier sur les contributions fonctionnalistes, du paradigme des « nouvelles guerres », ainsi que des approches basées sur les théories de Charles Tilly. Bien que prenant en compte les réalités historiques, ces différentes approches ont toutes des points faibles, tant théoriques qu’empiriques, et la conclusion de l’article se base sur ces derniers afin d’élaborer un agenda de recherche futur à propos des États défaillants.

Suggested Citation

  • Jonathan Di John, 2010. "The Concept, Causes and Consequences of Failed States: A Critical Review of the Literature and Agenda for Research with Specific Reference to Sub-Saharan Africa," The European Journal of Development Research, Palgrave Macmillan;European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes (EADI), vol. 22(1), pages 10-30, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:pal:eurjdr:v:22:y:2010:i:1:p:10-30

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    File Function: Link to full text PDF
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

    File URL:
    File Function: Link to full text HTML
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Christopher F Baum & Mark E. Schaffer & Steven Stillman, 2003. "Instrumental variables and GMM: Estimation and testing," Stata Journal, StataCorp LP, vol. 3(1), pages 1-31, March.
    2. Andrea Goldstein & Nicolas Pinaud & Helmut Reisen, 2006. "The Rise of China and India: What's in it for Africa?," OECD Development Centre Policy Insights 19, OECD Publishing.
    3. Peter Egger & Michael Pfaffermayr, 2005. "Trade, Multinational Sales, and FDI in a Three-factor Model," Review of International Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 13(4), pages 659-675, September.
    4. Mahvash Saeed Qureshi & Guanghua Wan, 2008. "Trade Expansion of China and India: Threat or Opportunity?," The World Economy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 31(10), pages 1327-1350, October.
    5. Garth Frazer & Johannes Van Biesebroeck, 2010. "Trade Growth under the African Growth and Opportunity Act," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 92(1), pages 128-144, February.
    6. Lionel Fontagné & Guillaume Gaulier & Soledad Zignago, 2008. "Specialization across varieties and North-South competition," Economic Policy, CEPR;CES;MSH, vol. 23, pages 51-91, January.
    7. Christopher F Baum & Mark E Schaffer & Steven Stillman, 2002. "IVREG2: Stata module for extended instrumental variables/2SLS and GMM estimation," Statistical Software Components S425401, Boston College Department of Economics, revised 09 Feb 2016.
    8. Arslan Razmi & Robert Blecker, 2008. "Developing Country Exports of Manufactures: Moving Up the Ladder to Escape the Fallacy of Composition?," Journal of Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 44(1), pages 21-48.
    9. Christopher F Baum & Mark E. Schaffer & Steven Stillman, 2007. "Enhanced routines for instrumental variables/GMM estimation and testing," CERT Discussion Papers 0706, Centre for Economic Reform and Transformation, Heriot Watt University.
    10. Gaulier, Guillaume & Zignago, Soledad, 2004. "Notes on BACI (analytical database of international trade). 1989-2002 version," MPRA Paper 32401, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    11. Alemayehu Geda & Atnafu Meskel, 2008. "China and India's Growth Surge: Is it a curse or blessing for Africa? The Case of Manufactured Exports," African Development Review, African Development Bank, vol. 20(2), pages 247-272.
    12. Kaplinsky, Raphael & Morris, Mike, 2008. "Do the Asian Drivers Undermine Export-oriented Industrialization in SSA," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 36(2), pages 254-273, February.
    13. Alemayehu Geda & Haile Kebret, 2008. "Regional Economic Integration in Africa: A Review of Problems and Prospects with a Case Study of COMESA," Journal of African Economies, Centre for the Study of African Economies (CSAE), vol. 17(3), pages 357-394, June.
    14. Barry EICHENGREEN & Hui TONG, 2006. "How China is Reorganizing the World Economy," Asian Economic Policy Review, Japan Center for Economic Research, vol. 1(1), pages 73-97.
    15. Frank Kleibergen & Mark E Schaffer, 2007. "RANKTEST: Stata module to test the rank of a matrix using the Kleibergen-Paap rk statistic," Statistical Software Components S456865, Boston College Department of Economics, revised 24 Jan 2015.
    16. Lall, Sanjaya & Albaladejo, Manuel, 2004. "China's Competitive Performance: A Threat to East Asian Manufactured Exports?," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 32(9), pages 1441-1466, September.
    17. S.M. Shafaeddin, 2002. "The Impact Of China´S Accession To Wto On The Exports Of Developing Countries," UNCTAD Discussion Papers 160, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
    18. Lionel Fontagne & Soledad Zignago, 2007. "A Re-evaluation of the Impact of Regional Agreements on Trade Patterns," Economie Internationale, CEPII research center, issue 109, pages 31-51.
    19. Kaplinsky, Raphael & Messner, Dirk, 2008. "Introduction: The Impact of Asian Drivers on the Developing World," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 36(2), pages 197-209, February.
    20. Bezuidenhout, Henri & Naude, Wim, 2008. "Foreign Direct Investment and Trade in the Southern African Development Community," WIDER Working Paper Series 088, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    21. Barry Eichengreen & Yeongseop Rhee & Hui Tong, 2004. "The Impact of China on the Exports of Other Asian Countries," NBER Working Papers 10768, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    22. Justin Barnes & Mike Morris, 2008. "Staying alive in the global automotive industry: what can developing economies learn from South Africa about linking into global automotive value chains?," The European Journal of Development Research, Taylor and Francis Journals, vol. 20(1), pages 31-55.
    23. Mario Biggeri & Marco Sanfilippo, 2009. "Understanding China's move into Africa: an empirical analysis," Journal of Chinese Economic and Business Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 7(1), pages 31-54.
    24. Humphreys, David, 2008. "World Investment Report: Transnational Corporations, Extractive Industries and Development, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Geneva, (2007). 323 pp., $90 (developed countri," Resources Policy, Elsevier, vol. 33(3), pages 175-177, September.
    25. Raphael Kaplinsky & Amelia U. Santos-Paulino, 2006. "A disaggregated analysis of EU imports: the implications for the study of patterns of trade and technology," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 30(4), pages 587-611, July.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Lopez-Uribe, Maria del Pilar & Castells-Quintana, David & McDermott, Thomas K. J., 2017. "Geography, institutions and development: a review ofthe long-run impacts of climate change," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 65147, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    2. David Castells-Quintana & Maria del Pilar Lopez-Uribe & Tom McDermott, 2015. "Climate change and the geographical and institutional drivers of economic development," GRI Working Papers 198, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.
    3. Theodore Ahlers & Hiroshi Kato & Harinder S. Kohli & Callisto Madavo & Anil Sood (ed.), 2014. "Africa 2050: Realizing the Continent's Full Potential," Books, Emerging Markets Forum, edition 1, number africa2050, August.
    4. repec:eur:ejisjr:106 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Singh, C. & Bedi, A.S., 2012. "‘War on piracy’: the conflation of Somali piracy with terrorism in discourse, tactic and law," ISS Working Papers - General Series 543, International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam (ISS), The Hague.
    6. Leo de Haan, 2010. "Perspectives on African Studies and Development in Sub-Saharan Africa," Africa Spectrum, Institute of African Affairs, GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Hamburg, vol. 45(1), pages 95-116.
    7. repec:kap:porgrv:v:17:y:2017:i:4:d:10.1007_s11115-016-0351-5 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:pal:eurjdr:v:22:y:2010:i:1:p:10-30. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Sonal Shukla) or (Rebekah McClure). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.