The OECD’s discourse on fragile states: expertise and the normalisation of knowledge production

Nicolas Lemay-hébert, Xavier Mathieu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


The concept of legitimacy has been highly influential in policy recommendations concerning state building in ‘fragile states’. Indeed, depending on how ‘legitimacy’ is conceived, the actions and practices of state builders can differ substantially. This article discusses what is at stake in the conceptualisation of ‘legitimacy’ by comparing the academic literature with the normative production of the oecd. Looking at two approaches to legitimacy – the institutionalist or neo-Weberian approach focusing on institutional reconstruction, and the social legitimacy approach emphasising the importance of social cohesion for successful state building – the article shows that both these conceptions are present in most reports, but also that the neo-Weberian approach tends to prevail over the social legitimacy perspective. Through a series of interviews with oecd officials and scholar-practitioners who have participated in the writing process of oecd reports, we hint, finally, at future research avenues on the social conditions of knowledge production and its normalisation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)232-251
JournalThird World Quarterly
Issue number2
Early online date20 Mar 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • fragile state
  • OECD
  • knowledge production
  • legitimacy
  • state building


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