The Semantics of Contemporary Statebuilding: Kosovo, Timor-Leste, and the ‘Empty-Shell’ Approach

Nicolas Lemay-Hebert

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The international conception buttressing the set up of international administrations in Kosovo and Timor-Leste was closely intertwined with the semantics of statebuilding displayed at this time. The concept of ‘empty shell’ came to represent the mental image practitioners shared concerning the local context following the two conflicts and was ipso facto transformed into an operative approach. This chapter aims to analyze this international conception – dubbed here the ‘empty shell approach’ – by clarifying how the UN came to impose its authority over the two territories in a very similar process. While the literature on each statebuilding experiment is vast and compelling, few authors have attempted to contrast the two case studies, especially regarding the mental conception and the semantics informing the governance process of these territories since 1999. After defining and detailing the ‘empty-shell approach,’ the chapter looks at the operational approach related to this specific semantics of statebuilding, that is the ‘more is better approach.’ Finally, the chapter analyzes the limits of the ‘empty-shell approach’ through the specific example of the justice reform in Timor-Leste.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSemantics of Statebuilding: Language, Meanings and Sovereignty
EditorsNicolas Lemay-Hebert, Nicholas Onuf, Vojin Rakic, Petar Bojanic
Number of pages15
ISBN (Print)978-0-415-81729-5
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2014

Publication series

NameRoutledge Studies in Intervention and Statebuilding
PublisherDavid Chandler

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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