The Hybridity of Liberal Peace: States, Diasporas and Insecurity

By Mark Laffey, and Suthaharan Nadarajah, SOAS, University of London.


Much contemporary analysis of world order rests on and reproduces a dualistic account of the international system, which is divided into liberal and non-liberal spaces, practices and subjectivities. Drawing on postcolonial thought, we challenge such dualisms in two ways. First, we argue that, as a specific form of governmental reason and practice produced at the intersection of the European and the non-European worlds, liberalism has always been hybrid, encompassing within its project both ‘liberal’ and ‘non-liberal’ spaces and practices. Second, through analysis of liberal engagement with diasporas, a specific set of subjects that occupy both these spaces, we show how contemporary practices of transnational security governance work to reproduce the hybridity of liberal peace. The article demonstrates the shifting conditions for local agency in relations and practices that transcend the simple dualism between liberal and non-liberal spaces, in the process showing how practices of transnational security governance also reproduce diasporas as hybrid subjects. The argument is illustrated with reference to the Tamil diaspora and the Sri Lankan state’s war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Keywords: liberalism, hybrid peace, diaspora, hybridity, postcolonial, dualism, Tamil, Sri Lanka, LTTE, terrorism, insurgency.


Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, much security analysis continues to adopt a dualistic account of the international system as divided into two distinct parts. On one side are a set of liberal states, including leading members of the international community such as the United States and the European Union, comprising a pacific order built upon the principles of liberal democracy, market economics, and the rule of law. On the other side are a large number of nonliberal states, many of them subject to instability, conflict and humanitarian crisis. The latter appear in policy practice and the scholarly research that informs it as peripheral to the liberal order at the core of the international system and as the major obstacle to its extension (e.g., Collier and Hoeffler, 2004). Although widespread in the literature, theoretically and empirically the separation of a peaceful liberal core from a violent and unstable non-liberal periphery is unsustainable (e.g., Barkawi and Laffey, 2001). The constitutive relations between liberal and non-liberal worlds are evident in contemporary security concerns about international migration (e.g., Adamson, 2006). The al-Qaeda attacks in New York, London and Madrid prompted greater awareness of ‘the presence within’ of dangerous non-liberal subjects and their potential for ‘extremism’ and ‘home grown’ terrorism; the periphery’s dangers were manifesting in the core. Indeed, even before the ‘global war on terror’ the presence in the liberal core of diasporas – migrant communities of people with continuing links to other ‘homelands’ (Clifford, 1994) – had already placed their members and practices on the international security agenda. Diasporas were linked to conflict, violence and insecurity in the periphery by a range of scholarly inquiries concerned with, for example, ‘long distance nationalism’ (Anderson, 1992), ‘external’ support for insurgencies (RAND, 2001), and networks of illicit trade, finance and migration. Consequently, diasporas have become targets, vehicles and bases for a range of security practices in ‘host’ states, ‘home’ states, and in between (e.g., Collyer, 2012).

Analysis of the transnational security governance of diasporas highlights the ways in which ‘liberal’ and ‘non-liberal’ spaces, subjects and practices together participate in the reproduction of liberal order. Building on this observation, in this article we argue that liberal order (‘liberal peace’) is hybrid, which we equate provisionally with miscegenation. The origins of hybridity lie in critical analysis of colonialism, its forms and its aftermath, particularly in Latin America and South Asia (Young, 2001). In context hybridity, like diaspora, is best understood as a ‘struggle concept’: it both describes but also intervenes in social reality, with diverse consequences for social analysis and political effects (Hennessy, 1996:219-221; cf. Clifford, 1994:310-315). Hybridity is not inherently emancipatory however: it depends on the historical and social context within which the concept is deployed (e.g., Alonso, 2005). Recent scholarship on relations between liberal and non-liberal worlds renders hybridity as a problem-solving social scientific concept equated with mixing or interaction (e.g., Mac Ginty, 2011). In contrast, we deploy hybridity critically and strategically in order to demonstrate the miscegenated character of liberal order, and indeed of liberalism itself. From its inception liberal governmentality (e.g., Rose 1999) has encompassed both liberal and non-liberal subjects and spaces, in Europe and its imperial and colonial extensions, generating practices and apparatuses of rule which are also hybrid in nature. Articulating liberal order as hybrid enables us better to recognise the constitutive role of diverse ‘non-liberal’ practices within it.

The hybridity of liberal order is reproduced in the transnational security governance of diasporas. Specifically, we show, first, how international security practices constitute diasporas in specific ways. Security practices directed towards diasporas are not merely the sometimes excessive responses to self-evident threats and problems posed by diaspora activity for domestic order or foreign policy goals but rather part of a globe-spanning transformative project of generating pacific liberal order. It is in relation to producing ‘peace’ and ‘stability’ in distant conflict spaces that diasporas – refugees, migrants, asylum seekers and their descendents – find themselves on the international security agenda. Diaspora members may hold German or Canadian citizenship but they appear on the terrain of international security primarily in terms of their links to, and posited impact on, their homelands. According to the specialist literature they can be either ‘warmongers’, ‘peace builders’ or both (e.g., Østergaard-Nielsen, 2006; Smith and Stares, 2007; Pirkkalainen and Abdile, 2009; Brinkerhoff, 2011). Such research, aimed explicitly at solving perceived policy problems, generates specific international responses with significant effects. For instance, the complexity of diaspora members’ subjectivities and practices, including their social, economic and political connections to their homeland and its contestations, are effaced by the dichotomy – order/disorder – inherent to liberal peace. Second, and simultaneously, international security practices act on and through diasporas to advance liberal peace in the periphery. In that sense, diasporas are not always a problem but also useful assets (e.g., Shain, 1999). Taken together, these practices reproduce diaspora as hybrid subjects, with significant consequences for diaspora agency. Relations between host states and diaspora communities are determined by the shifting relations between international security practices and often unpredictable events in the latters’ homelands rather than, say, the rights and privileges of citizenship. Terrorism proscriptions, for example, shape diaspora activism, disciplining and silencing insurgent supporters (‘extremists’) and empowering their opponents (‘moderates’) and constituting what is, and isn’t, legitimate ‘civil society’ activity. Articulated through the characteristic political forms of liberal order, diaspora agency is conditioned and made possible through these shifting representations, relations and intersections.

Foregrounding the constitutive and hierarchical relations between liberal and nonliberal worlds, this article is a contribution to the postcolonial critique of security studies (e.g., Barkawi and Laffey, 2006). Specifically, we engage an object – diaspora – integral to the critique of models, theories and histories which privilege (a particular conception of) Western experience and nation-state framings of global time and space. As a translocal object of analysis, diaspora challenges efforts to draw sharp lines between liberal and non-liberal worlds, inviting engagement with subjects and practices situated simultaneously in both. Building on Suthaharan Nadarajah’s fifteen years as a participant observer of the Tamil diaspora, our ethnographically-grounded analysis invokes the everyday experience of the diaspora and the hybrid modes of subjectivity produced as it is variously engaged – at ‘home’ and ‘abroad’, officially and unofficially – by the institutions and practices of liberal peace. Thus, our focus on diaspora enables recovery of the entangled global histories and geographies through which security and insecurity are produced in a postcolonial world (Hönke and Müller, 2012).

We develop our argument through analysis of the Tamil diaspora and the armed conflict between the Sri Lankan state and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), an exemplary case routinely cited in the literature. First, we elaborate an account of liberalism in the world as hybrid and clarify what we mean by this term.

Second, we outline Sri Lanka’s conflict and international interventions in it, and show how these illustrate the hybridity of liberal peace. Third, we consider post-Cold War liberal engagement with conflict zones and detail the ways in which diasporas have been represented in scholarship and engaged in policy practice. Fourth, we examine international security practices in relation to the Tamil diaspora before and after the end of Sri Lanka’s war and sketch the consequences for diaspora hybridity and agency. In a brief conclusion we summarise our argument and its implications.

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Suggested Citation:

Laffey, Mark and Nadarajah, Suthaharan, The Hybridity of Liberal Peace: States, Diasporas and Insecurity (October 19, 2012). Laffey, Mark, and Suthaharan Nadarajah. "The hybridity of liberal peace: States, diasporas and insecurity." Security Dialogue 43, no. 5 (2012): 403-420.. Available at SSRN:

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