chapter  10
Twisted legitimacy?
Leadership, representation, and status in traditional and fragile societies
ByJacqueline Wilson
Pages 20

Although the concept of legitimacy is generally linked to the role of a state and state institutions, fragility and violence may facilitate unexpected sources and manifestations of legitimacy. This chapter introduces the concept of ‘twisted’ legitimacy, whereby legitimacy is conveyed to or claimed by non-state actors, and legitimacy may actually be used for malign intentions rather than on behalf of the common good. It proposes that the concept of legitimacy may have very different meaning in fragile contexts, and explores twisted legitimacy in greater depth within two case studies, one of Nuer prophets in South Sudan, and a second within a changing community of Bedouins in Egypt. It concludes that practitioners/scholars require a more nuanced understanding of legitimacy for more successful peacebuilding efforts in fragile or violent contexts.

This chapter introduces the concept of 'twisted' legitimacy, whereby legitimacy is conveyed to or claimed by non-state actors, and legitimacy may actually be used for malign intentions rather than on behalf of the common good. It explores that nuance and complexity. The chapter focuses on perspectives of legitimacy in environments where the presence and influence of the state is weak, or in traditional settings where customs and traditions may define and frame legitimacy in ways that differ from more modern societies. It examines and compares components, characteristics, and bases of state legitimacy in the accepted use of the term, in contrast to places where state fragility is very high and other forms of legitimacy are likely. The chapter also explores specific cases of non-state legitimacy in several developing and fragile contexts, including the case of two prophets in South Sudan, and that of a Western anthropology scholar embedded within a traditional, conservative community in a changing society.