Source: (2006) Journal of Contemporary Asia. 36(1):75-.

The aim of this article is to explore options for public administration in weak states that lack experience of a self-generated state development process. The article commences with a review of the state development process in pre-historic times. Drawing on weak state writings and sociological theory, and with reference to the state development process as it unfolded in Europe, a critical examination of dominant prescriptions for state-building is then undertaken. Based on the sociological information considered, it is proposed that state-building strategies that may be appropriate for societies with experience of state social organisation and the administration of large surpluses, may be inappropriate for societies which have experienced no internally-generated change in the direction of state social organisation. Yet countries characterised by these later kinds of societies, referred to in this article as new subsistence states, by nature possess a range of local administrative mechanisms capable of operating independently from the state in accordance with the principles of "traditional authority." These local administrative mechanisms have no reliance on the centralised accrual and management of large surpluses for their operation. It is argued--with a particular emphasis on the areas of justice and conflict resolution - that sustainable public administration in new subsistence states will be advantaged by the formal recognition and integration of such local capacities. The article considers recent analysis of developments in the Pacific, and draws on research indicating the effectiveness of local justice and conflict mediation systems in East Timor. (excerpt).