Since the end of the Cold War, the West's attempts to intervene and reconstruct countries affected by conflict and other disasters have become increasingly politicised. The 'tools' for response have been expanded and strengthened by an increase in political elites' interest in the reconstruction industry. The resultant growth in funding and capacity-building activities has led to an unprecedented involvement of donor organisations, NGOs and other stakeholders in the affairs of recipient states. At the same time, many humanitarian agencies note an acute narrowing of the political space in which they operate.
Informed reflection is required to begin to make sense of these complexities. Studies of reconstruction have, despite being a critical issue for many years, long suffered from an acute disassociation between theory and practice on the one hand and academic and policy circles on the other. Recent events in Iraq and Afghanistan have exacerbated these problems, necessitating a thorough and, perhaps most pertinently, critical evaluation of both the state of the debate and the state of the art. This theme issue aims to contribute to such a process of reflection by drawing on evidence from reconstruction efforts undertaken in a wide range of local contexts.