Dr Stefan Bächtold

Research Fellow
School of Arts and Social Sciences

+603 5514 6000
Room 2-6-13

Orcid ID No:0000-0003-3852-8567

Stefan Bächtold is a research fellow at the School of Arts and Social Sciences. His background blends critical academic research with substantial experience as an evaluator, practitioner, and trainer in international development and peacebuilding in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

Stefan currently researches the interactions of digital technologies with the state in Myanmar and Malaysia against the backdrop of the global pandemic; combining approaches from the fields of international political sociology and science and technology studies. This builds on his PhD that critically analysed discourses, practices, and power structures in international development and peacebuilding interventions in Myanmar; but shifts the focus on digital technologies, and how they co-constitute societies and the political in Southeast Asia.

He has been a visiting research fellow at the Technical University of Munich (Germany), and an associate researcher at the swisspeace institute (University of Basel, Switzerland). For swisspeace, Stefan served as an in-country representative in Myanmar while working as an advisor embedded in a local civil society organisation; and as a program officer for the Peacebuilding Analysis & Impact program. In these functions, he advised, evaluated, and trained numerous institutions like the United Nations, the European Union, governments, (international and local) NGOs and civil society organisations. As an evaluator, Stefan specialises in evaluation methodologies, impact assessments, and collaborative learning processes for complex interventions and armed conflicts.


PhD in Political Science, University of Basel

MA in Sociology and Political Science, Universities of Fribourg and Bern

BA in Sociology, University of Fribourg

Research Interests

Stefan Bächtold’s research is mainly concerned with the technologies, discourses, practices, and interventions associated with social transformations and armed conflicts. This comprises professional practices and power structures in international development and peacebuilding; processes of state formation in the context of armed conflict; but also the political dimensions of digital technologies and their role in producing authority. His research is rooted in international political sociology, critical/post-structural and post-colonial approaches, but more recently also integrates elements of science and technology studies (STS).

Research Projects 

Digital Technologies and the State in Pandemic Times. Authority, Intervention, and Tech in Malaysia and Myanmar (2021-2024): Stefan’s current research project examines how digital technologies are challenging, but also performing and stabilising state authority in Malaysia and Myanmar against the backdrop of the global COVID-19 pandemic. He uses ethnographic methods to observe the complex assemblages of actors, technology, and discourses that stabilise and destabilise state authority in pandemic times; and contributes to a more nuanced understanding of how digital technologies are interacting with politics and power in Southeast Asia.

The role of new technologies in violent/peaceful societal transformations. Comparing digital interventions in Myanmar and Malaysia from a peacebuilding perspective (2019-2021): In this project, Stefan analysed how actors use new media and technologies to intervene in societal transformation processes in Myanmar and Malaysia, and how these technologies as actants shape these interventions in return. Adopting a critical approach combining discourse analysis, ethnographic methods, and elements of STS, this research project empirically ‘followed’ the practices and policies of intervention related to new technologies and media.

Managed pacification. Aid, peacebuilding, and the focus on results in Myanmar’s transition (2011-2016): For his Ph.D., Stefan analysed the discourses, practices, and power relations that are structuring peacebuilding and aid interventions in Myanmar and globally. He used extensive ethnographic field research in Myanmar and a Foucauldian understanding of discourse analysis to show how actors like bi-lateral donors, local civil society organisations, the Myanmar government, or international NGOs, constituted Myanmar as ‘in transition, and how this made the country amenable to the machinery of (best) practices, policies, and ‘solutions’ of aid and peacebuilding interventions. The result, he argued, was that this machinery technicised, de-politicised, and pacified political conflicts in Myanmar, rather than addressing them.

Academic journal articles

Bächtold, S. (2022). The smartphone and the coup. How Myanmar’s conflicts are entangled with digital technologies, policies, and violence. International Journal of Public Policy (in press).

Bächtold, S. (2021). Donor Love Will Tear Us Apart: How Complexity and Learning Marginalize Accountability in Peacebuilding Interventions. International Political Sociology, 15(4), 504-521. doi:10.1093/ips/olab022

Bächtold, S., J. Bastide, and L. Lundsgaard-Hansen (2020). Assembling drones, activists, and oil palms: Implications of a multi-stakeholder land platform for state-building in Myanmar. European Journal of Development Research, 32(2), 359-378. doi:10.1057/s41287-020-00267-y

Bächtold, S. (2015). The rise of anti-politics machinery: peace, civil society and the focus on results in Myanmar. Third World Quarterly, 36(10), 1968-1983. doi:10.1080/01436597.2015.1063406

Policy-oriented publications (selected)

Bächtold, S. (2021). Myanmar’s Coup and the Inevitable Return of the ‘Failed State’ Rhetoric. Oxford Tea Circle. Retrieved from https://teacircleoxford.com/2021/05/12/myanmars-coup-and-the-inevitable-return-of-the-failed-state-rhetoric

Bächtold, S., Fanta Ngom, K., & Ngalane, M. (2020). Policy Brief: Comment sécuriser le foncier au Sénégal. Zürich: HEKS/EPER. Retrieved from: https://en.heks.ch/Institutional_Governance#reports-factsheets-and-evaluations

Bächtold, S., Bastide, J., & Lundsgaard-Hansen, L. (2020). About drones, activists, and oil palms – power and inclusion in multi-stakeholder land platforms. PK Forum Blog. Retrieved from: https://www.pkforum.org/single-post/2020/06/11/about-drones-activists-and-oil-palms-power-and-inclusion-in-multi-stakeholder-land-plat

Bächtold, S. (2017). An eclipse of Myanmar's civil society? Berlin: Heinrich Böll Foundation. Retrieved from: https://www.boell.de/en/2017/07/05/eclipse-myanmars-civil-society

Bächtold, S., Gasser, R., Palmiano, J., Alluri, R. M., & Stein, S. (2014). Working in and on Myanmar: Reflections on a 'light footprint' approach. swisspeace working papers, (5/2014). Retrieved from http://www.swisspeace.ch/fileadmin/user_upload/Media/Publications/WP_5_2014.pdf

Bächtold, S., Dittli, R., & Servaes, S. (2013). Help or Hindrance? Results-Orientation in Conflict-Affected Situations. swisspeace working papers, (1/2013). Retrieved from http://www.swisspeace.ch/fileadmin/user_upload/Media/Publications/WP_1_2013.pdf

Research Grants

Bächtold, S., 2019: ‘The role of new technologies in violent/peaceful societal transformations: Comparing digital interventions in Myanmar and Malaysia from a peacebuilding perspective’, postdoc.mobility grant, Swiss National Science Foundation, CHF 68k.

Bächtold, S., 2015: ‘Managed Pacification. Aid, Peace, and the Focus on Results in Myanmar’s Transition’, Freiwillige Akademische Gesellschaft Basel, CHF 10k.

Bächtold, S., 2012: ‘Neoliberal pacification: Discourses on results-orientation in international peacebuilding and development’, associate scholarship, National Center of Competence in Research North-South (Switzerland).

Bächtold, S., 2011: ‘Enhancing legitimacy through evaluation? Implications of the

impact/effectiveness debate for peacebuilding practice’, DONOS start-up Ph.D. scholarship, University of Basel.

Areas of Research & Supervision

Stefan Bächtold is interested in supervising projects in the fields of peace and armed conflict, international development, social/political transformations, and the political dimensions of digital technologies.

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