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Sarah von Billerbeck

Black and white photograph of Sarah von Billerbeck
  • Research Division Leader 
  • Programme Director for MA International Relations and Diplomacy
  • School Diversity and Inclusion Lead
  • Research Division Committee Member

Modules taught/convened:

  • Model United Nations (PO2MUN)
  • The Political Economy of Civil War (PIM62)
  • Contemporary Diplomacy (PIM66)   
  • Building Peace After Civil War (PIM80)

Areas of interest

My research has two main thrusts: first, United Nations (UN) peacekeeping, peacebuilding, and post-conflict reconstruction; and second, international organisations, in particular the UN, and legitimacy.

I recently completed a major project entitled 'Self-Legitimation by International Organizations,' funded by an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Future Research Leaders Award, in which I conducted a comparative study of internal legitimation in the UN, NATO, and the World Bank. One of the articles published from this project won the 2020 University Best Research Output Prize at the University of Reading.

I am currently working on further aspects of legitimacy in international organisations, particularly as they relate to communication, discourse, and organisational change, as well as the changing nature of international organisations in international society.

I am also co-Principal Investigator on a large ESRC-funded project entitled 'Democratization and United Nations Peacebuilding' with Oisín Tansey (King's College London) and Birte Gippert (Liverpool) (November 2018-October 2021) and on a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRCC)-funded partnership development project entitled 'Peacebuilding and Local Knowledge Network' with Benjamin Zyla (Ottawa), Katia Coleman (British Columbia), and Steffen Eckhard (Konstanz).

In 2017–18, I was Principal Investigator of a project looking at performance management in international organisations funded by the Folke Bernadotte Academy. I am currently developing a project on banking and peacebuilding and I am also interested in leadership of peace operations, multilateralism and peace operations, and methodological issues in studying the UN.

I have also extensively researched local ownership and UN peacekeeping operations, and my book on the topic was published by Oxford University Press in December 2016. I have also published numerous articles on other aspects of peacekeeping and international organisations. I am also regularly invited to speak on these topics to a variety of academic and non-academic audiences and groups.

Postgraduate supervision

I am happy to consider doctoral supervision on:

  • peacekeeping and peacebuilding
  • international organisations
  • the UN
  • legitimacy
  • civil war and post-conflict reconstruction.


I joined the University of Reading in 2015. Prior to that I was a lecturer in the Department of War Studies, King's College London. 

I previously worked for the UN peacekeeping mission in D.R. Congo (MONUC), the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia in Lebanon, the American Refugee Committee in Guinea, and the Institute of World Affairs in Washington, DC.

I am co-Director of the UN and Global Order Programme, established at the University of Reading in 2017, a member of the Folke Bernadotte Academy Research Working Groups, and a member of the Editorial Board of International Peacekeeping.

I serve actively in the International Studies Association, where I have been a member of the Executive Committee of the International Organisation Section (ISA) since 2016 and served as its 2020 Section Program Chair, and where I helped to establish ISA's first ever Pressing Politics Panels at its annual convention in 2018.

In 2018, I was a Visiting Research Fellow in the Department of International Development, University of Oxford. I am also a member of the Steering Committee Member of the Oxford Peace Research Network, University of Oxford, a Trustee of the Oxford Peace Research Trust, University of Oxford, and a Senior Fellow of the Weidenfeld-Hoffman Trust.

From 2015–20, I served as Reviews Editor for International Peacekeeping, and from 2013–19, I was an Associate Member of Nuffield College, University of Oxford.

At Reading, I have contributed to the development of online modules for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Diplomatic Academy and the Army Higher Education Pathway.

Academic qualifications

  • DPhil, University of Oxford
  • MS, Georgetown University
  • BA, University of California, Berkeley
  • Fellow, Higher Education Academy (FHEA)

Awards and honours

  • UN University and UK Mission to the United Nations Research Grant, 'The Unintentional Consequences of UN Engagement in Post-Conflict Settings,' 2021
  • Stabilisation Unit, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Research Grant, 'From Elite Bargains to Open, Inclusive Politics,' 2021
  • SSHRCC Partnership Development Grant, 'Peacebuilding and Local Knowledge Network', 2020–present
  • 2020 University Best Research Output Prize, University of Reading
  • ESRC Grant, 'Democratisation and United Nations Peacebuilding', 2018–present
  • ESRC Future Research Leaders Grant, 'Self-Legitimation by International Organisations', 2016–19
  • Folke Bernadotte Academy Grant, 'Senior Leadership Performance Management in International Organisations', 2018
  • Building Outstanding Impact Grant, University of Reading, 2018–21
  • John Fell Fund Grant, University of Oxford, Co-I, 'Building Peace that Lasts: How UN Peace Operations and Development Assistance Affect the Durability of Post-Civil War Peace', 2009
  • Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship, 2016 (declined)

Professional bodies/affiliations

Selected publications


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