This article draws attention to the shortcomings of civilian peacebuilding, which donors, aid agencies and NGOs have adopted in their policies and projects in recent years. It argues that government-sponsored peacebuilding propagates a conception according to which peace can be achieved by bureaucratic means. Although peacebuilding is committed to what peace research considers positive peace, its discourses and practices tend to depoliticise peace. Hence, peacebuilding represents a top-down variant of liberal peace, the meanings, substance and causal beliefs of which are taken for granted and less and less debated among practitioners and policy-makers. Reviewing a growing body of literature that takes a critical stance towards peacebuilding, this article identifies some of the conceptual and ethical problems shared by contemporary peacebuilding activities. It calls upon policy-makers and peace researchers to pay more attention to the prescriptive and instrumentalist logic of peacebuilding and encourages academics to rejuvenate a critical peace research tradition that offers alternative and more participatory approaches to peace.