Peace Studies As Sustainability: Human Security on a Shrinking Planet

by Nicholas B Robson, CSCM, MA

Peace Studies has always been about human security and I write this from the perspective of what may await us in the years ahead. I have spent the last three years researching and writing a report on the necessity of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Arctic Communities adopting modern, low carbon energy policies, and developing their on energy resources and energy security. I quickly realised that in researching energy one cannot ignore climate change as the two are inextricably linked, and in researching climate change one quickly realizes the potential conflict triggers inherent in all these areas. Climate change may very well lead to water security issues, which in turn impinges upon food security. Climate change and warming temperatures lead to sea level rise from (a) expansion and (b) melting ice caps and glaciers. This in turn may well lead to massive refugee flows and may also cause some SIDS to disappear completely. Climate change is also inextricably linked to economic growth and as Tim Johnson said in  ‘Prosperity without growth? The transition to a sustainable economy’ ‘every society clings to a myth by which it lives. Ours is the myth of economic growth. For the last five decades the pursuit of growth has been the single most important policy goal across the world. The global economy is almost five times the size it was half a century ago. If it continues to grow at the same rate the economy will be 80 times that size by the year 2100. This extraordinary ramping up of global economic activity has no historical precedent. It’s totally at odds with our scientific knowledge of the finite resource base and the fragile ecology on which we depend for survival. And it has already been accompanied by the degradation of an estimated 60% of the world’s ecosystems.‘  As Kenneth Boulding stated “Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist”. We have, to quote Richard Heinberg, in his soon to be forthcoming book The End of Growth,  ‘We must convince ourselves that life in a non-growing economy can be fulfilling, interesting, and secure. The absence of growth does not necessarily imply a lack of change or improvement. Within a non-growing or equilibrium economy there can still be continuous development of practical skills, artistic expression, and certain kinds of technology. In fact, some historians and social scientists argue that life in an equilibrium economy can be superior to life in a fast-growing economy: while growth creates opportunities for some, it also typically intensifies competition—there are big winners and big losers, and (as in most boom towns) the quality of relations within the community can suffer as a result. Within a non-growing economy it is possible to maximize benefits and reduce factors leading to decay, but doing so will require pursuing appropriate goals: instead of more, we must strive for better; rather than promoting increased economic activity for its own sake, we must emphasize whatever increases quality of life without stoking consumption. One way to do this is to reinvent and redefine growth itself.‘

I think the most important practical problem, which may be more of an engineering challenge than a scientific one, is to build economically viable nuclear fusion power stations, as well as all the other alternative technologies, wind, solar (photo-voltaic and solar-thermal), geothermal, tidal and small distributed nuclear such as the Toshiba Westinghouse 4S and the Travelling Wave reactors. All of the reactors have very low proliferation risk, with the Travelling Wave burning depleted uranium. If we haven’t dealt with our world’s increasing appetite for energy by the end of this century, I think we will be in very deep trouble indeed. Brian Cox, physicist and researcher on the Large Hadron Collider, stated in an interview (with Stephen Hawking) reported in the Guardian Sept 11 2010 “I share that view, that the provision of clean energy is of overwhelming importance“. On November 9th the International Energy Agency (IEA) released their 2010 World Energy Outlook, which admits that Peak Oil is inevitable. According to the IEA, from now until 2030 the world oil consumption will rise by about 60%. Transportation will be the fastest growing oil-consuming sector. By 2030, the number of cars will increase to well over 1.25 billion from approximately 700 million today. Consequently, global consumption of gasoline could double.  This will affect all sectors of society, including the world’s armed forces, it has been suggested that the US military get ready for tomorrow’s challenges, that their Department of Defense ensure that it can operate all of its systems on non-petroleum fuels by 2040. This 30-year time frame reflects market indicators pointing toward both higher demand for petroleum and increasing international competition to acquire it. However, apart from the energy security implications, the climate change consequences do not bear thinking about. The continued output of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere may also lead to a drastic decline in ocean life caused by the acidification of the planet’s oceans. Ocean acidification refers to the ongoing decline in oceanic pH resulting from the uptake of atmospheric CO, and this will start affecting the lowest end of the food chain first which in turn will reach throughout the oceanic food chain. “Ocean acidification is widely viewed as an emerging threat to coral reefs,” said Rosenstiel School graduate student Rebecca Albright. “Our study is one of the first to document the impacts of ocean acidification on coral recruitment.” Albright and colleagues report that ocean acidification could compromise the successful fertilization, larval settlement and survivorship of Elkhorn corals. Given that seafood makes up a large part of the diet of many countries this has a serious implication for global food security. Overall, 1 billion people around the world rely on fish as their primary source of protein With ocean acidification we may see a decline in fish catches with dire consequences for many nations that rely on the ocean for much of their protein. The author was recently in Victoria, Mahé, Seychelles and was impressed by the vast range of fish on sale in the local market. On a small island with very little land on which to conduct agriculture a drop in their fish catch would be disastrous. The same applies to Arctic communities and SIDS globally. The other looming problem is water security. Today Reuters had an article reporting on farmers in Yemen leaving their land and moving to the city as the country grapples with a drying climate, a rapidly growing population and falling water tables. All of these growing resource shortages are exacerbated by a lack of sustainable practices. The results in years to come could either be conflict, or we can try and implement sustainability and prevent conflict from arising. Therefore to me, besides the prevention and resolution of conflict, peace studies can, at a very basic level, be about sustainability and human security.

Nicholas B Robson, CSCM, MA

Director-General – Cayman Institute

Advisory Committee Member – Many Strong Voices

Chief Coordinator – South Asian Strategic Stability Institute

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Peace Studies Forum Friday October 1st

You are warmly invited to participate in ‘BEYOND THE IVORY TOWER: does Peace Studies make a difference?’ The first in a series of Student-Led Forums looking at Peace Studies in the Twenty-First Century which takes place on Friday October 1st 2010, at the Student Central Building, University of Bradford from 9-5pm.

This is a free event but registration is required.  The registration form is available to download through this link – Peace Studies Forum Invite .

Please return the form to us at peacestudiesforum at

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What does Peace Studies Mean to you?

We’ve begun several discussions and reflections “what Peace Studies is” for a change of pace Roberta stopped three peace studies PhD students at the University for their impromptu response to Peace Studies is….

Paul Rogers has also reflected on What Peace Studies is about (especially at Bradford) on You Tube.

What do you think Peace Studies is?

Please respond in any format: videos, photos, quotes, text, audio…

Watch out for Roberta and Benita and their video camera around the University of Bradford campus to answer the question What is Peace Studies? as we prepare for our forum event on 1st October.

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Peace Studies is…?

by Roberta H. Maschietto

As pointed out in previous posts, the substance of Peace Studies constitutes one of the challenges of its consolidation as a discipline. This challenge is related to both the meaning of “peace” as well as to the understanding of what “study” entails.

I would like to briefly explore three issues in this post.

First, what’s the fuzz about the ontological discussion? Do we need a clear definition of ‘peace’? My background in International Relations just makes me think that defining the object of a discipline is probably a never-ending process and this is not necessarily a weakness. It is actually amazing that the label International Relations is still used when some of the objects of study are far from inter-‘national’. Still, I don’t think anybody would diminish the relevance of this field of study and its actual influence in the shaping of our lives in direct or indirect ways. So, if ‘ok’ for IR, why ‘bad’ for Peace Studies?

Of course, the ‘need’ to define the boundaries is a constant in sciences in general. Looking back, I can easily remember the pages where Hans Morgenthau, in 1948, tried so hard to define the boundaries of what he would call “International Politics” and why this was different from Law, Economics, etc. Still, some of the issues that are classically put under the umbrella of IR were also stressed by James O’Connel while summarizing some of the mains topics covered in Peace Studies in 1984 (notably, arms control and the nuclear issue). Of course, it can be argued that the approach is different. But the object of reference is not.

On this, it should be questioned what is the relevance and what the purpose of discipline boundaries. The way social sciences are organized today is not a smooth and uncontested issue and a look into history would at least raise doubts about what may seem a clear rationale today (see, for instance, Wallerstein 2005, or Foucault, 2004). Further, even if a clear distinction existed between social science disciplines’ domains, reality takes place within multiple dimensions and what drive human behaviour is not circumscribed by the ontological conventions of academic disciplines. Peace (and conflict) permeates different domains of social reality. In my view, one of the strengths of Peace Studies is precisely the fact that, contrary to IR, it openly embraced multidisciplinarity since the beginning. By doing so, it simply embraced the complexities of real life, instead of trying to frame reality within artificial boundaries. In other words, if a lack of consensus of the meaning of ‘peace’ makes our (academics’) lives more difficult, it is a very efficient reminder that “that’s how social reality is” and an ‘elegant theory’ quite often is just not as efficient as elegant!

This leads me to the second point: what about “studies” in the Peace Studies? The issue of multidisciplinarity brings us to the deepest epistemological discussion on what are the ‘correct’ ways to produce knowledge as well as the more normative question of what’s the purpose of knowledge in the first place.

Allow me again a parallel with IR. When Morgenthau was writing Politics Among Nations, in the 1940s, not only was he concerned with the definition of boundaries of what would later be IR, but also with the recurrence of patterns in history and what is so much praised in mainstream social sciences: objectivity.

As my PhD colleague Heather so clearly pointed out in her post, quite often PS academics are criticized because of the clear expression of their normative values. It would be naive to expect that an epistemological consensus would ever rise in Social Sciences (it never did in Philosophy, which is much older…), but it should be at least recognized that there is no clear objective criteria to state that a non-normative[1] theoretical approach to social reality is more efficient that a normative one.

Whichever our epistemological preference, if our commitment is to a better understanding of social phenomena, we should at least be open to seriously consider the qualities of alternative ways of researching in social sciences. A different posture would risk the consolidation of dogmas or disguised forms of theology within science.

Here I come to the third and last point. I have no doubts that a ‘consensus’ on what ‘peace’ or Peace Studies means would make the academic work in the area much easier and consistent. But because such a task is at least extremely difficult, it does matter to at least acknowledge and, if possible, understand, the varieties of meanings underneath the labels.

Ultimately, people (organizations, states, etc.) will act in accordance to what they perceive as being the meaning of these labels. And ‘peace’ (and even ‘studies’ – or ‘science’, for the matter) varies not only in the historical context, but also geographically, as Galtung (1981) pointed out years ago.

For me, Peace Studies is a project which entails multiple ways to analyse human relationships and the factors that influence these relationships to move towards oppression (violence) or liberation. It does so because it is driven by the concern with human beings’ liberation from any kind of oppression (including oppression from their inner selves).

What is Peace Studies for you?
What is the first thing that comes to your mind?


Booth, Ken (2007). Theory of world security. Cambridge Studies in International Relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Morgenthau, Hans J.[1948] (1993) Politics among nations: the struggle for power and peace. New York; London : McGraw-Hill.

Galtung, Johan (1981). Social Cosmology and the Concept of Peace. Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 18, No. 2, Special Issue on Theories of Peace (1981), pp. 183-199.

Foucault, Michel (2004). Society must be defended. Edited by Mauro Bertani and Alessandra Fontana. Translated by David Macey. Penguin.

Wallerstein, Immanuel (2005). World systems analysis. An introduction. Duke University Press.

O’Connel, James (1985). Towards an understanding of concepts in the study of peace. In: O’Connel, J. & Curle, A. (1985). Peace with work to do. New Hampshire: Berg Publishers.

[1] I actually prefer the word ‘radical’ over ‘normative’. As argued by Ken Booth, “Normative is unsatisfactory for two reasons: first, all international theory has normative implications, either in a weak or strong from; and second, to call some theorising normative just because it is explicit about its values plays into the hands of those who want to claim that somewhere there is a class of international relations theory that is neutral” (Booth, 2007: 59).

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Key Questions for Peace Studies

This is a space to post your questions about the meaning of PEACE STUDIES IN THE 21ST CENTURY.

These can be questions  that you would like guests or panel to think about on the day. Or questions that feed into the ongoing discussions regarding the redefinition of Peace Studies and the future of Peace Studies, and the building process of the Peace Studies agenda.

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Reflections on what Peace Studies is or might be

by Mel Rohse

To start with, I just want to say that I don’t intend here to do a survey of what topics have been researched so far or may be researched under the name of Peace Studies. A good start for anyone interested in this would be to look at Alger (2000). Rather, I want to reflect on what Peace Studies is and its status as an academic discipline and try and identify some questions that may be important to consider for peace researchers.

Since March, a group of students in the Peace Studies department (Uni. Of Bradford) has been meeting to discuss issues around peace research methodology, if indeed there is such a thing. We found ourselves grappling with a very wide range of issues but a question that keeps coming up is: What is Peace? How do we define it? We must acknowledge that there has been a range of definitions, often contradictory, throughout history. So can we ever agree on a definition? I don’t know. And the words of Andrew Murray in his introduction to the special issue of Peace Review on the future of Peace Studies seem to go with this idea too. He writes conversations and debates amongst peace researchers tend to come to the same conclusion, “that in the context of Peace Studies it is not possible to articulate a focus or to identify a methodology beyond the generic ‘to make a better world by whatever method or methodology is appropriate.’” (Murray, 2002)

I’m actually not sure that the question of giving a definition of peace for everyone to agree on is the most relevant. Rather, I believe that the crucial thing is to have these debates about what peace means and these conversations to unpack our individual understandings of peace. In that sense, “what is peace?” becomes a guiding question for a journey, an exploration of what peace might be that peace researchers should engage in as a community. I think it is an important task for peace scholars to take on as it is part of defining one’s identity as such scholar. A peace researcher should be able to account for how his/her research contributes to peace and an exploration of what peace might be can only precede this.

Another thing that has struck me in my conversations with colleagues is the debate surrounding the normative objective of Peace Studies. When reading Adam Curle and James O’Connell inaugural lectures to the Peace Studies department (at Bradford), they both seem to make the assumption that there is an agreement on the normative project of Peace Studies. Indeed, compared to other discipline, Peace Studies is distinctive in its claim of being both academic and practical. This is very much reflected in the mission statement of the department of Peace Studies:

We combine empirical, theoretical and applied research with sustained engagement at international, regional, national and local levels to analyse, prevent and resolve conflicts and develop peaceful societies. We aim for an enabling environment for international research excellence involving diverse and critical approaches.

Peace Studies is rooted in academia but clearly has an objective of going beyond academia to promote a peaceful society. Again, I strongly believe that it is necessary for peace researchers to discuss the question of normative aim so particular to Peace Studies. There is a danger here of assuming that because we research peace we sign up to the normative objective. However, there are many ways of doing normative research and these need to be uncovered.

I know there are many other questions around what Peace Studies is but I hope this will be a good starting point for conversations. I do look forward to hearing from you guys about the points raised here…

Mel Rohse – Peace Studies Research Student

Alger, C. (2000) Challenges for Peace Researcher and Peace Builders in the Twenty-First Century. International Journal of Peace Studies 5(1)

Murray (2002) Introduction to the Special Issue: ‘The Future of Peace Studies’. Peace Review, 14(1), 5-6.

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Activism vs. academia?

by Heather Blakey

This question comes up a lot when we’re talking about the impact of academic work, so we thought it would be an interesting one to talk about here.

There is a definite fear that activism means we are ‘biased’ in some way, that we won’t be doing ‘independent’ or ‘objective’ research.

I think though that everyone does research for a reason, and it’s totally compatible to be motivated to do research for reasons of social justice or wanting to change something. In fact, it’s just being honest about our motivations and intentions – everyone has them!

This is not to say that research is compromised by that – it’s still possible to be an ethical and honest researcher, but be driven by the hope of change.It is a activist statement to return our findings to the people that we’ve worked with, and in a form that’s practically useful, just as it is to research with people collaboratively, rather than doing research ‘about people’. I’m sure there are many ways of being an activist-academic – but I definitely think that it is compatible with being a good academic, that being an activist OR a good academic is not a choice we have to make.

I think activism in research can be present when we choose what research to do and how, when we choose who to work with and how, when we choose how to disseminate our research and who to, and whether we move on or remain committed to the people and places affected by the work we’ve done: in fact all the places where our motivations and values as a researcher inevitably show up, whether we acknowledge them or not.

Also, I think that being an activist-academic is about seeing academic work as a collective project – one contribution to the struggle for social justice – rather than a competitive, individual effort.

That’s one reason I think the Peace Studies Department is important. Obviously, activist academic work happens in lots of places – but there is something unusual and important in a whole department set up with what I would call activist aims. In Adam Curle’s inaugural lecture, he described the motive for establishing Peace Studies as an intellectual and practical field as helping to create a world “in which we are not separated from each other by fear, suspicion, prejudice, or hatred; in which wse are free and equal, considerate and loving with each other”.

I think this is what Peace Studies should be about – applied research to make a difference to the world. When I think of it like that, I wonder how Peace Research can be anything but activist?

What do you think…?

Heather (current Peace Studies PhD student)

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