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.


About psforum

Student Led Forum at the University of Bradford to explore issues around the meaning and impact of Peace Studies as an academic discipline, on research and policy, local and international communities and activism.
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3 Responses to Reflections on what Peace Studies is or might be

  1. Searching on Peace is an uneasy task but when we really want to find out what may generate what troubles peace, we can go beyond the psychology of the human being.
    It is inside the human body that everything starts even though the surrounding environment influences.

  2. “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?”

    Peace studies is rhetorically vague and empty, acquiring meaning only within specific social and cultural contexts. The concept of peace, in and of itself, is shaped and guided by a myriad of values, beliefs, and ideas that are often contradictory and incongruent. Regardless of what peace is, there is one connatus within the field that transcends all distinctions, peace studies is virtuous. Virtue is its power; nothing more, nothing less.

    Although virtue opens the discursive terrain, people, academics in particular, have a tendency to try and establish boundaries around fields, such as peace. We also like to prop ourselves up as gatekeepers to the ‘field’, whether by definition or category, resulting in the lose of the essence of peace – its virtue.

    Regardless of the breadth of studies that fall within Peace Studies, there is one one word that captures the field better than any, and that is virtue. So, perhaps we ought to consider changing it to Virtious Studies, instead of using the convoluted, morally bankrupt, and rhetorically vague discourse of peace?

    So, other questions one might ask before considering the field of peace studies is to ask:

    What does the whole field of peace practice look like?
    Where do I fit in?
    What are the potential career pathways for someone that has studied ‘peace’?
    Can’t I just major in one of the disciplines listed below that resonates more clearly with what I actually want to do?

    A graphic, developed by John Paul Lederach, professor of international peacebuilding, and Katie Mansfield, peacebuilding network coordinator, is a response to questions about the field and a desire to advance understanding of peacebuilding practice beyond the focus of its many specialized subfields. It illustrates the field’s main components and subcomponents and their relationship to each other.

    I couldn’t post the graphic, but imagine a circle. The inner circle highlights the three major areas of strategic peacebuilding:
    1) efforts to prevent, respond to, and transform violent conflict;
    2) efforts to promote justice and healing; and
    3) efforts to promote structural and institutional change.

    The outer circle highlights sub-areas of practice and career focus within those three areas. For each of these sub-areas, a variety of individual career pathways emerge. For example, the following are career pathways taken by Kroc Institute alumni (many careers could be included in multiple categories):

    Restorative Justice
    Addressing historical and ongoing harms against indigenous people
    Community-based restorative justice
    National restoration processes (addressing historical structural harm)
    Prison system reform
    Transitional Justice
    International Criminal Court or tribunals
    Justice to address mass atrocity and human rights
    National and local justice processes

    Trauma Healing
    Child soldier reintegration
    Collective community healing
    Refugee resettlement and services
    Trauma therapy and counseling/social support
    Victim support and reparations

    Humanitarian Action
    Crisis health care and social services
    Human rights protection and monitoring
    Humanitarian advocacy and law
    Humanitarian emergency response
    Information management for relief operations
    Public health work related to structural and physical violence

    Government and Multilateral Efforts
    Civil-military relations
    Demobilization and disarmament
    Intergovernmental organizations
    Peace processes
    Policy analysis and implementation
    Post-conflict reconstruction

    Nonviolent Social Change
    Active nonviolence
    Community organizing, mobilization or social action/movements
    Issue-based educational campaigns
    Minority and marginalized empowerment and civil rights advocacy

    Dialogue / Conflict Resolution Strategies
    Arts-based approaches to social transformation
    Conflict monitoring and early warning
    Cross-cultural contact programs
    Inter-faith, inter-ethnic, and intercultural dialogue
    Language interpreting or teaching
    Local peacebuilding institutes and training
    Mediation or dispute settlement
    Violence prevention or resolution

    Adult and civic education
    Applying gender lenses to peace and conflict
    Building peaceable schools
    Educational reform initiatives
    Investigating cultural and structural violence
    Leadership development and training among historically disadvantaged groups
    Service learning
    University-based peace studies/ peace education/ peace research
    Vocational schools

    Economic development
    Gender equality work
    Housing and urban development/redevelopment
    Human and social development
    Local and international development
    Microfinance and small business development
    Strengthening democratic institutions and participation
    Sustainable development, sustainable agriculture

    Dealing with Transnational and Global Threats
    Corruption and organized crime
    Cultural and structural violence
    Economic and social injustice
    Environmental degradation and climate change
    Gender exclusion and gender-based violence
    Genocide and mass violence
    Human rights violations
    Human trafficking
    Imperial domination
    Nuclear and small arms proliferation
    Poverty, hunger and homelessness

    Law: Advocacy and Solidarity
    Family law and domestic violence protection
    Human rights law
    Immigration law, immigrant services and education
    Indigenous cultural preservation, solidarity and rights
    International law and policy work
    Labor and employment law/protection
    Land issues
    Migrant justice, migration and human trafficking
    Work with youth: Child protection, rights, services

    M. W. King, Ph.D.

  3. Pingback: Asking some important questions « IG’s Peace Blog

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