Archive | January, 2017

The myth of Johan Galtung as the “Father” of Peace Studies

12 Jan

Everywhere I look, I see Johan Galtung proclaimed as the founder of Peace and Conflict Studies. Sometimes he is proclaimed as ‘a’ founder but often it is ‘the’ founder. It is on the back of multiple books and on flyers for upcoming lectures. There is even a book (co-authored by Galtung himself) entitled Johan Galtung:Pioneer of Peace Research . Indeed, it contains a chapter – also co-authored by Galtung – called ‘Johan Galtung – the Father of Peace Studies’.

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There is no doubting that Johan Galtung has been a significant figure in peace and conflict studies. But to proclaim him as the founder of the sub-discipline risks offending many scholars and activists who preceded him. It also speaks of an ego that – frankly – seems out of keeping with the epistemology and positionality that I associate with peace studies.

It is worth digging deeper into the history of peace studies and recognising that it has a long lineage that precedes him. If we take peace studies to be the systematic study of the conditions for, and character of, peace then Louis Fry Richardson was working on this during WWII. Richardson – a polymath – used his mathematical skills to model the precipitants of war and peace. Kenneth Boulding was publishing academic works on peace a decade before Galtung’s first publications. We could go back even further and mention the founding of the first chair in International Relations at the University of Aberystwyth in 1919, JM Keynes’ The Economic Consequences of Peace, and first peace studies undergraduate module in Manchester University in the US (sadly not my own institution, the University of Manchester in the UK) in 1948.

Even the concepts of positive and negative peace, perhaps the concepts most closely associated with Galtung, were explored well before his formulation became public. Quincy Wright and Fred Cottrell explored the issue in a 1954 publication. Galtung’s work on this came 10 years later.

Peace and conflict studies has many founders. It is difficult to think of it emerging as a sub-discipline without the work of Galtung, but I can’t be the only person who thinks this ‘Father of the discipline’ title as verging on the offensive to all of those other scholars and activists that preceded him. . Indeed, apart from being somewhat creepy and misogynist , the ‘Father of the discipline’ label suggests that sets of ideas can have a single author. I am quite sure that this is not the case. Ideas are social – they develop through conversation, exchange and working with (and sometimes against) others. Individuals might develop sets of ideas in a particular direction, but can an individual be the “Father” – that is the progenitor – of an idea. I think it unlikely.

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Northern Ireland and the disappearing voters

11 Jan

Northern Ireland faces elections to its power-sharing Assembly. The election was necessitated by the continuing lack of trust between the two main parties – Sinn Fein (mainly Catholic and pro-united Ireland) and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) (mainly Protestant and pro-United Kingdom). Quite simply, the two parties cannot stand each other. The terms of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement means that despite their enmity they are trapped in a perpetual marriage of convenience.

The marriage of convenience became too inconvenient for one of the parties (Sinn Fein) who walked away. They (rightly) accused their partners in government (the DUP) of being too arrogant in their handling of a case of mismanagement of large sums of public money and in their general attitude towards government and governance. But the wider issue is one of trust: trust that the main parties have in each other (near zero) and trust that the public have in these parties (declining).

There is an interesting (and not widely discussed) phenomenon in Northern Ireland: people are losing interest in politics. Northern Ireland was once known for having the highest turnout levels in UK elections. Turnout levels that would have made Saddam Hussein proud were once recorded as the sectarian-nationalist political parties stirred up their support bases. The Fermanagh South Tyrone constituency once recorded a 94 per cent turnout – an instance that presumably had a number near corpses shuffling into the polling booth. But something interesting has been happening – and it is in keeping with other post-peace societies: electoral turnout has been falling. People see no link between voting and change in their material situation.

In 1998, the elections to the new Northern Ireland Assembly experienced a 69.8 per cent turnout. This suggested mobilised communities who took seriously electoral politics (even if they did vote for sectarian-nationalist parties). But fast forward to the last Assembly election (in 2016) and turnout was 54.9 per cent. With fresh elections on the horizon it seems unlikely that turnout will increase markedly. Quite simply, people are disillusioned with electoral politics as they stand.

The terms of the Good Friday Agreement mean that the four main political parties dominate in a permanent oligarchy. In effect, Sinn Fein and the DUP dominate. The other two parties in the power-sharing Executive (the Ulster Unionist Party and the Social Democratic and Labour Party) lack the support and leadership to mount much of an opposition.

What will happen if the new elections go ahead? Even with reduced turnout and therefore declining legitimacy for the democratic process, Sinn Fein and the DUP will continue to be the largest parties and go back into a power-sharing Assembly and Executive. Despite the falling turnout and declining legitimacy, the media and the British and Irish governments will continue to take seriously political parties that have systematically turned people off politics. The system seems broken if a declining pool of voters reinforce the position of two parties who have drained the pool.