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’.


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.


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

  1. Rajmohan 12/01/2017 at 12:45 pm #

    Insightful comment. Thanks for sharing. Its time to research on white privilege and peace studies.

    • Conflicts≠Violence (@JohanGaltung) 13/01/2017 at 1:21 am #

      Needless to say, I did not come up with this rather humbling qualifier myself.

      Also there is nothing “mythical” about the reality of conceptualizing and initiating the first university level department of peace research in Europe. Read all about the experience from an autobiographical perspective here: Also, as I have often said on the record, at 86, pushing on 87 this year, I’ll gladly settle for Grandfather instead of “father” if that helps any.

      That said, you will find this contribution to the “parentS of the field” project at S-CAR rather informative: Both Kenneth Boulding and Elise Boulding were very dear and very close friends. The problematique you posit here never even crossed our minds. Ours was not competing about who came first, but how to cooperate most meaningfully in order to shed more light on the Peacemaking & Peacebuilding. We had quibbles and enjoyed them deeply.

      I have nowhere claimed that systematic thought about peace in human history starts and ends with my bibliography which I share with you here:

      Far more important in my view than “who started what” in my opinion, is the question about the depth, the extent and practicability of our contributions towards reducing cultural, structural and direct violence across social faultlines [ ] aka intersectionality and across borders and systems of intelligibility.

      See for an introduction to and overview of my thinking about the subject of PEACE which you seem to be equally concerned with. My hope is that you will find some of it enthralling.

      In closing, it may be of relevance to this conversation, that all of my work is firmly anchored on the principle “Peace by Peaceful Means” [as opposed to the absurd but mainstream Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum] coined by Gandhi, whose death I mourned deeply at the time when I was aged 18.

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