Tag Archives: Peace Studies

The projectisation of Peace and Conflict Studies

6 Dec

When I survey the field of Peace and Conflict Studies I see a lot of ‘project work’. By that I mean journal articles, books and other forms of dissemination that arise from funded projects. This work is often interesting, relevant and sheds light on issues and places that hitherto were neglected. While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with project work, I often feel that it lacks the concept and theory-building that really drives a field forward. It tends to report findings from fieldwork or evaluations and often concludes with policy recommendations. It tends to be (and maybe I say this because it is bleak mid-winter) a bit dull, samey and lack the big claims and arguments that seek to push debates and disciplines into new places.

Looking back, I can think of works that have been really influential to me in the study of Peace and Conflict*, and they tended to be works that arose from the authors sitting back and thinking. They were works that pushed boundaries – conceptually, theoretically and epistemologically. Certainly, these works were grounded in the real work of practice or fieldwork – but they had something else. They were making an argument, trying to break out of established ways of thinking, coining new terminology and typologies, and were making linkages with other disciplines. They were books written – from start to finish – without having to jump through hoops that a funder has demanded.

None of this is to be ungenerous to project work. Work grounded in funded projects is often of the highest standard and can make advances in terms of theory, concepts and methodology etc. But project work usually has to serve its ultimate master first – the funder of the project. And project funders – whether from the academic or policy worlds – are increasingly interested in impact. And this impact often has to be demonstrable, quick and easily translated into a vlog or visualisation. The danger is that the academic conducting the funded research has little time left over – after putting together the proposal, conducting the research, and reporting the findings – to sit back and reflect on the wider conceptual or theoretical avenues that follow the research. It takes a special kind of discipline to grind empirical findings, policy recommendations and wider lessons that contribute to our study of Peace and Conflict out of the same project. The political economy of academia means that many academics have to look for the next funded project just as the current one ends.

I should say – very clearly – that I have benefited in the past from work that has been funded by research councils and others. And I hope that I might benefit from their largess in the future. I am grateful for their support. It has enabled me to go places – intellectually and physically – that I otherwise would not have been able to go. Perhaps, most importantly, it has allowed me to work with people that I – ordinarily – would not have been in contact with. What I find very difficult to do, however, is to break out of the strictures of a project (for example its reporting requirements) and engage in the original thinking that I hope would contribute to shaping the discipline of Peace and Conflict Studies. There are a few donors out there who do encourage concept and theory-building and they are to be celebrated.

When I survey Peace and Conflict Studies I do think that it is a bit stuck at the moment. Apart from some interesting work on complexity theory (nod to Cedric de Coning and others) I do not see the blue skies thinking, original critiques, and concept-building that marked out the discipline 20 years ago. I find this odd because our concepts and vocabulary are clearly having difficulty grasping and explaining situations of chronic non-state violence in Mexico, or discourses of peace in a post-truth era, or the status of the liberal peace when the erstwhile champions of the liberal peace don’t even pretend to advocate liberal internationalism anymore. These big questions – and many more – seem unaddressed yet the ‘narrow gaze’ of project work abounds.

* Here I am thinking of work by John Paul Lederach, or Cynthia Enloe, or Mary Kaldor, or Oliver Richmond’s The Transformation of Peace (that kicked off the whole critique of the liberal peace), or Taiaiake Alfred’s Indigenous Manifesto ….

The closure of INCORE

25 Sep

I am really disappointed to hear about the effective closure of INCORE at the University of Ulster and the redundancies of three members of the Politics Department there. INCORE (the Initiative on Conflict Resolution and Ethnicity) was established by the late John Darby – a truly far-sighted and humane scholar who was interested in the comparative lessons between peace processes.
I note that – as with the redundancies at the Department of Politics in Surrey – the managerial “academics” always seem to keep their jobs but the front-line teaching staff lose theirs. Has there ever – in the history of any university – been a case of a Dean losing his/her job due to “re-structuring”?
INCORE gave me my first job (twenty years ago) and was a vehicle for some really great research (on peace processes, social attitudes, reconciliation). It will continue in name but given the number of redundancies not in practice. Investing in education and research – especially in a society like Northern Ireland that lacks effective reconciliation – is a no brainer. Dis-investing in education – which seems to be the University of Ulster strategy – is not only harmful to the University but to the society itself.
There is a wider issue too. Dis-investment in one part of the social sciences is a dis-investment in all of it. We are seeing a new wave of cross-disciplinary research in which there are really fruitful collaborations between different social science disciplines. It is as though we are at quite a pivotal moment in methodology and epistemology whereby increasing numbers of scholars from across the social science disciplines are realising the potential of lending and borrowing from each other. An attack on one part of the social sciences is an attack on all of the social sciences.