Do Peace Studies Reach Out, Including Others?

EDITORIAL, 10 May 2010

#111 | Johan Galtung

Some personal reflections on some personal experiences: it depends on how we conceive of peace studies.  Three key points:

*being transnational carries a message: no nation-civilization has a monopoly on peace theory and practice, including the West;

*being transdisciplinary carries a message: no science or group of sciences has a monopoly on peace theory and practice;

*bridging theory and practice carries a message: the test is in the practice, like in conflict resolution and peace building.

The first point is problematic for those who see the West in general, and the USA in particular, as the carriers of peace theory and practice, and may lead to political problems.

The second point is problematic for those who see a social science, and international studies in particular, as the carrier of peace studies, and may lead to academic turf problems.

The third point is problematic for those with ready-made peace policies in need of no re-examination, and may lead to communication problems across many divides.

There is a way of avoiding such problems: adopt a Western, not global platform, be mono-disciplinary, deliver descriptions, not prescriptions, like premises for policies already decided, with some minor variations.  Stay academic, only.  Safe.

And there is a way of solving communication problems: by having nothing to say.  But peace studies offer something:

*if you want to overcome violence, identify underlying conflicts, including structural ones, and try to solve them;

*to identify conflicts, talk with all parties to understand their goals among the clashing goals;

*to solve conflicts search together with all parties for a new reality that accommodates the legitimate goals of the parties;

*a sustainable solution presupposes parity-symmetry, that what I want I must be willing to give to the others if they so want;

*the same applies to peacebuilding projects: equity, equality.

For an aging Norwegian male there are some divides to bridge.

Take gender.  The points above have been there from the beginning and speak directly to the condition of women.  They know that gender relations do not work without parity, and that a solid structure, patriarchy, stands in the way.  Men may become skeptical, feeling delegitimized.

Take generation.  We have the experience through the SABONA project (Zulu for “I see you”, now in Norway, Spain and Ireland, supported by the EU Comenius program) that kids quickly understand the points about violence, conflict and peace, that “I want something badly but that bully probably does too, let me find out what, and search for a solution”.  A book on conflict resolution for children, A Flying Orange Tells Its Tale[i] (about an orange telling “two kids, one orange” stories, six languages) might be interesting also for adults.  But adults are trained to punish bad behavior, not in asking why; sometimes kids teach them.  And adults may become skeptical, feeling delegitimized.

Take nation, civilization.  A little NATO country, obedient to a USA with well above 240 interventions in other countries, supplying USA with sophisticated arms and political legitimacy.  Going beyond, trying to understand the Soviet bloc point of view, led to secret police surveillance.  Going beyond the West to other civilizations, in search of peace, to Gandhi’s India, Japan, to buddhist tetralemma thinking (as opposed to dualism), to daoist yin/yang thinking (as opposed to Aristotle-Descartes) led to accusations of being “esoteric, mystic”.

That these bridging efforts were well received on the other side goes without saying, with fascinating dialogues.  And that made the political and cultural West even more skeptical, feeling delegitimized, that they may have lost out on something.  There is much at stake, a narrow vs a broad world view.

How to engage Western military-political-cultural elites?

Not problematic: the entrance ticket is not deep analysis, nor accurate forecasts, but promising remedies.  Problems are more easily admitted when solutions seem to be at hand; a tunnel needs a little hole letting in some light to be understood.  That test passed, questions about analysis and forecasts abound, be well prepared.  This has happened hundreds of times “at high levels”. Be helpful-constructive, not moralizing-critical. Peace education and peace journalism will help in the longer run.

Some Western cultural elites may react like buddhist-daoist elites when exposed to Western science: Interesting!  More!!  For others there is a bridge back to the West: the hidden West.  Why so much Thucydides with his positivist-pessimist “the thing that has been is that which shall be”[ii], and not also Xenophon who said “–the only conquests that last are when men willingly submit to those who are better than themselves.  The only way really to conquer a country is through generosity”.  Why so much Hobbes-Clausewitz and so little Kant?  Why Machiavelli advising The Prince to be strong and punitive when there is also Erasmus on raising a Christian prince?  Why so much Augustine-Aquinas on just war and so little on the Jesuit sagrado experimento in Paraguay?  Let peaceful West inform belligerent West.

The model: medical science; transdisciplinary explorations of theory, transnational practice, available to all.  Problems were more theological than political-academic, but it took time.  Not an unmitigated success, but very useful; sometimes dogmatic, school medicine.  Peace studies offers conflict hygiene, simple rules like washing hands, brushing teeth; hopefully not becoming dogmatic.  And no doubt in need of ongoing dialogues with everybody touched by the efforts–like good doctors try to do.


[i].  Illustrated by Andreas Galtung,; Oslo: Kagge, 2003, English edition Oslo: Kolofon, 2007.

[ii].  The title of the Thucydides chapter in Edith Hamilton, The Greek Way, New York NY: Norton, 1930, 1942, pp. 183-203, followed by a chapter on Xenophon, pp. 204-226, quote p. 214.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 10 May 2010.

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2 Responses to “Do Peace Studies Reach Out, Including Others?”

  1. Dear Johan,

    Whilst I really enjoyed reading your – to me filosophical – piece, I could not stop thinking of the newly approved increase on military research, by several Governments, all very busy planning the wars of the future. Scientists are working on the development of sophisticated weapons that will be ready for human use – if the Earth still exists – in 25 to 30 years from now.

    When I speak with the two sides of a conflict, none of them wants violence, an armed conflict, losing so many lives, losing buildings, their homes, their family and friends, their jobs, etc, etc.

    However, what the fighting sides want,is irrelevant to the Banks. They make big money out of wars, so they use politicians to help them manipulate (brain-wash) populations. Politicians use their partners, the Press barons.

    To me the “Dialogue” should be with the Banks, as with the Murdochs of this world, oil and gold barons, top Freemasons (30th, 31st, 32nd and 33rd degrees) and members of the Bilderberg Group, including the Queen of the Netherlands, their President.

    Only when we have a proposal for them, a plan that will keep them rich and powerful, without the need to promote wars in the world, will “dialogue” really bring lasting Peace.

    With all respect and good wishes,


  2. […] soluzione”. Un libro per bambini sulla risoluzione dei conflitti, A Flying Orange Tells Its Tale [i] (Un’arancia volante racconta, a proposito di “due ragazzini, un’arancia”, in sei lingue) […]