Ethical Objectives and Values in Peace Psychology and Social Justice


Marc Pilisuk, Melissa Anderson-Hinn & Gianina Pellegrini – TRANSCEND Media Service

Pilisuk, M., Anderson-Hinn, M., & Pellegrini, G. (in press). Ethical Objectives and Values in Peace Psychology / Social Justice. In D. Bretherton & S. F. Law (Eds.), Methodologies in Peace Psychology: Peace Research by Peaceful Means [Chapter 7].


Ethical standards in research with human participants typically include informed consent and avoidance of physical or emotional harm. In the field of peace psychology and related social justice research, the standard of “do no harm” may need to be extended. The values of our field include going beyond the standards for integrity in methods and customary protections of human subjects and move into the obligation for our research to make an actual contribution to limit the many forms of violence and injustice that are faced by the human family. With this higher standard we set the bar to include the actual voices of those who experience violence, an examination of the power relationships that perpetuate structural violence, and a reflection on how sponsorship of research and normative disciplinary practices may inadvertently serve to perpetuate a violent system. The suggestion is that “do no harm” as the sole standard in social research is not sufficient to fully understand and address the depth of social oppression and structural violence in the real world contexts. This chapter suggests an additional standard for ethical research in peace psychology to “do good”. This ethical standard to “do good” empowers those harmed by the violent system to understand the need for change and develop effective strategies to promote and sustain change in any context.

7.1 Introduction

The overriding ethic for the healing professions is, do no harm. Professionals are responsible for the competent use of their particular knowledge. Yet, the work itself carries dangers of doing unintentional harm. These include exploiting or re-traumatizing clients and their communities, training in special skills that can be used for deliberate cruelty such as torture, and forgoing professional oaths in favor of orders from an employer to suspend ordinary protections due to every human. This can surely apply to settings where peace psychologists may have key roles: education, law, government, the military, business organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and social service professionals all consult with psychologists at times on issues of ethics, human behavior, communications processes, conflict resolution, disputes and outside pressures to reform their image. Peace psychologists, in particular, are often directly tasked with applying psychosocial skills to reduce violence and suffering in communities torn by war, other divisive conflict, poverty and natural disasters. Entry into fields of already existing harm and social disruption, whether by direct intervention or research, brings with it extraordinary, and often obscured, challenges to those who profess both to care deeply and to do no harm.

In this chapter we illustrate some of the pitfalls and suggest amendments to customary standards for ethical participation. We start with a description of values inherent in peace psychology and ethical considerations that flow from these values. From these we move to special macro level considerations related to structural violence and its relevance to work on research and intervention studies in particular cases. Since structural differences in power, wealth and availability of resources typically determine what voices of policy and research are heard we move into a discussion of possibilities to include hidden voices through post-modern research efforts to capture and enhance concealed narratives. Finally we discuss implications of broader ethical mandates upon the identity of the peace psychologist and of the field itself.

7.2 Values of Peace Psychology

The basic values of peace psychology are about preventing violence, promoting peace, creating social justice and sustaining positive transformations. These values are not unique to psychology but also apply to peace research and initiatives in other disciplines, all of which relate to the perceptions, beliefs, experiences, needs, and actions of all people connected to and impacted by the research or interventions. Based on these values and the nature of peace work, the principle of do no harm has become important in peace psychology and related fields. The reality is that our work carries the danger that we might unintentionally do harm; even well intended interventions can cause harm. Harm may be due to unforeseen complexities in the situations at hand, including forces resisting a humane solution, or it may be part of a deliberate calculation of costs considered justifiable in a conflict (Long, 2011). Wessells’ (2009) detailed review of problematic developments in international emergencies noted the potential for harm and the importance of addressing issues such as cultural, structural, and political aspects of an emergency, and dedicating sufficient attention to resilient elements of a population and culture.

Psychology is, or should be, a part of all research related to peace and social justice. Behind the frameworks of economies, governments, institutions and ideological divides are the needs and experiences of people; therefore, we address peace research generally. Like research in other areas intended for betterment of the human condition, peace research takes upon itself special ethical concerns. One topic of ethical concern would be the selection of research questions whose answer holds promise for humane and constructive applications. A second would be the attention to larger parts of the system that provide essential context for the topic being studied. A third would be the inclusion of voices of those most directly affected. Fourth is the issue of who owns and directs the formation, conduct and applications of the research. The application of such standards is subtle and exacting. The authors have themselves worked on research that may have fallen short.

For years, controlled studies have demonstrated the path to cooperative resolutions of two-party conflicts in non-zero sum situations. The research conclusively demonstrates that strategies can be used to de-escalate conflicts of distrust and steer adversaries to mutually beneficial outcomes (Pilisuk, 1984). The ethical contribution appears obvious, but that same research could readily be confined to purely scholarly discourse or even to show just what moves should be avoided if one wished to perpetuate a destructive, costly conflict. No single research agenda accomplishes everything. But, the work discussed lacked something more serious than whether the participants had signed forms to indicate their understanding of informed consent. However well intentioned and well-designed, research intended for beneficial outcomes requires a depth of ethical scrutiny that goes beyond traditional research requirements and expectations. Without this deeper scrutiny, there are high risks of generating knowledge that is disconnected from real-life application and instead enables opposite, and potentially destructive consequences.

7.3 Ethical Implications of Structural Factors

One of the more challenging factors to consider is that of the structural narratives that exist not only in the research setting, but also within our research approach. This requires a macro view of the context, including a deeper historical analysis, to create a more prudent ethical perspective. In doing so, we seek to identify who has the power to use the research and emphasize such economic factors as the stakes of those who might be in a position to apply the work. For example, assistance to developing countries is seen as providing aid and research has documented specific outcomes of different aid programs: Increments in education, disease control, and food distribution are apparent benefits of assistance to developing countries. Yet, such documentation may inadvertently contribute to acceptance of the systematic deprivations that continue even while some individuals may benefit.

A related problem area is the cost imposed by recommendations or requirements of strategies to be adopted. The World Bank collects detailed data on development outcomes among the myriad of nations struggling with malnutrition and dire poverty. Such data on per capita calorie consumption, gross national product, and infrastructure development are indeed useful in program assessment. They do not, however, include sufficient context for understanding the ethical requirements of the researcher (Pilisuk, 2000).

Development assistance has called for austerity measures to repay loans. Such measures have resulted in suspension of disease prevention and health services, of education and of environmental protection. Everywhere, austerity is driving many to suicide or depression and leading to soaring rates of drug use, HIV and increases in infectious disease. Austerity has reduced access to medicines and health care in Europe and the United States, where 10,000 suicides and a million depression cases can be blamed on austerity. In Greece, HIV rates increased 200% since 2011 because of cuts in budgets for prevention. Greece had its first malaria outbreak for decades due to cuts in mosquito spraying. In Britain, 10,000 families are now homeless because of an austerity budget (Pilisuk & Pellegrini, in press). Furthermore, studies directed only towards amelioration have often neglected the fact that poverty has a relative component beyond the absence of money. It is a psychological experience of internalized scorn and despair, of failure in a media pressured world in which affluence is considered the sign of personal success. It ignores as well the need of people and local communities to experience a measure of control over decisions that affect the resources of the commons and the options for their lives (Pilisuk, 2000; Pilisuk & Pellegrini, in press).

7.4 Epistemology

In order to appreciate the broadened set of ethical concerns we are suggesting for peace research, it is helpful to consider the often unquestioned cultural context in which social research became a part of the modern age. Social inquiry and research always take place within a historical and social context in which any researcher can find her/him self at the center of a larger process (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998). As researchers, we enter into every study or assessment with a pre-existing worldview, assumptions, rationale, purpose and strategy. We also deal with a phenomenon fraught with challenges, conflicts and limitations. Such contexts are integrated into an effort to contribute, successfully and uniquely, to the wider realm of knowledge (Anderson-Hinn, 2013). Robert Kegan (1994) suggests, “we are in over our heads” in reference to both living and researching in today’s (postmodern) world, where knowledge is simultaneously infinite and fleeting as well as consistently critiqued and often rejected as inconclusive. This assessment by Kegan is likely true for many researchers who expect to rely on the rationality, authority and certainty that defined modernism. However, the influence of postmodernism on research is striking for researchers with goals to generate knowledge that directly affects community development and the creation of social change strategies.

Postmodernism is a reality of contemporary culture exemplified by the deconstruction of ‘objective truth’ and the inherent skepticism of a prevailing meta-narrative. Conversely, it values narrative discourse and calls for appreciation of the role of social construction in convincing us of what is real and what is important (Anderson-Hinn, 2013). Bentz and Shapiro (1998) assert that postmodernism as a movement not only calls into question the ideals of science and rationality that ruled the modern period but also creates “an array of diverse and divergent conceptions of knowledge” (p. 1). They involve epistemological paradigms, or models of how valid knowledge is produced; how it is organized and circulated beyond the constraints of recognized disciplines; how knowledge is stored, shared and made retrievable; and how cultural voices and social perspectives are represented within the public arena (Anderson-Hinn, 2013). The effect of postmodernism on research derives from its inherent questioning of both the legitimacy and validity of “knowledge” and appreciation for both diversity and innovation (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998). This emerging orientation can actually enhance ethical requirements to be relevant by removing strict boundaries to what may be studied. The current reality, with its new aspects of knowledge creation and appreciation, is providing justification for deeper attention to human experience (Diaz-Laplante, 2007). This can be frustrating for many modernists and, by contrast, exciting for others.

The newer models promise creative roles for the researcher, new technologies, and even new interdisciplinary relationships (Anderson-Hinn, 2013; Bentz & Shapiro, 1998). Research may also become more valuable in its significance and its direct impact potential. Whether formally conducted by trained professional researchers or by affected populations, the knowledge produced may prove indispensable in building a sustainable, more compassionate and peaceful future.

Peace psychologists can help people who have been silenced, such as those who have been victims of violence, to be elevated and empowered to participate in discovering new ways to thrive. To achieve this quality of intervention, it is our approach to research that lays the foundation. Our methodologies still need to be rigorously defined and sufficient while also remaining open and flexible. The work of testing and developing theories (or hypotheses) is more integrated and our methods support a highly empowering and participatory process. Research becomes an iterative process where the data collected are used to understand the phenomenon in question while simultaneously assisting participants in taking, and even leading, the next steps towards transforming their situation.

7.5 Goals of Research with a Broader Ethical Mandate        

Designing our research goals with a broader and more prudent ethical mandate is one of the most powerful ways to ensure our intentions to advance the values of peace psychology and ultimately create sustainable, positive transformations in dire situations. No matter where we ground ourselves in our work as peace study professionals, we are responsible for uncovering and elevating the voices of the marginalized, as well as identifying and addressing the power structures and dynamics that create the foundation for violence and all forms of injustice. The details of the stories of oppression and victimization, as well as the needs for healing and transformation, will vary between contexts; but the mandate will remain the same.

Phenomenology and other qualitative methods can add rigor to this task in which we pursue a pure analysis of true voices, in their own settings, as critical to our understanding. An essential caveat on the value of hearing silenced voices comes with the need to respect individual fears of re-traumatization or unintended exploitation. Important as it may be for long term healing, the immediate recall of traumatic happenings can be disturbing to victimized groups. This is seen often among victims of combat trauma (Paulson & Krippner, 2010), military sexual trauma (Turchik & Wilson, 2010), child soldiers (Anderson-Hinn, 2011; Wessells, 2011), people rescued from slavery and human trafficking (Anderson-Hinn, 2013), and survivors of genocide (Staub & Ryono, 2011). Respect for individuals unready to speak out and the responsibility for safety of those who do speak out as part of a research endeavor is essential. Yet finding safe venues for such voices can prove therapeutic and empowering to people just as it adds essential value to the researcher’s understanding.

The inclusion of context adds a look at questions of the systems of power and wealth, the gatekeepers of what research is funded and what attention it receives. Media imagery and financial sponsorship of research, both restrict the definition of research problems and their inter-relationships with other problems. Why should research on soldier options for war trauma, for example, not include study of whether their distress was caused by a war that should never have been fought? For soldiers who decide that they were being called upon to commit unjust and brutal actions, why should their restorative options not include release from the military to civilian life (Pilisuk & Mahr, 2013)? Why should decision makers whose decisions result in the perpetration of atrocities by others far removed not be studied and/or prosecuted for their activities?

The ethical research agenda, we suggest, needs to be informed by Participatory Action Research (PAR; Alkire, 2005; Fals-Borda & Rahman, 1991; Freire, 1970; Homan, 2004; Stringer, 2007; see Chapter 12). People with unmet needs add significantly to the knowledge needed for change. PAR builds in a mechanism by which the research task becomes less a concern with testing the validity of hypotheses and more part of an iterative process in which data collected are used immediately in assisting participants to take the next steps to bring about change while leaving with them control over the process and the use of data.

Methodological flexibility can be a key to ethical intervention as well as to knowledge in peace psychology. One study addressed the issue of rape crisis intervention in South Africa. What the author found was a highly successful program that had developed without professional assistance, beginning as a gathering place beneath a tree to provide safety for victims. Its source lay in a spiritual belief in Ubuntu, an African belief that our very existence lies in our interconnections with one another. It evolved into a women-led clinic using stuffed animals to help child victims talk about what happened and to work on restorative and preventive work with perpetrators. From the base of safety provided, it was able to work with medical and police authorities. The research was crafted using grounded theory strategy. It collected and analyzed data from three different sources: archival evidence, participant observation and in-depth interviews. But openness to indigenous voices revealed that a process of participatory action research had already been occurring among a group that had never heard of the term (Schlottman, 2010).

An example from Kenya employing the study of indigenously organized “peace caravans” helps to show that the ethical guideline of participant control can open possibilities for effective peacemaking. Much of Kenya remains a tribal society with an economic base in cattle herding. Like many parts of the world, Kenyan statehood arose through the machinations of Western nations. Kenya’s central government offers few resources to the tribes and commands little allegiance from them. Periodic water challenges have exacerbated cattle theft and inter-tribal violence. Top down efforts to mitigate the fighting have been unproductive. The Peace Caravan approach is being studied as one that builds both its theory and its practices from the level of indigenous tribal leaders. The study designed by a member of an NGO concerned with reducing violence, begins with the consent of tribal chiefs who gather together in caravans crossing over the areas controlled by rival tribes and allowing the emergent peace-keeping to generate from the experience. To date, the caravans have accomplished successful agreements among several tribes (Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity, 2012; Dahir, 2011; Hancock & Mitchell, 2012; Okumu, n.d.). The approach of looking upon national conflicts through the context of local tribal relationships and views of their participants has been developed (Hancock & Mitchell, 2012).

The approach we describe does not replace traditional empirical research and does respect the contribution of those things that can be studied by numbers. It adds, however, a set of opportunities and ethical mandates. The voices of child soldiers and of trafficked slaves, can now be studied and analyzed with authenticity. The experience of survivors of violence from military attack can be heard over the accounts from numerical assessments of collateral damage.

Moreover, the ethical peace researcher challenges the assumptions of the prevailing system: that soldiers are a different order of people and therefore their lives are more legitimately lost; that decisions by global corporate bodies, financial institutions, and nation states may remain unnoticed parts of the subject matter on poverty, even while their decisions result in massive malnutrition (Pilisuk, 2013).

The hidden hand of power and nuances of diverse voices point to aspects of movements for peace and justice that are sometimes lacking. The world is not lacking for activists, social impact entrepreneurs, or promoters of peace and justice and other forms of social change. Their protests and efforts to retake the commons are a marvel of human determination and compassion. Many scholars and students in the peace research community have marched and planted seeds with them. But our special contribution as researchers is with the knowledge. Particularly with the contemporary benefits of digital/social media technology, this knowledge component to the change process might make us more collectively inspired, equipped, and empowered to remake the world than ever before. However, even making it easier for us to collaborate in supporting and promoting these ideals is not sufficient to create effective strategies and sustain the impacts that are established by them. In some cases, making it easier to get involved in the wide array of dissenting activities, from producing healthy food locally to boycotting destructive corporations and blocking weapons transfers, has left the movements for peace and justice without the level of knowledge and skill needed to assess fully the unique communities and the lived experiences of those impacted by our “solutions”. Absent this task of assessment we risk burning out in our repeated efforts to just “go out and do it.” Effective and ethical research often takes time, patience, and a fully human-centered design.

7.6 An Example of Ethical Issues in Research: Use of Social Impact Assessment (SIA)

For the past two years, co-author, Melissa Anderson-Hinn has worked on designing and piloting a novel and comprehensive methodology called Social Impact Assessment (SIA). The model illustrates the level of diligent planning and execution that is needed for research that incorporates the voices and experiences of a group in need as well as all existing and potential stakeholders. The goal of SIA is to create a meta-assessment tool that would meet the needs of any organization seeking to establish and sustain effective social impact strategies pursuing all forms of transformative social change in human-centered communities and systems.

This tool is designed to be adaptable for research and program development in many settings. It includes visual/graphic data, descriptive phenomenological structures, creating a database for longitudinal research, and narratives that illuminate the uniquely constructed social contexts and goals that define each community.

The design of an SIA typically relies heavily on Yin’s (2009) model for developing effective case study research, and Giorgi’s (2009) model for a descriptive, phenomenological psychological method as well as the linear and iterative process contained in participatory action research. The six phases of development are to: think critically, imagine and design, create and prepare, observe and gather, analyze, and share or report. These elements might apply to any well-designed impact evaluation. But the openings provided by in-depth interviews for corrective changes along the process contribute to ethical accountability. This model effectively represents the need to acknowledge the whole while developing the project through each of the phases and expecting results that lead to direct impact.

In general, organizations seeking an SIA would be asking questions that focus on assessing where to plant the roots for their anticipated impacts, how to measure their progression and the effectiveness of their impacts, and how to scale future impacts. In other words, the SIA provides a baseline for creating and evaluating an organization’s (or any collective’s) social-psychological, pedagogical, and practical approaches. The approach is consistent with comprehensive models suggested elsewhere (Lederach, Neufeldt & Culbertson, 2007). The complexity of problems such as human trafficking calls for such a comprehensive and innovative approach.

A second pilot study is being conducted through the SIA model on behalf of The Sold Project in the rural village of Chiang Rai in Northern Thailand where young girls and boys are being trafficked into cities and across borders as sex and labor slaves. Primarily affected by this exploitation are the adolescents for whom there is little precedent for education beyond primary school. Though poverty is a primary factor with respect to young girls being exploited, it is also true that for many parents and community leaders in rural Thailand, there is no established precedent for empowering young girls to continue with education beyond primary school. One reason that adolescent boys in poverty are also at risk of exploitation is because they cannot afford to continue their education beyond primary school. Instead, they are expected to begin helping to support their families. The situation is incredibly complex and the need to be aware of and sensitive to a variety of factors is crucial to designing approaches to re-story the future for young people in this village. However, the SIA holds promise for dealing with the problem in ways that include the voices of the children, community leaders, and even traffickers. It looks also at the legal and economic drivers of the problem and at larger system players, many beyond the Thai borders, who affect the demand for slaves. Finally, it also considers the important influences of historical narrative, religion, and cultural traditions.

The ethical need for researchers to incorporate participatory research designs that include the voices of all stakeholders, no matter how poor, young, or under-served they have been, emerges clearly in countries that deal with devastating poverty. One illustrative project designed to develop educational opportunities and resources in Belize is the faith-based organization, Pathlight International (Pathlight, nd). It brings great vision to the tasks of sponsoring students who might otherwise never get to school, training teachers with seemingly insurmountable challenges in their classrooms, and mounting a volunteer service program to be directly engaged with the real needs of rural Belizeans and active in the support of grassroots-led development. A brief review of the SIA process employed illustrates the potential for gathering voices and weaving them into a credible and sustainable transformation process.

In 2013, an SIA was conducted to assess Pathlight International’s impact (past, present, and potential) on education in rural Belize (Pathlight, nd). This SIA “provided a baseline for evaluating Pathlight’s psychological, pedagogical, and practical impacts since 2007 and a plan for measuring future impacts more consistently. The research design was specific to the following purposes:

  1. Explore and describe (qualitatively and quantitatively) the social impacts being experienced by the stakeholders and constituents of Pathlight International since its inception;
  2. Explain how-and-why the work of Pathlight is having such impacts;
  3. Identify and describe unmet needs and unsustainable impacts that exist within their strategies;
  4. Explore and identify new opportunities for expanding their impacts on both the education system and the life of communities in rural Belize;
  5. Make key recommendations for meeting unmet needs and the future scaling of Pathlight’s impacts; and
  6. Create a both a foundation for longitudinal research and a structure for ongoing (annual) assessment.

For this Pathlight Social Impact Assessment, Anderson-Hinn (2014) established these five “most important” skill sets: the art and skill to conduct open-ended interviews; expertise in the use of descriptive phenomenology; the ability to be adaptable and innovative within the pre-established design; the ability to grasp the cultural nuances and complexities of the lived experiences of participants as well as the underlying issues and concepts and finally the ability and willingness to check one’s own biases and preconceptions.

In the Pathlight SIA, the analysis phase consisted of multiple approaches designed to provide: 1) deeper understanding of Pathlight’s qualitative impacts, 2) identifying Pathlight’s quantitative impact and measurable outcomes; and 3) reliable projection or impact potential. The data analysis phase relies heavily on the design to ensure that research questions are answered, objectives are achieved, purpose is fulfilled, and potential for future work is identified. Within the scope of these action-objectives is the assurance that stakeholders are sufficiently elevated, equipped and empowered to participate.

Full details of the SIA model and of its application in Belize, lie beyond the scope of this chapter. It’s spirit, however, recognizes and contains the same special components that Yin (2009) defines as “guides” for an “exemplary” case study. These components are: 1) The questions; 2) The propositions (if any); 3) The unit(s) of analysis; 4) The logic linking the data to the propositions; and 5) The criteria for interpreting the findings. Theory development is also an essential part of Anderson-Hinn’s SIA design. Overall, this research design provides the necessary and logical structure and specific, purposeful direction that not only connects the component subunits of an SIA but also unites the whole. Each phase of the design provides feedback from the lived experience of individuals for a larger contextualized analysis. We believe that the SIA offers a most promising model of how to plan the study of a change process in a way that keeps the richness of the voices of participants foremost.

7.7 Ethical Limitations and Corrective Follow-up in Peace Research

Despite its comprehensive framework and dedication to capture unique attributes of the problem in Belize, the project also is useful in demonstrating an ethical limitation common for much of peace research. At least in its initial phase, the Belize project ignores or minimizes an aspect of historical context and power analysis that is part of the ethical mandate but is sometimes more difficult to study. The initial phase of this study, and of similar approaches, is that it did not include attention to the causes of inequality and to the evidence that inequality itself is a major contribution to the destitution found in poor communities (Wilkinson & Picket, 2009). The depth of the problem of poverty in Belize, as in many poor countries, comes not from a paucity of resources but rather from patterns of exploitation that have existed for many years and continue to grow stronger. Belize has some of the world’s most diverse resources found within its rainforests. It is also home to a diverse population of Guatemalan and El Salvadoran refugees who fled the violence of brutal, United States of America supported regimes and the poverty and gang violence left in their wake. These primarily rural Mayan immigrants merged into an environmentally ravaged land adding to the number of people in deep poverty.

For many generations, rubber tappers living in sparse tribes in the rainforests of Belize maintained a stable economy. However, foreign investors working through a wealthy elite reduced the options for a local economy. Residents found their forests being clear-cut. Some of them protested the clearing of the forest that sustained them and police were hired to drive them from their native habitat. The new proprietor was already planning to replace the rainforests with orange groves (Blanding, 2005). The Belize rainforests are one of the world’s most species diverse places. They are a part of the ecological lungs of the planet, as well as home to the rubber tappers. The new owner, the Minute Maid division of Coca Cola, had sold its orange groves to developers in order to take advantage of rising real estate prices in the sunshine state. The corporate hand was merely making investments to assure its continued growth and profitability. Violence against the people of the forest was an uncalculated by-product of the decision process. Due to the public outcry and organized activity by Earth First and the Rainforest Action Network, Coca Cola accepted a compromise measure that preserved a portion of the indigenous rainforest (Rainforest Action Network, 1986 & 1987).

The international expansion of large corporations like Coca Cola has led to a systematic exploitation of people who try to organize a union to assure living wages and safe working conditions (Blanding, 2005). Coca Cola has been charged with aiding the intimidation, and indeed murder, of union leaders by government soldiers or paramilitary groups in countries as diverse as India, Colombia and Ireland. A number of Universities in the United States of America have been pressured by student groups to suspend their contracts with Coca Cola in an effort to discourage this activity (Lederman, 2005; see e.g.,

There are, however, no laws protecting ancestral rights of the Mayans of Belize. Atlantic Industries, a corporation that has devastated the forests of Malaysia, has been buying out 200,000 acres (for 60 cents per acre) in Belize, in order to cut mahogany. A Mayan leader Julian Co noted that if the investors are allowed a free hand in the Mayan communities, “the principle stewardship over our natural resources will inevitably be overrun by the “use and run” philosophy of land speculators and other commercial interests”. Since 1992, Belize has repeatedly made concessions to foreign companies, and in 1996, “after a closed-door meeting, the Belizean government revoked the protected status of a nature reserve in Mayan territory in order to grant logging rights to Atlantic Industries” (Litterer, 1997). The “use and run” philosophy extends to people.

The situation in Belize is repeated in Nigeria where a Hong Kong based logging company, with Nigerian governmental assistance, bypassed the country’s own environmental laws to allow mahogany forests to be cut down. The project threatened the drinking water in more than 300 communities with over two million people. Residents of the Cross River villages were lured with promises of schools and jobs, while the habitat on which they depend was being destroyed. The universality of considering corporate control as part of the context of studies of indirect violence may be seen in the devastated remains of major US cities following plant closures, as well as in poor countries where big corporations remove their facilities in favor of still poorer places.

In summary, there can be little doubt that some of Belize’s children will be found to have succeeded in school as a result of the Pathlight program. There can be little doubt that some will become leaders returning to the development of peaceful and healthy communities in Belize and that their efforts can be documented using the postmodern research tool of SIA. It is one among several tools to make research a part of the change it purports to address (Cavallo, 2000; Chambers, 1994). Yet another ethical obstacle remains untouched unless the research also spotlights, and points to how to change, portions of the system benefitting from the exploitation of Belize and ensures that interventions are not sending Belizeans down a different path of exploitation. The ethical challenge is to spotlight both the unheard voices of victimized persons and the concealed structures of power and wealth that continue their oppression (Pilisuk & Rountree, 2008).

Anderson-Hinn has in fact taken on the challenge of incorporating the ethical limitation that emerged from analysis of the first study in Belize. This new study aims at spotlighting not only the unheard voices of primary stakeholders but also revealing concealed structures of power and wealth as well as historical and cultural influences upon current trends in exploitation. The final analysis promises a more comprehensive and informative study to empower the community towards self-determination and change. This evolution of the research illustrates that studies in the field of peace research may begin with allegiance to ethical mandates for working with people in need and may move on to additional mandates to reveal the sources of their distress.

7.8 Professional Implications for Psychology

Professions, by definition, differ from other vocations by their mandates for knowledge of the field and by their allegiance to a code of ethical standards. The standard of including contextual consequences that may include harmful consequences is new. But failure to consider context, has had certain egregious implications for professional psychology. One neglected context is the unwarranted influence of military and national security connections in the American Psychological Association (APA). This connection between national security and the largest organization of professional psychologists helps to explain why certain projects are extensively funded while other topics are not studied. In the USA, military and national security agencies are the largest employer of psychologists (Finnerty, 2013) and most generous provider of research funding and this influences the nature of studies undertaken (or avoided). This is not necessarily true of other nations. For example, in China and Australia, most psychologists are employed by government education departments, and in Malaysia and Singapore, most psychologists are employed by business organizations. Yet, other nations are in turn strongly influenced by American psychology (Arnett, 2008).

Despite massive efforts to avoid publicity for civilian casualties in which one’s own side is culpable, research on the consequences of violent conflict typically serves well to count the immediate consequences of military actions (Dougherty, 2007). However, such research often ignores the long-term effects of PTSD and TBI on soldiers, their families, and communities. It gives little attention to military sexual trauma, suicide increases, or to future victims of land mines or radiation, bombed out communities and displaced people.

The war on terror has encouraged a great deal of research on the profile or characteristics of a terrorist. Studies have focused upon those individuals who use a bomb or a gun to kill vulnerable adults or children at a school and to images of a jihadist terrorist. Such studies dismiss the evidence that situations more than individual proclivities are what bring about violent acts of terror (Zimbardo, 2007). For the ethical peace researcher the neglect of attention to situations that promote violence lets society off the hook. The study of the perpetrators of the far greater number of terrorist acts who remain undeterred and unpunished, should be a matter of concern. Nation-states are the primary perpetrators of terrorism, at times reaching genocidal proportions, far greater than the tragic loss at the World Trade Center (Pilisuk & Wong, 2002.)

These topics of relative neglect have drawn some attention; however, the entire psychology profession has been tainted by its association with military sponsors, contractors and funding. The Coalition for an Ethical Psychology has called to our attention that “Human rights advocates, and increasingly the general public, have come to view our profession as home to the architects, abettors, and practitioners of abusive interrogations – even torture – and other ethical violations as part of a national security apparatus run amok” (Coalition for an Ethical Psychology, 2013, n.p.n.). The group has compiled an extensive record of the subterfuges used by the American Psychological Association to avoid ethical censuring of psychologists whose activities for federal agencies facilitated practices of torture. Unlike other professional associations in anthropology and psychiatry, the APA refused to censure members for their participation in the government-supported program to use coercive interrogation techniques that have been internationally recognized as torture (Long, 2010).

In one striking example, the APA had to answer to questions about why it stood alone among professional associations who unequivocally declared participation in activities of enhanced interrogation of detainees, widely recognized as torture, as sufficient grounds for censure. The special nine member APA Task Force created to investigate and report upon this issue included a majority who were on the payroll of the United States military or intelligence agencies and had served in locations where the alleged violations took place. The report has been criticized as inadequate and self-serving by a Coalition for Ethical Psychology (Eidelson, 2015).

The reasons for such reluctance to act may be presented in legalistic and semantic terms. However, the more compelling explanations are revealed in the extent of connections between the APA and military and intelligence organizations. A large program to build resilience among soldiers in Iraq—so that they might reduce the risks of PTSD, suicide, depression, and substance abuse through positive psychological exercises—typifies these connections between the APA and military or intelligence organizations (Seligman & Fowler, 2011). A massive intervention was begun without a pilot study to test efficacy, without public review and without informed consent. It offered no opportunities for soldiers to voice their disdain over differences between the war they saw and what they had been told. The project has been criticized as one making soldiers better able to kill without remorse and able to serve another tour of combat (Eidelson, Pilisuk, & Soldz, 2011; Pilisuk & Mahr, 2013).

For peace psychology, one ethical challenge is to reveal the sources of funding and show how this affects the study of peace, conflict, and those who suffer its consequences. The illustrations above have implications for the ethics of peace research. With full acknowledgment of the values of directing traditional empirical research toward issues of peace and justice, it may be important to raise the bar on what fully ethical research requires. Such discussion can benefit from an understanding of knowledge in the post-modern world.

7.9 Conclusion

Conventional standards for ethical research are important. They fail, however, to highlight a potential for harm that may be occurring if one was to examine the broader context of each study. The portions of context often neglected are the history, explaining why the problem exists, and power relations that threaten the assumptions of inequality among the gatekeepers of funded research, publication and intervention. It is also important that we understand our own professional context more fully. Participatory methods can raise the voices of those who have not been heard and also ensure participants benefit from the data collected. The aim of peace psychologists is to be helpful but the doctrine do no harm requires us to stop and reflect carefully on the wider repercussions of our actions. This more reflective approach may also help us personally, as continual intervention and pushing for change in a re-active way often leads to “burn out” or to acceptance of the self-fulfilling prophesy that larger transformative changes are not possible.

Research creates what is recognized as knowledge and knowledge is our most powerful resource for fueling participation and action. In peace psychology, particularly, it is crucial that our methodologies are designed with an understanding of the ethical challenges that emerge across research generally and within each unique context. Thus, we are able to scale our research approaches appropriately and uniquely to what drives peacemaking and transformative social change in many contexts. Moreover, we are building a process that enables the primary stakeholders to become valuable participants in the creation of knowledge. Hence they are more likely to feel empowered to participate in using the knowledge to promote peace and sustain social change.


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The authors wish to thank Jancis Long and Monica Ajer for assistance in preparing this manuscript.

Marc Pilisuk, Ph.D. is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment, professor emeritus University of California, and a faculty at Saybrook University, Berkeley. He is an author of 10 books including a 3-volume anthology, Peace Movements Worldwide, with Michael Nagler (Eds) Santa Barbara, 2011; The Hidden Structure of Violence: Who Benefits from Global Violence and War, with Jennifer Achord Rountree, 2015. He was a founding member of the first Teach-In, The Society Against Nuclear Explosions, and The Psychologists for Social Responsibility and a past president of the Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict and Violence. Among his recognitions is the Howard Zinn Award from the Peace and Justice Studies Association. Email:

Melissa Anderson-Hinn has more than 15 years of progressively responsible and sophisticated (professional) experience in the field of peace psychology. Starting out as an activist, community development leader, and human rights educator (primarily in the field of public health), Anderson-Hinn continued to seek the knowledge and expertise needed to match her growing professional goals. In 2007, she completed her MA-MFT with specialization in the treatment of addictions and trauma to help meet the need for greater quality clinical expertise in addressing global (sex and labor) exploitation at the human experience level. Her primary clinical work continued to focus on adolescent and young adult survivors of social-global exploitation. While continuing to work in the field, she began pursuing her PhD in Psychology, completed in 2012 in order to help meet the significant need for more and better quality research in the work of peace movements. While also serving as the home educator of her 3 young children in San Francisco, she works as an international consultant and mediator as well as a social media strategist for impact entrepreneurs.

Gianina Pellegrini earned a Ph.D. in psychology, with a specialization in transformative social change, from Saybrook University. Her research and work concentrates on supporting survivors of violence/trauma, advocating for human rights and social justice, and discovering creative means to achieve sustainable peace. She currently works as the Administrative Director for the Democratic World Federalists.

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One Response to “Ethical Objectives and Values in Peace Psychology and Social Justice”

  1. I appreciate the concerns of the article. However it so happens that I am at this moment writing a piece on values so the following is somewhat of a provocation:

    >>The basic values of peace psychology are about preventing violence, promoting peace, creating social justice and sustaining positive transformations. These values are not unique to psychology but also apply to peace research and initiatives in other disciplines, all of which relate to the perceptions, beliefs, experiences, needs, and actions of all people connected to and impacted by the research or interventions.<<

    Although previously responsible for the Human Values Project, I have always struggled with any assumption that values or ethical standard are readily comprehensible. Peace offers a remarkable example given that some struggle their whole lives, using the most disciplined meditation techniques, to "find peace" — as is a typical expression.

    Would it not be more fruitful, as I am currently arguing, to assume that values are of the greatest subtlety — abused to the highest degree by assumptions that they can be encompassed by verbal definitions?