Syria: Beyond war, a new concept of peace

Dear Reader.

Good to see that you are checking back in with me. It has been quite some time since my last blog entry, yet the time wasn’t wasted – rather, it was spent on observing, reflecting, and formulating new thoughts on how to see peace.

This curiosity for a new concept of peace comes from the bleak score sheet when it comes to donor and diplomacy driven peace processes. If you really take a closer look at it, it seems that the prevailing discourse is to see peace as a singular event or endeavor, which takes either place on the local, small scale level (argued by many peace building scholars and the liberal haute volee of the peace building community) or it can only be achieved as a whole package, whereby the dividing notion is that to transit from ‘negative peace’ to ‘positive peace’. Developed by Johan Galtung, the ‘father’ of Peace Studies, ‘positive peace’ is the absence of structural violence, i.e. social structures with life-shortening consequences. Established in 1958, the thought has been widened 20 years later by adding a third notion, the concept of ‘cultural violence. i.e. the ideas used to legitimize both direct and structural violence. Positive peace, Galtung (1996) now argues, is the absence of both structural and cultural violence. Ironically though, even in Galtung’s ‘positive peace’, peace is defined by what it is not.

Then, we find the technocratic definitions of peace, reflected in policy papers and briefs, and squeezed into language bubbles formulated by diplomats, reducing peace to a simple equation of liberal measures and evidence-based products. Others argue that peace can only be achieved on the small scale of the local, while another cohort seeks to add peace writ large, which encompasses the state as the ultimate peace infrastructure.

With McConnell, F., & Williams, P. (Critical geographies of peace. Antipode, in press, doi:10. 1016/j.geoforum.2011.01.007), I would also like to introduce the idea of ‘peace in spaces’, i.e. how peace is differentially constructed, materialized and interpreted through space and time.

Williams and McConnell (in press) “propose a more expansive and critical focus around ‘peace-full’ concepts such as tolerance, friendship, hope, reconciliation, justice, humanitarianism, cosmopolitanism, resistance, solidarity, hospitality, care and empathy”. But do these words stand in for peace?

Especially the horrendous case of the war in Syria pushes us to think about new concepts of peace, because the old thoughts and ontologies certainly didn’t work nor yield any substantive results. Peace therefore is not just ‘not-war’, but more than that. Peace, meanwhile, can be experienced as both intimate and global. Peace can be created at an individual, family, neighborhood, community, and other scales, and using the term can foster seeing these scales as intertwined and mutually constitutive.

Thus, we need to take into account the different discourses and actions of peacemaking rather than peace building and we need to understand and invite a range of experts to allow for new thoughts on peace to be developed. Syria will need it, beyond the riff raff and Turkish bazaar style negotiations that are ensuing upon UNSCR 2254. Syria has shown us that locally negotiated peace agreements can hold and can be valid. Now it is up to the communities to take care of not falling into the ethnicity trap or Balkanization of the territory. Those working on the peacemaking front have an immense responsibility toward the dead, the displaced and the damaged but still living people to make this work, to initiate a contact group consisting of donors, allied and coalition forces and NGOS, and to bring in those facilitators who have always and will always work on the frontier of peace.

And, some reading material, if you like:

Agnew, J. (2009). Killing for cause? Geographies of war and peace. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 99(5), 1054e1059.

Agnew, J., Mitchell, K., & Toal, G. (Eds.). (2007). A companion to political geography. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Cuéllar, J., & Cho, Y.-S. (Eds.). (1999). World encyclopedia of peace. New York: Oceana Publications.

Dietrich, W., & Sützl, W. (1997). A call for many peaces. Burg Schlaining, Austria: Peace Center.

Foucault, M. (2003). “Society must be defended”: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975e1976. New York: Picador.

Gallaher, C., Dahlman, C., Gilmartin, M., Mountz, A., & Shirlow, P. (2008). Key concepts in political geography. Los Angeles: Sage.

Galtung, J. (1996). Peace by peaceful means: Peace and conflict, development and civilization. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Goetschel, L., & Hagmann, T. (2009). Civilian peacebuilding: peace by bureaucratic means? Conflict, Security & Development, 9(1), 55e73.

Gregory, D. (2010). War and peace. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 35(2), 154e186.

Groff, L. (2010). Evolving views of peace. In N. Young (Ed.), Oxford international encyclopedia of peace. New York: Oxford . entry=t296.e241 Accessed 13.05.11.

Haraway, D. (1992). The promises of monsters. In L. Grossberg, C. Nelson, & P. Treichler (Eds.), Cultural studies (pp. 295e337). London: Routledge.

Holloway, S., Rice, S., & Valentine, G. (Eds.). (2003). Key concepts in geography. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Katz, C. (2001). Vagabond capitalism and the necessity of social reproduction. Antipode, 33(4), 709e728.

Koopman, S. (2011). Alter-geopolitics: other securities are happening. Geoforum, . Kurtz, L. (Ed.). (2008). Encyclopedia of violence, peace. Conflict: AeF. Oxford: Elsevier.

McConnell, F., & Williams, P. Critical geographies of peace. Antipode, in press, doi:10. 1016/j.geoforum.2011.01.007.

Ó Tuathail, G., Dalby, S., & Routledge, P. (Eds.). (2006). The geopolitics reader (2nd ed.). New York; London: Routledge.

Author: nakawashi9

International mediator, professor, corporate trainer!

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