In advance of a day-long faculty retreat in late summer 2012, Kroc Institute Director Scott Appleby asked four members of the faculty to present and comment on definitions of the interdisciplinary field of peace studies. This is the fourth in a series of posts reflecting the conversation, led by professors Atalia Omer, Ernesto Verdeja, Jason Springs, and Larissa Fast.
The self-critical nature of peace studies Jason Springs, assistant professor of religion, ethics and peace studies
My task is to reflect on the claim that “peace studies interrogates its own presuppositions.”
Peace studies as a field of inquiry: I’ll paraphrase the philosopher Alasdaire MacIntyre’s conception of a “tradition” as a historically extended, socially embodied argument — an argument, largely, about the nature and basis of the very goods around which the tradition organizes and orients itself (After Virtue). In the case of peace studies, the operative sense of tradition would be of a “tradition of discourse.” To use this framing for reflection upon peace studies as a “self-interrogating” interdisciplinary complex brings to light both strengths and risks.
First, a risk: the emphasis upon “argument” could easily lend itself to a factionalized and fragmented exchange between competing camps, in which the participants argue incessantly and unproductively, and, perhaps “past each other,” from the opposing and incommensurable theoretical and methodological presuppositions associated with (or rooted in) their home disciplines. And yet, if we qualify MacIntyre’s reference to “argument” as an “unfolding, critical conversation,” then his definition actually illuminates many examples of the way that peace studies and peace research has, in fact, unfolded over the past several decades through processes of contesting and interrogating its organizing concepts, insights, and objectives.
1) The exchange between Johann Galtung and Kenneth Boulding that unfolded across the pages of the Journal of Peace Research over several decades about the conception of “violence” that peace studies would need to take up in order to actually address the causes, conditions, results of violent conflict, and to promote and build sustainable peace (often characterized as the debate over “negative” vs “positive” conceptions of peace.) Galtung argued that is was dangerously narrow to view peace as “the opposite of war,” and thus to “limit peace studies to war-avoidance studies, and more particularly avoidance of big wars or super-wars (defined as wars between big powers or superpowers), and even more particularly to the limitation, abolition, or control of super-weapons. Important interconnections among types of violence are left out…”
2) Emerging from these debates over positive and negative peace was recognition of the need for a multi-focal analytical lenses for identifying and assessing different forms of violence, and in particular the ways that “one type of violence may be reduced or controlled at the expense of increase or maintenance of the another.” To this end, Galtung devised and developed the concept of “structural violence” (in contrast to “direct violence”), and further on, confronted the need to develop a concept of “cultural violence.”
These concepts emerged from the critical conversation of peace studies and provide another example of the fruitfulness of conceiving of peace studies as an interdisciplinary complex persistently unfolding as a critical conversation constituted, in part, by the interrogation of the central concepts and values that orient and inform the conversation itself.
3) The reconceptualization of “conflict” in the conflict transformation literature, from that which is the opposite of peace — and thus which needs to be resolved — to re-framing conflict as a natural and inevitable part of inter-relationality that can be engaged in more or less healthy ways and which might be engaged transformatively — as an engine for positive change — rather than as something to be rooted out.
4) The still unfolding critical conversations about the kinds of justice that peace studies ought to be concerned with: retributive/restorative; reconciliation/forgiveness; distributive justice vis-a-vis impact of political economy and globalization upon the conditions and causes of violence in all its forms, and the promotion of justice, as indispensible elements for “justpeace.”
5) The dichotomy of “international/domestic” as it frames and guides our projects and curriculum, and especially in so far as there might be a tacit hierarchy between these terms.
Peace studies as based upon disciplinary humility
If we conceptualize the peace studies tradition of discourse as an unfolding argument about such central concepts as these, then the fruitfulness and utility of our reflective conversations will depend upon disciplinary humility. To speak of disciplinary humility is to speak of openness to the possibility, indeed the inevitability, that other cross-disciplinary vantage-points can, and will, illuminate blind-spots, enrich, and perhaps supplant the work, tools, and insights available in my own training and home discipline. It is to speak of flexibility and abiding sense of fallibilism.
In recent years at Kroc, we have sustained a series of conversations together in this vein for some time now. In such venues as: workshops in which we have shared and collaboratively developed syllabi; panel discussions and break-out sessions at the annual Summer Institute for Faculty in Peace Studies Program Development; various faculty and project meetings, usually oriented by the integrative intentions of strategic peacebuilding. To my mind, this points to the indispensibility of further such conversations to the life and health — and overall effectiveness — of the peace institute, and as much, if not more so, to peace studies itself.
In this vein of the notion of humility as a central virtue for purposes of multi- and inter-disciplinary conversation, I’ll read a passage from William James’ essay of 1907, entitled “What Pragmatism Means” (his second lecture from Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking, 1906-7). James is here describing a sensibility he ascribes to pragmatism as an approach to inquiry and criticism, but I think his insights apply equally to the multi- and inter-disciplinary character of peace studies as well. I’ll make some small adjustments to the passage and ask you to think of “peace studies” where I read the term “pragmatism.”
I’d say that this passage exemplifies virtues and interdisciplinary sensibilities that we at Kroc, at our best, seek to acquire and sustain. Need I say that, in my judgment, we ought to go striving for it in our work and in what we model for our students?
“If you follow the pragmatic method, you cannot look at any [theory or method] as closing your quest. You must bring out of each . . . its practical cash-value, set it at work within the stream of your experience. It appears less as a solution, then, than as a program for more work, and more particularly as an indication of the ways in which existing realities may be changed. Theories thus become instruments, not answers to enigmas, in which we can rest. We don’t lie back upon them, we move forward, and on occasion, make nature over again by their aid. Pragmatism unstiffens our theories, limbers them up and sets each one at work. Being nothing essentially new, it agrees with nominalism for instance, in always appealing to particulars; with utilitarianism in emphasizing practical aspects; with positivism in its disdain for verbal solution, useless questions and metaphysical abstractions . . . . [Pragmatism] has no dogmas, and no doctrines, save its approach. . . . [It] lies in the midst of our theories, like a corridor in a hotel. Innumerable chambers open out of it. In one you may find a man writing an atheistic volume; in the next someone on his knees praying for faith and strength; in a third a chemist investigating the body’s properties. In a fourth system of idealistic metaphysics is being excogitated; in a fifth the impossibility of metaphysics is being shown. But they all own the corridor, and all must pass through it if they want a practicable way of getting into or out of their respective rooms.” (510)
Surely this is not the only way of thinking about the practice-oriented, inter- and multi-disciplinarity of peace studies, but I’ll admit that this passage comes to my own mind quite often as I walk down the hallways of the Kroc Institute.