News and Events from PEACE

Landon E. Hancock posted on January 08, 2014 14:45

Over the past few Conventions I have become aware of some conversations regarding the state and place of peace studies. At the 2012 Convention in San Diego, I detected concern about the state of the field, and thought, at that time, there was little to be concerned about because of the large numbers of academics and practitioners thinking, writing and acting both at the Convention and at the outside world. By the time of the 2013 Convention in San Francisco, I began to understand some of this concern—or at least thought I did. It seemed to me as I travelled from panel to panel across the spectrum of the Convention that a number of fields had adopted the language of peace and conflict studies, but had failed to really take on board the normative, or ethical if you will, prescriptions that inform the kinds of work we do and our reasons for doing it.

I began to wonder if there wasn’t some degree of difference between peace studies and conflict resolution that might be contributing to a sense in which our enterprise was being taken over by other communities that might not hold the same values. I felt that this was particularly so when, at the San Francisco Convention, I introduced a request brought to me by a PSS member, asking the membership to consider changing the name of the section from Peace Studies to something more inclusive, like Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution or Peace and Conflict Studies. The debate at the Business Meeting was spirited but in the end, inconclusive; and so the motion was tabled at that time.[1]

The discussion left me wondering what the perceived or real differences between peace studies and conflict resolution are, or are not, and whether or not we, as representatives of our field, can come to some common understanding of who we are, how we are the same or how we are different from each other and other parts of the IR discipline. This spring at the Toronto Convention we will be honoring three Distinguished Scholars, Cynthia Enloe, John Paul Lederach and Abdul Aziz Said with a roundtable and a reception. Given that these distinguished scholars come from different parts of our field (gender, conflict resolution/transformation and peace studies) and are all well known, I thought that we could use the Convention as an opportunity to explore the similarities, differences and blurred boundaries between Peace Studies (PS) and Conflict Resolution (CR).[2]

In preparation for this upcoming conversation, I thought it might be fruitful for the membership to begin engaging in a discussion about these issues and so, asked ISA HQ to make this blog space available for our use. In order to help us frame these issues, I would like to begin with a series of questions:


  • What are the boundaries between peace studies and conflict studies, if any?
  • If there are boundaries, are they hard and fast, or is there overlap?
  • How does any overlap create a blurring that masks differences in purposes, methods & outcomes?
  • Does the semantic separation mask a unity of the field (do we call ourselves different things only because of institutional pressures?

In attempting to address some of these questions I begin with an article by Elizabeth Dahl focusing on the philosophical similarities and differences between peace studies and conflict resolution.[3] In it, she outlines several areas of confluence between peace studies and conflict resolution writ large:

  • Many scholars and practitioners in both fields foreground marginalized voices
  • Both fields use interdisciplinary approaches to their topics and research
  • Both fields face a certain amount of marginalization from the mainstream IR & PS disciplines
  • Both fields share a belief in both Burton’s basic needs and Galtung’s distinction between positive and negative peace

From my own experience I would suggest that members of both fields hold to what many would describe as a normative view that positive peace and constructive conflict processes can lead to more social justice, and that this is a desirable outcome.[4]

While Dahl concentrates her analysis of both PS and CR into mainstream and critical discourses and argues that there are more differences between these discourses than between PS and CR as a whole, she does point that there are many differences between the two fields (or subfields if you like). These include:

  • A PS criticism of CR as accepting ambiguity regarding whom to blame for violence and a concomitant willingness to accept—and possibly reify—power structures by treating both sides impartially.
  • The CR view that positive changes can take place if dialogue and other processes are followed; with the understanding that this may require engaging with elements one might consider distasteful.
  • Less difference between mainstream & critical CR as opposed to mainstream and critical PS.
  • A more revolutionary view of the term peace as espoused by critical PS; in effect requiring much more social change or social engineering than CR as a whole.

I suspect that the essence of some of the difference between PS and CR may come from the perception that PS as a field is informed by a deeply seated moral position regarding power, conflict, fairness and unfairness while CR may be seen as more pragmatic in its approach to violence reduction. For PS then the ends are often seen as  paramount and, thus, more important than the means—though these too are important, while in CR the means—the processes if you will—are much more paramount than the ends; embedded in the belief that better ends will come out of using better processes. This means that the first two differences outlined by Dahl could be seen as differences in morality as expressed by differences in method.

This moral view regarding ends versus means was illustrated for me during a workshop that Pat Coy and I conducted at the 2010 Conflict Resolution Education Conference. The workshop was focused on creating introductory peace and conflict studies courses that would integrate core liberal educational goals in order to make it more likely that such courses could be designated as fulfilling general educational requirements. [5] In the workshop we found that there were some differences between those focused on CR and those focused on PS. Of the three groups who participated in our workshop, one chose to focus on peace studies while the other two chose to focus on conflict resolution. Both groups stressed interaction with the community and the value of positive peace, among other things, but the peace studies group started their semester’s outline with an examination of individual values and an exploration and clarification of an individual’s role in promoting peace. One of the two conflict resolution groups also focused on values, but did so much later in their semester’s outline; analyzing the role of values in creating community and the public aspects of peace and conflict resolution. Instead of starting with values in a personal manner, both the CR groups began with a focus on respecting diversity in complex societies, situations and conflicts.

Mind you, I believe that most—if not all—of the members of both communities pay attention to both the ends and the means or research and intervention—and they value both as important; but it seemed relevant that the morality of one’s place in the world was a much earlier focus than the ethical component in CR courses, often taught as a part of the intervention process and taught much later than the analysis of conflict sources and dynamics.

Does this difference make PS and CR different fields? Or do they reside in the same field but represent a difference in emphasis? Admittedly, my initial take is not so thorough, so I am looking forward to your comments, criticisms and other thoughts on the issue of the boundaries between Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution. I hope that we can begin this conversation here online and I look forward to a lively discussion about the subject with our three Distinguished Scholars at the 2014 Toronto Convention.



[1] It was my understanding that at an earlier Convention, 2005 or so, a motion to rename the section had been passed, but had not been ratified by the membership as required by our charter.

[2] This definition encompasses the larger field of conflict management, resolution and transformation; recognizing that many will see differences among the three (& welcoming debate on this issue as well).

[3] Elizabeth S. Dahl, "Oil and Water? The Philosophical Commitments of International Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution1," International Studies Review 14, no. 2 (2012).

[4] I would further suggest that my colleagues from more traditional fields, such as political science or IR, also have a normative view of the world; but that positivists amongst them would tend to believe that the Hobbesian view is how the world is rather than one way of viewing the world.

[5] See Patrick G. Coy and Landon E. Hancock, "Mainstreaming peace and conflict studies: designing introductory courses to fit liberal arts education requirements," Journal of Peace Education 7, no. 2 (2010).

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