Dr Rachel Julian gave this panel presentation at the annual Peace History conference in Manchester on 21st September.
Rachel teaches Peace Studies at Leeds Metropolitan University
BA International relations and peace studies
MA peace and Development
Lessons for today
I would like to speak about the role of education and in particular peace studies…because peace education and peace studies challenge the acceptance that the structures of violence are a valid way of dealing with conflict…and that they are woven into our campaigning activities.
Lessons for today
not just that we should know about historical resistance, but we should also know the qualities that critical and daring thinkers had, and ask ourselves how do we teach the knowledge, and skills that will enable people to see the patterns that reinforce inequality and violence today…and what’s more how will they be inspired and supported?
Peace education, in its broadest sense, has been embedded in social change for a long time, but peace studies, the strand most commonly associated with academia, has developed as a discipline over the past 50-60 years, and it remains a very diverse field, but basically focuses on:
how we reduce violence,
how to build peace,
nonviolent solutions to conflict.
most importantly activism.
Although peace studies resides in academia, the history of peace studies and the people involved, link it strongly to practice and activism…of applying theory and actually making change.
It includes the study at the international level of how we stop interstate war, and at the national level of how social movements work and the role of civil nonviolent resistance and down to the local level of community and family relationships.
I think it’s most important that since WW2 peace studies has contributed to our knowledge and understanding of how war happens, and our understanding about how we prevent and halt the violence has changed.
Peace studies emerged and challenged the thinking that violence was all down to states and proposed that by looking at how inspiring communities and individuals played a role it was possible to see that there are other ways of achieving peace, other than war.
This is apparent now, in amongst the many opinions on ‘what to do about Syria’ peace studies have been participants in explaining how violence doesn’t solve anything and how involving more states will only make the conflict more deadly.
Peace studies have been suggesting more focus on human security and humanitarianism…and promoting the nonviolent actions which are carried out everyday through the Map of Nonviolent Activities in Syria.
Understanding nonviolent social change in the midst of war is a constant source of study and concern. WW1 is one of the peaks in the level of direct and deadly violence this century, which researchers Steven Pinker and Joshua Goldstein maintain direct violence is in overall decline this century, and whilst peace campaigning and peace studies is a challenge today…we know that we are always silenced and denied voices in the midst of violence…but how much harder it was for those in the midst of WW1and other deadly conflicts…and what can we learn about the skills we need today and in the future to resist violence and war.
Peace studies is about peace (challenging the idea that we should only study conflict and war if we want peace!) but not the ivory tower policy making, but the real working on social change, and it’s about challenging and critical thinking.
It also engages young and old people to work together…if there is one thing we know in peace studies is that no one has all the answers and the shared learning across all ages and disciplines is important.
But, being challenging to the powerholders and violent structures in both theory and practice means that it is not universally supported…maybe this is why we have physics and management at almost every university, but in the UK we only have explicit peace studies at Bradford, Coventry, LeedsMet, Manchester, Liverpool and Lancaster (a northern theme here!)…although peace is taught in many other places through other disciplines…which is a strength.
What we know from history is that it takes courage, vision and determination to work for peace, and that for many the change doesn’t come soon enough…
Very early on, as an activist, peace studies gave me a way of thinking about social change, when I was taught of the work of Bill Moyer who helped us understand that social change takes a very very long time.
To me, our peace history teaches us many things, but one of those has to be of the enduring power of peace and nonviolence. The people, organisations and communities don’t just change things overnight with a project grant for 2 years…and we need to ensure our peace organisations and peace education similarly has an enduring power….and that we use every opportunity to build peace systems….and our universities should be part of it, and indeed challenged that bringing forth the new ideas on solving global problems is part of their role.
We know that it is not true that ‘if you want peace then prepare for war’, but it is a long project to convince people that human security is achievable without violence.
Peace studies conceptualises violence as all the structures and concepts that enforce militarism and inequality and discount nonviolence,
and shows the importance of dismantling the governmental and social structures…so absolutely linked to the campaigns which work across poverty, inequality and link climate change, arms trade and community development.
So, a lesson for today, from history…build peace in all ways and at all times, through all avenues…and let’s make sure we focus on sustainable peace and not just the causes of war.
What we should be doing is making sure that in peace studies resistance isn’t separated from academia, that they inform and support one another.