Student Blog: ‘Debates in Peace & Conflict’

What are the most pressing debates in peace and conflict studies today? In this blog, third-year IR students (of IR3048 and IR3038) engage critically with diverse topics of peace and conflict. The blogs are purely reflective, and Dr Malaka Shwaikh recommended using non-academic resources and to rely as much as possible on the discussion done within tutorials and during external speakers sessions. The blogs cover several thought-provoking topics from reflecting on ‘white saviourism’, to how linguistic concepts such as resilience and empowerment may lead to more harm than good, and questioning the role of the UN in peacekeeping today.

By Grace Hudson

The Role of Academia and Education in Conflict

Some traditional scholars in the discipline of International Relations condemn critical perspectives and theories for being just that, critical. Stating that they merely criticize others’ work, propose no ideas of their own, and no practical solutions. I would have to strongly disagree with this argument.

By Aiden Hawker

Whose peace do refugee camps really secure?

The intuitive, almost instinctive answer is that refugee camps secure the peace of the refugees within them. I argue however, that refugee camps, particularly those in the case of the European migration crisis, serve a different peace – the peace of those outside who feel threatened by the perceived refugee ‘other’.

By Octavia Chappell

Navigating the Terminology of Victimhood

In today’s political climate it has never been clearer that language matters. As I write, impeachment managers in the United States Senate are exhibiting how language used by a former President directly incited a violent insurrection on his own government. This trial dominates the news, yet, at the same time, little attention has been paid to the implications of language in disempowering the agency of those outside the Global North who have experienced some of the most intense conflict and resulting trauma imaginable.

By Raja Albers

The construction of difference and the ‘West’ as superior through poverty porn

On pictures and in video ads of international as well as nongovernmental organisations what we often see is a Black, Brown, Asian, Indigenous or other ‘minority ethnic’ child (when viewed from the perspective of the white Western donor), pictured from ‘above’, looking vulnerable or ‘helpless’ that should evoke compassion and empathy and the wish to help.

By Rhea Soni

Volunteer Tourism: a neo-colonialist perspective

As a 9th grader in high school, I went on a volunteer trip to Cuzco, Peru, in the hopes of gaining a more holistic understanding of Peruvian culture by participating in Spanish classes and teaching English at a local orphanage. I signed onto the trip under the impression that I would be “helping” the local orphans learn English and better my Spanish—a justifiable cultural trade (in my 13-year-old opinion). However, reflecting on the trip made me realize that I was contributing to the neo-colonialist power structures that separated me from “them”, and made me believe that as a 13-year-old, I was more equipped to teach English than a local teacher.

By Hannah Suiter

How hidden meanings in the words we use as students, academics and peacemakers can affect chances for peace

The words we use, much like the people or actions they are attached to, are not passive in our study of peace and conflict.

By Kiran Hughes

On White Saviorism

Having grown up in Africa as the daughter of two white, American parents who work in public health and development, I have a fairly intimate understanding of white saviorism.

By Surina Martin 

Crisis on crisis: COVID-19 in the Gaza Strip

It’s been seven months since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, and it’s hard to remember what life was like before it all. I almost forgot that Brexit was still a thing as the headlines were dominated by coronavirus. Yet for many areas affected by fragility, conflict and violence (FCV), already existing tensions did not take a peripheral position but were rather exacerbated by the outbreak of the virus, which necessitated effective communication between governments, health services and the public. One such affected area is the Gaza strip, which continues to be a major site of conflict between Israel and Palestine.

By Delaney Flanigan

The impact of existing structures of knowledge production on oppressed communities: reflections on the work of Rafeef Ziadah

A critical view of the relationship between knowledge and power asserts that there is never a single understanding of an issue or topic, instead there are hundreds of understandings, yet very few are endorsed and accepted (for more information on this see the work of Walter Mignolo and Michel Foucault).

By Laoise Rogers

Problematising Climate Resilience Discourse

‘Resilience’: a word that, for me, would have previously evoked solely positive images of strength and the ability to overcome adversity. However, our tutorials this semester have encouraged me to analyse the language of peace and conflict studies more critically. I decided to further delve into ‘resilience’ in relation to the threat of climate change to humans. Climate change is a threat multiplier and significantly exacerbates many peace and conflict issues, so it is important to reflect on the effects of popular discourse.

By Hannah Suiter

Instincts and Peacekeeping: How to go beyond our ‘first thoughts’

When conceptualizing contemporary peace efforts, I am instructed by an old saying.  It posits the idea that when faced with a problem, our first thoughts are primarily a reflection of our environment, and the context in which we live.  What we think next, which can either agree with or refute our first thought, is who we really are.  Too often when we speak of conflict, our ‘reasoned minds’ choose to cling to our first thoughts.  These can be used to justify strategies, such as military intervention, or even an Orientalist feeling that the people of a nation are ‘used to’ a conflict, or are naturally violent.  We are guilty of being satisfied within the comfort of our own preconceptions, and the powerful amongst us are trusted to act upon them.

By Ella Handy

The Importance of Decolonialising Definitions of Peace

Language has always been utilised by Western interventionists in conflict zones to construct and preserve (neo)colonial power dynamics. Poststructural scholars believe that those in power create knowledge, and this knowledge in turn creates further power, in a cyclical relationship. This theory can be very much applied to definitions of peace.

By Natalie Wong

Why is liberal peace problematic?

Liberal peace is defined as a dominant form of peacebuilding based on particular values aimed at restructuring and regulating countries in the global South to prevent conflict and poverty. Liberal peace can be problematic because liberal values, which underpins it and which it seeks to impose (at times forcefully), are Eurocentric and tend to run counter to local values of the global South. While it may no longer be helpful to rely on such overly simplistic dichotomisation of ‘the West’ against ‘the rest’ as polar opposites, which has been blurred by globalisation and the exchange of ideas, it is important to make the distinction between an amicable exchange of ideas and the forceful imposition of specific Western liberal democratic ideals.

By Ailsa Martin

Challenging Resilience

The ability to bounce back from adversity, to meet challenges with positivity, to remain strong when others would crumble. An attribute many employers value, resilience has become quite a buzzword in society. Resilience is a label given to individuals, communities, and states that have been subjected to challenges many others have never experienced. Fragility, fear, and inequalities are masked behind acts of strength idolised by those on the outside. In international relations, humanitarian crises are often met with narratives of resilience – communities coming together to support one another in times of crisis. But why should this be necessary?

By Maria Zoe Caimi

Is Empowerment Truly All That Empowering?

Empowerment can be defined as the act of giving the marginalised, usually women, an opportunity to demonstrate a certain degree of autonomy and self-determination in their everyday lives. In recent decades, the West has taken a keen interest in empowerment, seeing it as the panacea for all of women’s ills. This view has caused empowerment programmes to evolve into a magic bullet used by the West to justify their establishment of liberal-capitalism abroad.

By Jasmine Humphrey

Local voices

Is peace possible? Well, after ten weeks of invaluable IR3048 discussions and a year filled with crises that ranged from police brutality to a global pandemic, this question has grown to resonate with me. I feel that there are various changes needed to make the world a more sustainably peaceful place, and, amongst the most important, is centralising local voices. As a language student especially, I feel we must emphasise engaging with the right discourse to build peace.

By Grace Bitner

The United Nations: For the Many or the Few?

The United Nations is one of the largest protectors of human rights around the world, yet the power of the permanent five members (Russia, China, the United States, the United Kingdom, and France) on the UN Security Council (UNSC) demonstrates that, structurally, the UN is controlled by those five countries. Specifically looking at intervention, these countries have the ultimate power: they authorize mandates, alter them, and end them – demonstrating either success or a lack of will to continue. Identifying these oppositional patterns – a structure for the few, yet a humanitarian discourse for the many – led me to question which aspect has more power. Who does the UN serve?

By Alexandra Kenyon

Photojournalism as a Problematic Concept 

Prior to beginning this module, I thought I had a pretty good grasp on a “critical” perspective of international relations. However, I quickly realised that I was not as aware as I had thought – there were many issues that have been discussed that I had not thought twice about: I was feeding into the privileged obliviousness that so many in the West do. A key example of this would be my lack of awareness surrounding photojournalism and its use in humanitarian intervention.

By Catriona R.

Within peacekeeping mission history there are frequent examples and accusations of trading resources/aid in exchange for sex, participation in sex trafficking operations, and sexual misconduct from the individuals. There is a known correlation between peacekeeping presence and proliferation of sex work/trafficking in the region. The women in question are generally displaced or living in a conflict area, and often are dependent on aid. Peacekeepers in light of this are taking advantage of a vulnerable population who are without choice. This is not ‘boys being boys’ or a simple case of ‘supply and demand’ – it’s exploitation.

By Surina Martin

Crime Without Punishment: Peacekeeping and Sexual Abuse

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P), the UN’s political commitment to protecting human rights, provides the UN a moral framework within which their actions are legitimized. Used to buttress intervention in a conflict, UN Peacekeeping forces are the guardians of this noble cause; R2P frames them as forces for good who serve in the interests of civilians’ safety, protecting them from gross violations of their rights. But what happens when those very people who hold such a responsibility are complicit in the crimes against those they swore to protect?

By Emma H.

Regionalisation in UN Peacekeeping is needed for a sustainable future

To be blunt, regionalisation – the process of the devolution of peacekeeping missions in some capacity to organisations closer to the action – is the way forward if the United Nations is as profoundly dedicated to tackling climate change and the related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as they appear to be. The 17 SDGs promote gender equality, economic security and a level access to electricity for all amongst other commitments.

By Katherine Cully

“Never Again… In the West”

Ready to explore local peace processes like the Gacaca Courts in Rwanda, I began a short documentary on YouTube, when partway through, I felt a sudden rush of horror and tightness in my chest. The scene in front of me showed clothes, jewelry, and personal items that remained in a church where thousands were killed as part of the Rwandan Genocide in 1994.

By Maria Ornes

After peacekeeping, is there justice? An analysis on the efficacy of the ICC and its role as a peacekeeping tool

Usually, when discussing world events society focuses on how to solve global crises; however, what happens following the conclusion of peacekeeping efforts? Since the Nuremberg and Tokyo Military Tribunals the world has grappled with the need to have an internationally recognized justice system while still respecting a state’s sovereignty. In 2002 the Rome Statute founded the International Criminal Court (ICC) with the mandate of investigating individuals, such as heads of state, for crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, many of the most powerful nations are not signatories; something that has damaged the legitimacy of the ICC on the international stage.

By Laoise Rogers

Could Western societies become more internally peaceful?

Without formal means of policing and punishment, would Western societies be ravaged by violent conflict? Many would contend that violence is inevitable, necessitating these structures. However, ‘peaceful societies’, where violence is rare, do exist – showing internal conflicts can be managed through alternative methods that prioritise peace and socialisation of the rejection of violence (Bonta, 1996).

By Ella Handy

War reporting: a tool for peace or fueling the perpetuation of violence?

Throughout history, war correspondents have played a vital role in bringing the horrors of conflict to the attention of the world. However, there is a fine line between shocking world leaders into action to promote peace, and aiding the perpetuation of violence against victims of war by using politically-charged, gendered and neocolonial language.

By Natalie Wong

What comes first: justice or peace?

The debate of justice or peace, and which comes first, implies a universally-applicable prioritisation of the two contested concepts. I argue that such a prioritisation and generalisation is not an apparent possibility. Furthermore, while justice may be seen as a prerequisite to peace, I argue that simultaneously addressing both may be more productive to secure a sustained justice and peace.

By Claire Elman

Can the UN be neutral?

In our conflict management course, we have learned that the United Nations peacekeeping ideology is founded on the three core principles: host-state consent, impartiality, and non-use of force except in self-defense. The UN claims to stick by these principles, but at points throughout its tenure, each principle has been challenged. I would argue that the UN fundamentally fails to be impartial.

By Alexandra Imberh

What’s wrong with empowerment?

Empowerment is the buzzword – as a woman in Western society I cannot escape its promising call: ‘Girl-boss’ mugs and ‘how to take control over your own life’ guides and ‘use your voice’ and ‘fight like Wonder Woman’ advertisements – but for what purpose? To conform to a standard of individual success purely measured in neo-liberal economic monetary terms? Are we changing the power relations of an oppressing patriarchy by selling soaps in our own shop on Etsy and donating money so that marginalized women in other parts of the world can learn how to make soaps, too?

By Delaney Flanigan

How is empowerment a Western tool of control?

In recent years, the term and process of empowerment has become increasingly prevalent within the political sphere. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines empowerment as “the granting of the power, right, or authority to perform various acts or duties”. Yet despite this broad description, when I think of what an ‘empowered individual’ looks like, very specific images come to mind. In my experience, those deigned ‘empowered’ are individuals who exemplify Western values, such as those who find financial success through capitalist pathways or those fighting for human rights, usually in a non-Western nation.

By Hannah Vanderstappen

Social media’s potentially leading role in peacebuilding’s ‘local turn’

Whilst traditional mass media’s role in peacekeeping has been substantially analyzed and possesses an array of empirical evidence; social media, as a relatively new technology, has largely been lacking any consideration in peace and conflict studies.

By David Anderson

The UN: A Vehicle for Peace?

For many in the West, the dominant narrative is that the United Nations (UN) is a necessary vehicle for peace. Indeed, this was my own view until recently but here I challenge this naturalised position by asking whether the UN is really a peacemaker.