Studying Peace and Conflict

Understanding War and Violence

War, violence, poverty, oppression, and other sources of human suffering are common throughout history, manifesting themselves differently in different times and settings. It is often noted, for example, that the 20th century brought with it a uniquely global scale of tragedy, most clearly represented by the two World Wars, the proliferation of violence around the world following the fall of the Soviet Union, and most recently the increasing levels of inequality within and between nations. The beginning of 21st century on the other hand has displayed both continuity and change with the decades preceding it. Patterns of genocide and ethnicized violence, as transpired repeatedly in the 1990's, continue today in places like Darfur, while the newfound focus on terrorism has shifted attention away from many more traditional issues and perspectives in world politics.

Mirroring this long record of human ills, attempts to critically analyze, understand, and respond to major sources of conflict and suffering also stretch far back in time. Again, however, it was only in the last century that the world finally saw the emergence of a large and diverse range of ideas, institutions, organizations, and social movements dedicated to spreading and strengthening peace and justice on a global scale. Key to these developments has been the increasing attention given by intellectuals and researchers to the rigorous study and theorizing of conflict, violence, and peace, and the application of many of these ideas by practitioners, activists, and even world leaders. In the last two decades especially, the United Nations and various other types of governmental and non-governmental organizations have focused heavily on engaging with violent conflict and other contemporary problems afflicting various areas of the world.

The Development of Peace and Conflict Studies

Contemporary Peace and Conflict Studies and closely allied areas such as Conflict Resolution Studies, Peace and Justice Studies, Peace Research, or simply Peace Studies, began as a response to the World Wars. The field was later spurred on by the anti-colonialism and human rights movements, the nuclear arms race between the US and the USSR, the large amount of violent conflicts that broke out in the 1990's, and the response to these conflicts by various actors and especially the United Nations system. Most recently, expansion of the field has grown out of 9/11 and the global reaction to it, the linking of development and international security, debates around globalization, and even the environmental movement.

Today, peace and conflicts studies is an extremely broad and interdisciplinary field that is studied at universities throughout Europe, North and South America, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Because it encompasses such a wide range of issues from war and humanitarian intervention to peacebuilding and international cooperation to sustainable development and social justice, peace and conflict studies scholars can draw on traditional disciplines such as history, philosophy, geography, and political economy, the full range of the social sciences, as well as more applied fields such as law, war studies, international relations, human rights, development studies, policy studies, and public administration.

Moreover, much of the research in this area comes not only from universities and think tanks, but also from practitioners working at the assortment of governmental and non-governmental organizations actively engaged in policy-making, advocacy, and on-the-ground activities around these issues. Besides its firmly interdisciplinary character, what therefore distinguishes peace and conflict studies from other fields of inquiry is its strong normative commitment to resolving conflict and promoting peace while minimizing violence and suffering and maximizing justice. The challenge for the field today is to continue to maintain its critical interdisciplinary perspective, while at the same time remaining relevant to and engaged with real-world policy and action.

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