Thursday, July 22, 2010

What is a public peace intellectual and how do we make more?

The term public peace intellectual was coined by Johan Galtung. What he meant by that was that the academics who published peer-reviewed articles and books should also be accessible to non-academic citizens in order to help create new social norms and eventual policy changes. Sadly, the peace side of our academic expertise has largely remained untapped, while the war side is routinely featured in our public discourse.
This unfortunate situation is due to a number of related and unrelated factors. The three primary problems:
• Mainstream media is corporate, war system media and is inimical to a peace analysis.
• Even with academic freedom, some sanctions can still be applied against a professor who writes about controversial topics.
• Many universities are so pressurized to generate student credit hours, research grant monies and serious amounts of academic publishing that professors simply have no time to write for mainstream media.
Each of these three has possible spin-off problems. For instance, if mainstream media is generally hostile to a peace analysis, peace professionals may simply give up. They may have the time to occasionally write an op-ed, or would be happy to provide an interview to a journalist, but they don’t have time to chase down openings. Or the professor with the peace analysis may have far more academic freedom without any sanction than she knows, but cannot feel safe about exploring that question in a slow job market.
In an effort to address some of the aspects of the first and third concerns, I launched PeaceVoice in 2006. PeaceVoice is a free service to both peace professionals and editors. When a peace professional—a professor, an institute intellectual, a staffer for a nongovernmental organization, or a high-ranking activist—writes an analysis or an op-ed that meets some basic criteria and sends it to me, I distribute it to editors, who then have the option to use that piece. Students have gathered the contacts for editors and our web manager posts all the pieces that we distribute as soon as they are published, at which point they are available for free republishing. This works. Each piece is printed someplace. Indeed, when we’ve done basic searches, we find that, even though I only ask one thing of editors—that they kindly let me know if they choose to use the piece—they usually don’t. I understand, as an editor, that demands are so stringent these days it is hard to attend to each professional detail. I very much appreciate the editors who do take the time, and occasionally one will mention that this is the first time he’s mentioned it to me, and he frequently uses the PeaceVoice offerings. So we have a working system, the goal of which is to begin to enrich our national conversation toward peace and away from war.

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