Sunday, June 19, 2011

What makes Peace and Conflict Studies unique?

Max Weber (1864-1920) is a demigod in the discipline of sociology. Many in my field, Peace and Conflict Studies, admire much of his work and many of his insights. And we reject of his assertions too.

Like me, the field of Peace and Conflict Studies is only about 60 years old--old for a man, young for a field of study. It grew from the outliers in many other disciplines, including Religion, Philosophy, Sociology, Psychology, Political Science, History, Literature, and Economics. While we use much of the core canonical corpus of knowledge from these traditional disciplines, we also part company with many of their foundational scholars on some key points, most saliently, transformation of destructive conflict to constructive conflict.

So, we leave behind the von Clausewitzian notion of war as politics by other means. We challenge the Just War doctrines of the world's largest religions. We seek the histories of oppressed peoples--e.g., African American, women, gays--and of marginal ideas--e.g., nonviolence, environmental defense. We explore psychological elements of reconciliation and assertion that can help with this transformation. And we look more at methods of conflict management than we do at left and right on the political spectrum.

And so we must part company at times with otherwise admired foundational figures:

The theory and empirical evidence exist to challenge the previously uncontested orthodoxy of the influential sociologist Max Weber and other scholars, who, in Weber's words, contend, "He who seeks the salvation of the soul, his own and that of others, should not seek it along the avenue of politics, for the quite different tasks of politics can only be solved by violence."
--Summy, Ralph (2000). In Search of Identity. Social Alternatives, 19(2), 4-7.

Summy is asserting our identity as a field. We love sociology and the other disciplines, but we do in fact perform our own research too, we have our own starting points, and Summy points to that well.

As we see with events on the world stage, part of the world is catching up (e.g. Arab Spring) and part are dead-enders (Gaddaffi, Obama, and NATO). The battle for the spirit of humankind is being waged in earnest. Peace and Conflict Studies has something to give to that struggle.

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