Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Peace research

Research on human beings has undergone a great deal of ethical advancement since the infamous US Public Health Service 40-year 'study' of impoverished African American men who had or acquired syphilis and were never treated nor even told of their diagnosis and availability of a cheap and sure cure, penicillin. This Tuskegee syphilis experiment was finally ended after a whistleblower provided documentation to various media and the shameful conduct was exposed. I suppose if that whistleblower, Peter Buxtun,
a PHS venereal-disease investigator in San Francisco, tried it today he'd be tossed into some DHS prison and charged with aiding the enemy and medical espionage. Ethical advancement may not be a steady state phenomenon, as Bradley Manning has taught us.

Simply, it is imperative that announced ends not be sought by terrible means. Yes, we want to understand disease and violence. No, we do not want to inflict more of the same as we put human beings under our research magnifying glass.

Research processes are not neutral. They are an intervention that changes conflict dynamics. While the final outcome of any conflict assessment will never be perfect, the discussion and learning that happen in the research process constitute a form of peacebuilding....Participants in conflict assessment research can and should become the designers and planners of peacebuilding in their own context.
--Lisa Schirch (2013, p. 34)
Research is not limited to Ph.D.s with big grants. A community organizer does research or fails to get community buy-in (Ohmer & DeMasi, 2009). A nonprofit advocacy organization that hopes to help a neighborhood or a village or a people in their struggles to get more peace and prosperity needs to understand metrics of success by gathering baseline data first and cautiously proceeding from there.

A first precept then, is transparency. Coming to a problem with a hidden agenda or cloaked information is how we make ethical blunders and alienate the very people we hope to help.

We need much more research into how we mitigate and eliminate violence at all levels, from the basic domestic violence in our homes to transnational terrorism, international invasions, and state terrorism by military dictators. That research must be done in partnership with those who are suffering, with their full knowledge and design. This is how trust and sustainable results are produced. Ethical peace research is one way we can help propagate these practices.


Ohmer, Mary L. & DeMasi, Karen (2009). Consensus organizing: A community development workbook. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Schirch, Lisa (2013). Conflict assessment & peacebuilding planning: Toward a participatory approach to human security. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.

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