Cultures of Peace: Reflections on the UN Declaration's First Decade
Michael True, author most recently of People Power: Fifty Peacemakers and Their Communities, 2007, lives in Worcester, MA. Here he reviews Handbook on Building Cultures of Peace, Joseph de Rivera, ed. (Springer Science+Business Media, 2009).
Marking the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World, Joseph de Rivera, a professor of psychology at Clark University, has edited an essential anthology focusing on various aspects of this powerful document.
The handbook's 25 essays, by 35 international activists and scholars, promote the development of cultures of peace while acknowledging the complexity of the UN Declaration. The authors are frank in pointing out the many difficulties associated with peacemaking around the globe.
What makes the anthology particularly valuable is the range of professional experience and backgrounds of the authors, who dramatize once again that every academic discipline has a contribution to make in the complex task of peacemaking. Although occasionally fond of the jargon characteristic of the social sciences, the authors have usually succeeded in making their discourse accessible.
The UN Declaration defines a culture of peace as one that is based on values, attitudes, and behaviors that reject violence and address root causes of conflict through dialogue and negotiation. The Declaration emphasizes eight components of such a culture: education, sustainable development, human rights, gender equality, democratic participation, understanding and tolerance, the free flow of information, and international security through disarmament and nonviolent initiatives.
Each of the essays focuses on one of these components, exploring its psychological dynamics and adding to the mix considerations of justice, post-conflict resolution, nonviolent action, and political stability. De Rivera was adventurous in his selections, including essays on matters not always included in discussions of peacemaking, such as gender equality, restorative justice and prison reform, and police oversight. Although I can't do justice to all the contributions, I will describe two that suggest the usefulness and sophistication of the book and its approach.
The Skills of Peacemaking
"Building and sustaining a culture of peace does not mean eliminating conflict," Michele Crowell and William B. Vogel point out in "Nonviolent Action, Trust, and Building a Culture of Peace." Citing Kenneth Boulding, a co-founder of peace, conflict and nonviolence studies, the authors emphasize the fact that peacemaking is "an activity and not just an arbitrary state of mind: peace is an active process similar to an art, a craft, or a skill." That means that peace educators need to teach skills inherent in that activity, such as mediation and conflict transformation in schools and classrooms, as well as role-playing for a picket line or for incidents related to attack or tension.
Crowell and Vogel emphasize that the repertoire of nonviolent methods -- 189 of them identified by Gene Sharp in his Waging Nonviolent Conflict (2005), and elsewhere -- can be powerful tools "for anyone engaging in contentious action and dealing with the behavioral consequences of its practices." These approaches contribute to trust-building as well as to altering the structural distribution of power locally, nationally, and internationally. Even when it doesn't overturn the structural conditions of violence, nonviolent struggle can help diminish "the social importance of violence" and help to lessen a culture's dependence upon militarism.
The relatively new academic interdiscipline to which this book contributes is best understood not as "peace and conflict studies," but as "peace, conflict, and nonviolence studies." Until nonviolence occupies a central place in peace research and scholarship, in conferences and in academic programs, much of the discourse surrounding peacemaking leans toward abstraction. It's heavy on education theory, but light on "action," or "peacemaking," including the skills necessary for "constructing" peace.
In "What Research Tells Us," Gavriel Salomon provides a useful summary of empirical research, indicating what works and what doesn't work, with whom and under what conditions. He helps us "translate the general and undifferentiated goals into more specific ones and point to their limitations."
Although based upon a relatively limited sample, Salomon's review offers some helpful hints and cautions regarding peace education, several of them obvious to experienced teachers, but useful to anyone new to the discipline and important as reminders even for those of us who are more seasoned:
- Different groups enter peace education with different perceptions and expectations;
- Different groups react differently to the process of peace education;
- Strongly held attitudes are not likely to be changed;
- That which can be changed by peace education can be changed back as easily by external forces;
- The effects of peace education need reinforcement lest they become eroded.
Joseph de Rivera provides a useful introduction to the anthology
and a commentary on the ten "method" chapters that
make up the third and final section. His frankness, "There
is much that we need to address, and much that we do not understand,"
emphasizes the challenges faced by anyone involved in teaching
peace, conflict, and nonviolence studies. At the same time, the
Handbook acknowledges and addresses the challenges in a
manner that validates the UN Declaration and strengthens its hold
on our attention.
AFSC Nominates Gene Sharp for Nobel Peace Prize
American Friends Service Committee, Philadelphia, has nominated Gene Sharp for the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. The announcement cited Sharp's lifelong work of studying and promoting the power of nonviolence to resist oppression and aggression.
Now 80, Sharp has devoted more than 50 years to documenting the strategies employed for nonviolent transformation, analyzing how they operate, and making the results of his research accessible to the widest possible audience. He continues his research and writing as Senior Scholar at the Albert Einstein Institution (AEI) (http://www.aeinstein.org).
Sharp's best known books and monographs include "The
Politics of Nonviolent Action" (1973), immediately recognized
as the definitive work on nonviolent struggle, "From Dictatorship
to Democracy" (1993), and "Waging Nonviloent Struggle:
20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potential,"2005.
Translated into more than 45 languages, many of his works can
be downloaded directly from the AEI website. AFSC received the
Nobel Prize for Peace in 1947.