UCSIA
Prinsstraat 14
B-2000 Antwerpen
marijke.celis@ua.ac.be
Belgium Tel. +32 (0)3 265 49 60
Fax +32 (0)3 707 09 31
Peacebuilding

Introduction

On December 5th – 7th 2018, UCSIA organizes an academic workshop on peacebuilding at the University of Antwerp.

This is the third in a series of three workshops UCSIA is organising to examine the problem of peace in light of contemporary global political and cultural conditions. What meaning does peace have today and what practices and institutions are taken to embody it? Does global public opinion value peace or does it favor the comfort of security?

A noble aspiration informs the practice of peacebuilding. Its animating idea is that the experience of war typically leaves such severe wounds that the achievement of a sustainable peace demands more than a mere ending of hostilities. Trust needs to be restored. Non-violent political processes need to be introduced again. Economic institutions and networks need to be re-established. If these structural issues are not attended to, it is the assumption, then violence is bound to erupt anew. It is relatively simple to enforce a negative peace, but more difficult to keep it. In order to durably keep the peace, it is crucial to build a positive peace. This is crucial but, as one readily understands, it is difficult. It requires commitment, patience and skill.

Peacebuilding is an international practice. This is not to deny that various grassroots actors engage in a myriad of activities that are intended to restore peace, to bring back together communities that had become alienated (and worse) during often long periods of war, or to revamp local economies. However, the very concept of peacebuilding is an invention of the international community, which consecrated it as a separate field of international policymaking by establishing the UN Peacebuilding Commission in 2005. The idea of peacebuilding is not just that a positive peace needs to be built. The idea is more particularly that the international community has a responsibility to help building it. It is unclear, and maybe unknowable, just how much ‘the international community’ has taken this responsibility to heart or just how successful its interventions are. But it is clear that a veritable peacebuilding industry has developed since 2005. Numbers of people, working in all kinds of international and non-governmental organizations, have become peacebuilding professionals.

Peacebuilding is not without its critics. Some criticism goes straight to the heart of the matter and argues that peacebuilding does not betray a noble aspiration but a hubristic one. It attacks the modernism of the notion. Peace can maybe grow or develop, but surely it cannot be built. Another important line of criticism concerns the relationship between international peacebuilders and local people. Peacebuilders have sometimes been charged with arrogance and with willful ignorance of local contexts. Peacebuilders bring a peace that local societies do not necessarily desire, or they intend to bring peace, but they end up inadvertently stoking conflict.

As happens so often, concepts that are true in theory do not necessarily work in practice. The purpose of this workshop will be to assess the theory and practice of peacebuilding. To this end we will organize the workshop around four sub-themes.

  1. What is peacebuilding from a conceptual point of view? What is its conceptual history? Does it have a pre-history?
  2. Who are the peacebuilders? If peacebuilding has become a profession, who are the professionals? Are there any non-professional peacebuilders anymore? What role do religiously inspired peacebuilders play in this context?
  3. How does professional, international peacebuilding engage local counterparts and local contexts? How has this relationship evolved over time?
  4. Can peacebuilding work? When does it work? What have been its success stories?