Desktop version

Home arrow Political science

  • Increase font
  • Decrease font

<<   CONTENTS   >>


According to many visions of the future, the post-pandemic world is a bleak place shaken by deep tremors in the political and economic world order. It is a world of fear, uncertainty, isolationism, authoritarian governance, and socio-economic catastrophes. The trauma of the pandemic, the widespread anxiety that it has produced, and its visible tendency to exacerbate social and political conflicts can be projected forward to produce a grimly dystopian view of world society.

On the other hand, paradoxically, there is also a genuine hope in many communities that humanity can learn significant lessons from the ills of how we lived, consumed, and ran our societies before the pandemic. Coexisting with dystopian fears there is a strong belief that humanity can use this crisis as an opportunity to build a better world based on the lessons learned from the “old normal.” An apocryphal story has it that the Chinese word for “crisis” is composed of characters that mean both "danger” and "opportunity.” The story may be fictitious, but the concept is convincing. A crisis such as the current pandemic generates both justifiable fears and equally justifiable hopes.

What is to prevail for the future from this binary of projections is yet to be seen. It seems clear, however, that unless we address deep-rooted structural challenges such as the global injustices of decision-making, trade, and finance, the “old normal” will return with additional socio-economic challenges, such as increased unemployment, deeper gaps between the haves and have-nots, and wider societal divisions. Without needed changes, the post-pandemic world is likely to be a much harsher environment for preventing conflict and building peace, because the security and development challenges faced by many societies around the globe will likely be magnified. Moreover, there may be less political will and fewer resources to deal with them, especially in the international context.

There are already all signs of worsening intercommunity and interstate relations across the world, including protests and counter-protests for racial justice in the United States, deteriorating refugee-host community relations in Europe, inter-religious attacks in India, maritime and energy resources wrangling in Eastern Mediterranean, and increasing political violence in many parts of the Middle East and Africa. To respond effectively in such an environment, the peace and conflict studies community, among others, may need to concentrate on spearheading the post-pandemic change process, expanding on its multi- and interdisciplinary frameworks, and building partnerships for meaningful impact on the ground.

Once the pandemic’s immediate impact lessens and the situation becomes more "habitual” over the next few months, the hopeful "lessons-to-be-learned” agenda could lose its attractiveness. Subsequently, returning to the “old normal” might, unfortunately, become more appealing. With that kind of comforting tendency, many people may be tempted to engage in scapegoating: attributing responsibility for endemic environmental and social problems to groups or institutions other than their own. The scapegoats could differ from country to country; migrants or allegedly immoral or extremist groups might play that role in some nations, while in others devious external actors could be targeted. For some groups, China is already such a target, since it is where the pandemic started in early 2020.

If we in the peace and conflict studies community do not want scapegoating to further dominate the political agenda, then we need to be active agents in the facilitation of change in socio-economic and political affairs, from our immediate communities to global relations. Our analyses will have to go deep beneath the surface of events to explore the impact on social relations of institutionalized greed, arrogance, brutality, and ignorance. Our current concerns and research areas in conflict prevention and peacebuilding should serve as usefill starting points, but from curriculum development to research, the interface between peace and justice should also become much more explicit. In this way, we can turn spotlights on how such fundamental issues as the unsustainable exploitation of nature, bad governance, social inequality, discrimination, and many other injustices based on race, gender, faith, caste, and sexuality negate the formation of peaceful relations.

There is currently flourishing energy for transformative change globally, but to place this in a sound framework and to progress effectively we need, first, to focus on root causes. Second, we need to gather better evidence on what works in preventing conflicts and building peace. Third, we should help to organize responses to these challenges as proactive actors of conflict resolution and transformation. For example, the peace and conflict studies community could coordinate partnerships between universities, think tanks, civil society organizations, activists, social movements, and governments as facilitators and drivers of change. Overall, our community has an excellent

Foreword xiii opportunity to be bold, innovative, and relevant in responding to a truly global challenge.

Furthermore, to deal with the wide range of socio-economic and political impacts of the pandemic, the work of peace and conflict studies needs to become even more interdisciplinary than it is at present. Peace and conflict studies already benefit from the interfaces of various social sciences such as anthropology, political science, psychology, and sociology with such fields as philosophy, history, and religious studies. There is now a tendency to move forward toward an even more transdisciplinary approach in which disciplinary boundaries merge so that peace and conflict studies can be perceived as a "discipline” in its own right. A wide range of schools, institutes, and centers worldwide demonstrates these different contours of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary perspective. Such diversification is, in fact, a point of richness and advantage in terms of how individual peace and conflict studies institutions can engage with the post-pandemic world.

Having said this, though. I would still urge the peace and conflict studies community to open their doors to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) disciplines, as well. For a long time, these disciplines were considered to be wedded to the sociopolitical and military status quo. Nevertheless, in order to remain relevant to new peace and security challenges, our work must benefit from technology and STEM research methodologies, systems, and tools. On the ground, this is already happening; for example, technology (including “big data”) is used extensively in early warning systems, refugee crises, and conflict prevention systems. However, there is still much room for further engagement with STEM disciplines in our teaching and research. It is ironic that peace engineering or humanitarian engineering activities are often hosted in engineering schools rather than in peace and conflict studies institutions.

Finally, peace and conflict studies programs have built strong partnerships with local peacebuilding actors. There has been significant growth in local ownership and participation methodologies in peace and conflict studies research. Many of our colleagues now teach such bottom-up approaches in conflict prevention and peacebuilding. For example, the concept of “everyday peace” has emerged from the desire to understand peace as a daily occurrence phenomenon rather than a macro level objective: the absence of political violence. To create a meaningfill impact on the ground, however, the peace and conflict studies community still needs to improve its practice in several ways.

First, a meaningful impact depends upon meaningful partnerships. In turn, these can be achieved only through building trust between the parties, a process that requires adequate time to nurture transformative relationships. Second, the peace and conflict studies community in the global

North still needs to eradicate asymmetric power relations with partners in the global South. Especially in the aftermath of the pandemic, we are likely to end up with a much more vulnerable global South due to the pandemic’s negative impacts on socio-economic resources and capacities. Finally, our work with local peacebuilding networks should be used in efforts to rebuild pandemic-affected societies. There are likely to be many opportunities for such transitioning, which could lay the foundations for more multi- and interdisciplinary applications.

With these post-pandemic world challenges in mind, the members of George Mason University’s Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution are eager to take an active role both in research and education and in forging new practical partnerships. The Carters' legacy of selfless, brave, and insurmountable dedication to peace has been our beacon in the process of renaming our school. Their name affirms that we pursue a particular set of values: compassion, humility, solidarity, a calling for social justice, and a commitment to peace. Those values matter for us, because we are a community of doers who have dedicated ourselves to preventing conflict and building peace while pursuing social justice, both locally, nationally, and internationally.

This book has been motivated by such a sense of ethical activism. Its co-editors, Professors Richard E. Rubenstein and Solon Simmons, its contributors, and the other members of our broad community of scholars and activists hope to initiate a post-pandemic peace and conflict studies conversation about our field’s roles, responsibilities, and future trajectories for teaching, research, and practice. As the Carter School, we hope that the publication of these short essays written by faculty members, researchers, alumni, and other colleagues will stimulate a broader discussion leading to concrete steps to shape peace in the post-pandemic world.

The peace and conflict smdies community is well placed to play a leading role in the challenging drama that humanity is currently experiencing. With our skills of facilitation, negotiation, mediation, and understanding and experience of how to resolve and transform conflicts, we have a responsibility to engage with these problems. Our societies hunger for this sort of leadership in building peace and pursuing justice. For institutions like ours to remain relevant, we need to act as active agents of transformative change.

Alpasian Ozerdem


<<   CONTENTS   >>