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Peace and conflict studies is a social science field that identifies and analyses violent and nonviolent behaviours as well as the structural mechanisms attending social conflicts with a view towards understanding those processes which lead to a more desirable human condition.[1] A variation on this, peace studies (irenology), is an interdisciplinary effort aiming at the prevention, de-escalation, and solution of conflicts by peaceful means, thereby seeking 'victory' for all parties involved in the conflict. This is in contrast to war studies (polemology) which has as its aim on the efficient attainment of victory in conflicts, big and large by violent means and to the satisfaction of one or more, but not all, parties involved. Disciplines involved may include political science, geography, economics, psychology, sociology, international relations, history, anthropology, religious studies, and gender studies, as well as a variety of others.


Historical background

Peace and conflict studies is both a pedagogical activity, in which teachers transmit knowledge to students, and a research activity, in which researchers create new knowledge about the sources of conflict.


As pedagogical activity

Academics and students in the world's oldest universities have long been motivated by an interest in peace. American student interest in what we today think of as peace studies first appeared in the form of campus clubs at U.S. colleges in the years immediately following the American Civil War. Similar movements appeared in Sweden in the last years of the 19th century, as elsewhere soon after. These were student-originated discussion groups, not formal courses included in college curricula.

The First World War was a turning point in Western attitudes to war. At the 1919 Peace of Paris where the leaders of France, Britain and the USA (led by Clemenceau, Lloyd George and Wilson) met to decide the future of Europe, Woodrow Wilson proposed his famous Fourteen Points for peacemaking. These included breaking up European empires into nation states and the establishment of the League of Nations. These moves, intended to ensure a peaceful future, were the background to a number of developments in the emergence of Peace and Conflict Studies as an academic discipline (but they also, as Keynes presciently pointed out, laid the seeds for future conflict)[2]. The founding of the first chair in International Relations (at Aberystwyth University, Wales), whose remit was partly to further the cause of peace, occurred in 1919.

After World War II, the founding of the UN system provided a further stimulus for more rigorous approaches to peace and conflict studies to emerge. Many university courses in schools of higher learning around the world began to develop which touched upon questions of peace (often in relation to war) during this period. The first academic program in the US in peace studies was not to develop until 1948, and then only at Manchester College in Indiana, a small liberal arts college. It was not until the late 1960s in the US that student concerns about the Vietnam War forced ever more universities to offer courses about peace, whether in a designated peace studies course or as a course within a traditional major. Work by academics such as Johan Galtung and John Burton, and debates in fora such as the Journal of Peace Research in the 1960s reflected the growing interest and academic stature of the field. [3] Growth in the number of peace studies programmes around the world was to accelerate during the 1980s, as students became more concerned about the prospects of nuclear war. As the Cold War ended, peace and conflict studies courses shifted their focus from international conflict [4] and towards complex issues related to political violence, human security, democratisation, human rights, social justice, welfare, development, and producing sustainable forms of peace. A proliferation of international organisations, agencies and international NGOs, from the UN, OSCE, EU, and World Bank to International Crisis Group, International Alert, and others, began to draw on such research. [5]

Agendas relating to positive peace in European academic contexts were already widely debated in the 1960s.[6]. By the mid-1990s peace studies curricula in the US had shifted "...from research and teaching about negative peace, the cessation of violence, to positive peace, the conditions that eliminate the causes of violence."[4] As a result the topics had broadened enormously. By 1994, a review of course offerings in peace studies included topics such as: "north-south relations"; "development, debt, and global poverty"; "the environment, population growth, and resource scarcity"; and "feminist perspectives on peace, militarism, and political violence."[4]

There is now a general consensus on the importance of peace and conflict studies amongst scholars from a range of disciplines in and around the social sciences, as well as from many influential policymakers around the world. Peace and conflict studies today is widely researched and taught in a large and growing number of institutions and locations. The number of universities offering peace and conflict studies courses is hard to estimate, mostly because courses may be taught out of different departments and have very different names. The International Peace Research Association website gives one of the most authoritative listings available. A 2008 report in the International Herald Tribune mentions over 400 programmes of teaching and research in peace and conflict studies, noting in particular those at the United World Colleges, Peace Research Institute (Oslo), the American University, Universities of Bradford, Costa Rica, George Mason, Lund, Michigan, Notre Dame, Queensland, Uppsala, Virginia, and Wisconsin. The Rotary Foundation and the UN University (Tokyo) supports several international academic teaching and research programmes.

A 1995 survey found 136 U.S. colleges with peace studies programs: "Forty-six percent of these are in church related schools, another 32% are in large public universities, 21% are in non-church related private colleges, and 1% are in community colleges. Fifty-five percent of the church related schools that have peace studies programs are Roman Catholic. Other denominations with more than one college or university with a peace studies program are the Quakers, Mennonites, Church of the Brethren, and United Church of Christ. One hundred fifteen of these programs are at the undergraduate level and 21 at the graduate level. Fifteen of these colleges and universities had both undergraduate and graduate programs."[4]

Other notable programmes can be found at the Universities of Hiroshima (Japan), King's College (London), Sabanci (Istanbul), Marburg (Germany), Sciences Po (Paris), Otago (New Zealand), St Andrews, and York (UK). Perhaps most importantly, such programmes and research agendas have now become common in institutions located in conflict, post-conflict, and developing countries and regions (eg. National Peace Council (Sri Lanka), Centre for Human Rights (University of Sarajevo, Bosnia), Chulalongkorn University (Thailand), National University of Timor (Timor-Leste), University of Kabul (Afghanistan), Makerere University, Mbarara University (Uganda), etc.

As research activity

Although individual thinkers such as Immanuel Kant had long recognised the centrality of peace (see Perpetual Peace), it was not until the 1950s and 1960s that peace studies began to emerge as an academic discipline with its own research tools, a specialized set of concepts, and forums for discussion such as journals and conferences. Beginning in 1959, with the founding of the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo (associated with Johan Galtung), a number of research institutes began to appear.[4]

In 1963, Walter Isard, the principal founder of Regional science assembled a group of scholars in Malmö, Sweden, for the purpose of establishing the Peace Research Society. The group of initial members included Kenneth Boulding and Anatol Rapoport. In 1973, this group became the Peace Science Society. Peace science was viewed as an interdisciplinary and international effort to develop a special set of concepts, techniques and data to better understand and mitigate conflict.[7] Peace science attempts to use the quantitative techniques developed in economics and political science, especially game theory and econometrics, techniques otherwise seldom used by researchers in peace studies.[8] The Peace Science Society website hosts the second edition of the Correlates of War, one of the most well known collections of data on international conflict.[9] The society holds an annual conference, attended by scholars from throughout the world.

In 1964, the International Peace Research Association was formed at a conference organized by Quakers in Clarens, Switzerland. Among the original executive committee was Johan Galtung. The IPRA holds a biennial conference. Research presented at its conferences and in its publications typically focuses on institutional and historical approaches, seldom employing quantitative techniques.[10] In 2001, the Peace and Justice Studies Association (PJSA) was formed as a result of a merger of two precursor organizations. The PJSA is the North American affiliate of IPRA, and includes members from around the world with a predominance from the United States and Canada. The PJSA publishes a regular newsletter (The Peace Chronicle), and holds annual conferences on themes related to the organization's mission "to create a just and peaceful world" through research, scholarship, pedagogy, and activism.[11]


Peace Studies can be classified as:

There has been a long standing and vibrant debate on disarmament issues, as well as attempts to investigate, catalogue, and analyses issues relating to arms production, trade, and their political impacts.[12] There have also been attempts to map the economic costs of war, or of relapses into violence, as opposed to those of peace.[13]

Peace and conflict studies is now well established within the social sciences: it comprises many scholarly journals, college and university departments, peace research institutes, conferences, as well as outside recognition of the utility of peace and conflict studies as a method.


Conceptions of peace

Galtung's negative and positive peace framework is the most widely used today. Negative peace refers to the absence of direct violence. Positive peace refers to the absence of indirect and structural violence, and is the concept that most peace and conflict researchers adopt. [14]

Several conceptions, models, or modes of peace have been suggested in which peace research might prosper.[15]

  • The first is that peace is a natural social condition, whereas war is not. The premise is simple for peace researchers: to present enough information so that a rational group of decision makers will seek to avoid war and conflict.
  • Second, the view that violence is sinful or unskillful, and that non-violence is skillful or virtuous and should be cultivated. This view is held by a variety of religious traditions worldwide: Quakers, Mennonites and other Peace churches within Christianity; Jains, Yoga, Buddhism, and other schools of Indian religion and philosophy, Islam (violence itself is a crime in the Quran).
  • Third is pacifism: the view that peace is a prime force in human behaviour.
  • A further approach is that there are multiple modes of peace.

There have been many offerings on these various forms of peace. These range from the well known works of Kant, Locke, Rousseau, Paine, on various liberal international and constitutional and plans for peace. Variations and additions have been developed more recently by scholars such as Raymond Aron, Edward Azar, John Burton, Martin Ceadal, Kevin Dooley, Johan Galtung, Michael Howard, Vivienne Jabri, Jean-Paul Lederach, Roger Mac Ginty, Hugh Miall, David Mitrany, Oliver Ramsbotham, Anatol Rapoport, Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen, Oliver Richmond, S.P. Udayakumar, Tom Woodhouse, others mentioned above and many more. Democratic peace, liberal peace, sustainable peace, civil peace, and other concepts are regularly used in such work.

Conflict triangle

Johan Galtung's conflict triangle works on the assumption that the best way to define peace is to define violence, its antithesis. It reflects the normative aim of preventing, managing, limiting and overcoming violence.[14]

  • Direct (overt) violence, e.g., direct attack, massacre.
  • Structural violence. Death by avoidable reasons such as malnutrition. Structural violence is indirect violence caused by an unjust structure and is not to be equated with an act of God.
  • Cultural violence. Cultural violence occurs as a result of the cultural assumptions that blind one to direct or structural violence. For example, one may be indifferent toward the homeless, or even consider their expulsion or extermination a good thing.

Each corner of Galtung's triangle can relate to the other two. Ethnic cleansing can be an example of all three.

Cost of conflict

Cost of conflict is a tool which attempts to calculate the price of conflict to the human race. The idea is to examine this cost, not only in terms of the deaths and casualties and the economic costs borne by the people involved, but also the social, developmental, environmental and strategic costs of conflict. The approach considers direct costs of conflict, for instance human deaths, expenditure, destruction of land and physical infrastructure; as well as indirect costs that impact a society, for instance migration, humiliation, growth of extremism and lack of civil society.

Strategic Foresight Group, a think tank in India, has developed a Cost of Conflict Series for countries and regions involved in protracted conflicts. This tool is aimed at assesing past, present and future costs looking at a wide range of parameters.[16]

Normative aims

The normative aims of Peace Studies are conflict transformation and conflict resolution through mechanisms such as peacekeeping, peacebuilding (e.g., tackling disparities in rights, institutions and the distribution of world wealth) and peacemaking (e.g., mediation and conflict resolution). Peacekeeping falls under the aegis of negative peace, whereas efforts toward positive peace involve elements of peace building and peacemaking. [17]

Teaching peace and conflict studies to the military

One of the interesting developments within peace and conflict studies is the number of military personnel undertaking such studies. This poses some challenges, as the military is an institution ostensibly committed to combat. In the article "Teaching Peace to the Military", published in the journal Peace Review [18], James Page argues for five principles that ought to undergird this undertaking, namely, respect but do not privilege military experience, teach the just war theory, encourage students to be aware of the tradition and techniques of nonviolence, encourage students to deconstruct and demythologize, and recognize the importance of military virtue.

From conflict resolution to liberal peacebuilding and statebuilding

Scholars working in the areas of peace and conflict studies have made significant contributions to the policies used by non-governmental organisations, development agencies, International Financial Institutions, and the UN system, in the specific areas of conflict resolution and citizen diplomacy, development, political, social, and economic reform, peacekeeping, mediation, early warning, prevention, peacebuilding, and statebuilding. [19] This represented a shift in interest from conflict management approaches oriented towards a ‘negative peace’ to conflict resolution and peacebuilding approaches aimed at a positive peace. This emerged rapidly at the end of the Cold War, and was encapsulated in the report of then-UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, An Agenda for Peace. [20] Indeed, it might be said that much of the machinery of what has been called ‘liberal peacebuilding’ by a number of scholars [21] rests, or ‘statebuilding’ by another groups of scholars [22] is based largely on the work that has been carried out in this area. Many scholars in the area have advocated a more ‘emancipatory’ form of peacebuilding, however, based upon a ‘Responsibility to Protect’ [23], human security [24], local ownership and participation in such processes [25], especially after the limited success of liberal peacebuilding/ statebuilding in places as diverse as Cambodia, the Balkans, Timor Leste, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nepal, Afghanistan and Iraq. This research agenda is in the process of establishing a more nuanced agenda for peacebuilding which also connects with the original, qualitatively and normatively oriented work that emerged in the peace studies and conflict research schools of the 1960s (e.g. see the Oslo Peace Research Institute research project on "Liberal Peace and the Ethics of Peacebuilding" and the "Liberal Peace Transitions" project at the University of St Andrews [26] and more critical ideas about peacebuilding that have recently developed in many European and non-western academic and policy circles [27].

Criticism and controversy

A number of criticisms have been aimed at peace and conflict studies from outside the realms of university system. These often claim the following: (1) that they do not produce practical prescriptions for managing or resolving global conflicts because "ideology always trumps objectivity and pragmatism; (2) they are focused on putting a "respectable face on Western self-loathing": (3) their programs are hypocritical because they "tacitly or openly support terrorism as a permissible strategy for the "disempowered" to redress real or perceived grievances against the powerful; (4) Peace Studies curricula are (according to human rights activist Caroline Cox and philosopher Roger Scruton) "intellectually incoherent, riddled with bias and unworthy of academic status..."; [28] (5) peace studies faculty are not fully competent in the disciplines (such as economics) whose ideas were invoked as solutions to problems of conflict; [29] (6) policies proposed to "eliminate the causes of violence" are uniformly leftist policies, and not necessarily policies which would find broad agreement among social scientists.[29]

Barbara Kay, a columnist for the National Post, specifically criticized the views of Norwegian professor Johan Galtung, who is considered to be a leader in modern peace research. Kay wrote that Galtung has written on the "structural fascism" of "rich, Western, Christian" democracies, admires Fidel Castro, and has criticized the West's support for "persecuted elite personages" such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov. Galtung has also praised Mao Zedong for "endlessly liberating" China. Galtung has also stated that the United States is a “killer country” that is guilty of “neo-fascist state terrorism” and has reportedly stated that the destruction of Washington, D. C. could be justified by America's foreign policy. He has also compared the U.S. to Nazi Germany for bombing Kosovo during the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.[28]

In the Summer 2007 edition of City Journal, Bruce Bower sharply criticized Peace Studies. He noted that many Peace Studies programs in American Universities are run by Marxist or far-left Professors. He also cited a quote from Peace and Conflict Studies, a widely used 2002 textbook David Barash and Charles Webel’s which praises Lenin, who “maintained that only revolution—not reform—could undo capitalism’s tendency toward imperialism and thence to war.” More broadly, he argued that Peace Studies are dominated by the belief that "America that is the wellspring of the world’s problems" and that while Professors of Peace Studies argue "that terrorist positions deserve respect at the negotiating table," they "seldom tolerate(s) alternative views" and that "Peace studies, as a rule, rejects questioning of its own guiding ideology."[30]

Kay and Bower also specifically criticized Professor Gordon Fellman, the Chairman of Brandeis University's Peace, Conflict, and Coexistence Studies Program, whom they claimed has justified Palestinian suicide-bombings against Israelis as “ways of inflicting revenge on an enemy that seems unable or unwilling to respond to rational pleas for discussion and justice.” [30][31]

Katherine Kersten, a senior fellow at the Minneapolis-based conservative think tank Center of the American Experiment, says Peace Studies programs are "dominated by people of a certain ideological bent, and [are] thus hard to take seriously." Robert Kennedy, a professor of Catholic studies and management at the University of St. Thomas, criticized his university's Peace Studies Program in an interview with Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2002, stating that the program employs several adjunct professors "whose academic qualifications are not as strong as we would ordinarily look for" and that "The combination of the ideological bite and the maybe less-than-full academic credentials of the faculty would probably raise some questions about how scholarly the program is."[32]


Such views have been strongly opposed by scholars on a number of grounds. They underestimate the development of detailed interdisciplinary, theoretical, methodological, and empirical research into the causes of violence and dynamics of peace that has occurred via academic and policy networks around the world. [5]

In response to Barbara Kay's article, a group of Peace Studies experts in Canada responsed that Kay's argument that the field of peace studies supports terrorism "is nonsense." They argued that:

Dedicated peace theorists and researchers are distinguished by their commitment to reduce the use of violence whether committed by enemy nations, friendly governments or warlords of any stripe...Ms. Kay attempts to portray advocates for peace as naive and idealistic, but the data shows that the large majority of armed conflicts in recent decades have been ended through negotiations, not military solutions.[33]

Most academics in the area argue that the accusation that peace studies approaches are not objective, and derived from mainly leftist or inexpert sources, are not practical, support violence rather than reject it, or have not led to policy developments, are clearly incorrect. They note that the development of UN and major donor policies (including the EU, US, and UK, as well as many others including those of Japan, Canada, Norway, etc) towards and in conflict and post-conflict countries have been heavily influenced by such debates. A range of key policy documents and responses have been developed by these governments in the last decade and more, and in UN (or related) documentation such as 'Agenda for Peace', 'Agenda for Development', 'Agenda for Democratization', the Millennium Development Goals, Responsibility to Protect, and the 'High Level Panel Report'. [34] They have also been significant for the work of the World Bank, International Development Agencies, and a wide range of Non Governmental Organisations. [35]. It has been influential in the work of, among others, the UN, UNDP, UN Peacebuilding Commission, UNHCR, World Bank, EU, OSCE, for national donors uncluding USAID, DFID, SIDA, NORAD, DANIDA, Japan Aid, GTZ, and international NGOs such as International Alert or International Crisis Group, as well as many local NGOs. Major databases have been generated by the work of scholars in these areas. [36]

Finally, peace and conflict studies debates have generally confirmed, not undermined, a broad consensus (western and beyond) on the importance of human security, human rights, development, democracy, and a rule of law (though there is a vibrant debate ongoing about the contextual variations and applications of these frameworks). [37]


  • "War appears to be as old as mankind, but peace is a modern invention" - Henry Maine
  • "Would it not be wise to endow the science of peace with strong schools just as one has its sister the departments of war?" - Rafael Dubois
  • "Establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war." - Maria Montessori

See also


  1. ^ Dugan, 1989: 74
  2. ^ Keynes 1920
  3. ^ Wallensteen 1988
  4. ^ a b c d e Harris, Fisk, and Rank 1998
  5. ^ a b c Miall, Ramsbotham, & Woodhouse 2005
  6. ^ Galtung 1971
  7. ^ Home
  8. ^ Peace Studies Program - Student Information- Graduate Minor Field
  9. ^ Correlates of War 2
  10. ^ History of the IPRA
  11. ^ Mission and Values of the PJSA
  12. ^ SIPRI 2007: Cooper, 2006
  13. ^
  14. ^ a b Galtung & Jacobsen 2000
  15. ^ among many, Richmond 2005
  16. ^ Strategic Foresight Group
  17. ^ Richmond 2002
  18. ^ Page, James S. 2007. 'Teaching Peace to the Military'. Peace Review, 19(4):571-577.
  19. ^ Wallensteen, 1988
  20. ^ Boutros Ghali 1992
  21. ^ Duffield, 2001, Paris, 2004, Richmond, 2005
  22. ^ Caplan 2005, Chandler, 2006, Fukuyama, 2004
  23. ^
  24. ^ Tadjbakhsh & Chenoy 2006
  25. ^ Chopra & Hohe 2004
  26. ^;
  27. ^ Jabri 2007: Richmond & Franks 2009
  28. ^ a b Barbarians within the gate by Barbara Kay, National Post, February 18, 2009.
  29. ^ a b Bawer 2007
  30. ^ a b The Peace Racket by Bruce Bawer, City Journal, Summer 2007.
  31. ^ September 11 and the Field of Peace Studies by Gordon Fellman, Peacework, October 2002.
  32. ^ "For Young Activists, Peacemaking 101," by Tom Ford and Bob von Sternberg, Minneapolis Star Tribune, December 17, 2002.
  33. ^ In defence of peace studies by Catherine Morris, director, Peacemakers Trust, Victoria; Ben Hoffman, president and CEO, Canadian International Institute of Applied Negotiation, Ottawa; Dean E. Peachey, visiting professor in transitional justice, Global College, University of Winnipeg, National Post, February 25, 2009.
  34. ^ Report of the Secretary- General’s High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change, United Nations, 2004: Boutros Boutros Ghali, An Agenda For Peace: preventative diplomacy, peacemaking and peacekeeping, New York: United Nations, 1992; An Agenda for Development: Report of the Secretary-General, A/48/935, 6 May 1994; “Supplement to An Agenda for Peace” A/50/60, S.1995/1, 3 January 1995; An Agenda for Democratization, A/50/332 AND A/51/512, 17 December 1996.
  35. ^ EG for the World Bank, see, "Breaking the Conflict Trap: Civil War and Development Policy" [1]: For DFID see [2]; eg see also International Crisis Group
  36. ^ eg Correlates of War at Harvard University [3]: PRIO/ Uppsala University Data on Armed Conflict [4].
  37. ^ Michael Doyle and Nicolas Sambanis, Making War and Building Peace, (Princeton University Press, 2006); Charles T. Call and Elizabeth M. Cousens, “Ending Wars and Building Peace: International Responses to War-Torn Societies,” International Studies Perspectives, 9 (2008): Stephen D. Krasner, “Sharing Sovereignty. New Institutions for Collapsed and Failing States,” International Security, 29, 2 (2004); Roland Paris, At War’s End, (Cambridge University Press, 2004).


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  • Caplan, Richard, International Governance of War-torn Territories: Rule and Reconstruction, Oxford: OUP, 2005.
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  • Fukuyama, Francis: State Building. Governance and World Order in the Twenty-First Century, Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2004.
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  • Mitrany, D.A., The Functional Theory of Politics, London: Martin Robertson, 1975.
  • Richmond, OP, Maintaining Order, Making Peace, Macmillan, 2002.
  • Richmond, OP, The Transformation of Peace, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
  • Richmond OP & Franks J, Liberal Peace Transitions: Between Statebuilding and Peacebuilding, Edinburgh University Press, 2009.
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  • Tadjbakhsh, Shahrbanou & Chenoy, Anuradha M. Human Security: Concepts and Implications , London: Routledge, 2006
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  • Wallensteen, Peter (ed.), Peace Research: Achievements and Challenges, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1988.
  • Zartman, William, and Lewis Rasmussen (eds.), Peacemaking in International Conflict: Methods and Techniques, Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1997.

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