Thinking of Peace and Conflict in a Different Light

What a way to begin the SPP! The sessions, activities, and conversations from the very first day were a perfect way to begin our summer peacebuilding journey. We kicked off the program with Peter Shaw’s session Creating a Peaceful Community, in which we had the opportunity to get to know each other better as a group and to get some important lessons about communication, working collaboratively, and being mindful about our different perspectives. We have an incredibly diverse group (12 students from 10 different countries!) with all types of backgrounds and academic/professional interests, so this session on community building was what we needed to start the program the right way. It was very interesting (and a lot of fun) to work on The Alligator River Story with the rest of the participants. In this story, there are five different characters whose actions and motivations, although very different, were in some way reprehensible and offensive. Working individually, in small groups, and then as a whole class, we had to rank who behaved best and who was the nastiest among these five characters in the story. It was fascinating to realize that many of the participants strongly disagreed about their rankings, but it was also encouraging and very interesting to see that through discussions we could also come up with a list/ranking that was agreeable to the whole class.

The next two sessions for the day were run by Dr. Iyer, who introduced us to the subject of peacebuilding and provided a solid theoretical foundation to have more informed and engaging discussions about the wide range of topics we will be covering in the next few weeks. Dr Iyer’s passion for the topic, and her great wealth of experience in the field and academia was evident from day one, and made us all excited about the program. One of the most important lessons from the day was learning the fact that “conflict,” even though it often has strongly negative connotations, should also be seen as a positive thing. Indeed, it should be seen as an opportunity for reinvention and positive change, and we as aspiring peacebuilders should be aware of this. Other key takeaways from this session include learning the distinction between critical and liberal peacebuilding, the different styles of conflict management, learning about Leaderach’s principles for peacebuilding, and discussing Galtung’s thoughts on ending cultural violence. It was also useful to learn some of the most important theoretical frameworks to understand peacebuilding, including the basic human needs theory, Gurr’s relative deprivation, and social identity theory.

For our evening session we watched and discussed the film Parzania. The plot of the film, which is based on the story of Rupa Modi, tells the story of a Parsi family whose son went missing after the 2002 Gujarat riots–a three-day long episode of riots and violence against the minority Muslim population in the state. This was a powerful and incredibly touching film, and it was truly special to have had the opportunity to hear Dr. Iyer’s thoughts about it (She comes from the state of Gujarat and has a deeply personal connection to this dark episode of the state’s history). The film and the discussion provided an excellent way to start thinking about some of the main topics we will be covering in the next few weeks–extreme violence, conflict resolution, trauma, forgiveness, reconciliation, and peacebuilding.

Film poster for Parzania (2005)
Film poster for Parzania (2005)
Sites DOT MIISThe Middlebury Institute site network.