Naming and Framing

By: Óscar Cejudo Corbalán

In one of the sessions with Qamar Houda, we were asked to develop a peace curriculum for a high school context that each group was in charge to decide. The group I worked with decided to develop it for a high school in Charlottesville. When discussing about the strategy, I came up with the possibility of splitting the program in three phases: Tolerance, Understanding, and Trust. The idea was to work from the personal level to the relational one.

As discussed during Laurie Patton’s session, I agree that tolerance seems to be the very first step (before even starting to understand) in order for any type of relationship to happen. It could be explain as the willingness of sitting in the same room, willing to at least listen to the other party.

However, Megan Salmon (who was part of the team I was working with) pointed out that the word tolerance has a strong implication/connotation in Charlottesville: white (fragile) parents will immediately get defensive accusing the program to be targeting mainly their kids. It was such an important and insightful information! The change in terms of what we wanted to achieve was minimal (we called it Understanding-Trust-Transformation) but the rephrasing of that word was so significant.

This links to one of my takeaways of this week: naming and framing. We explored in Madhawa Palihapitiya the importance of being strategic, sensitive, and accurate in the way we name and frame initiatives or programmes. As third parties, it is fundamental not only to have a clear idea of what we want to do, but also how to present this to others. A wrong name or a wrong frame can block or destroy mediations or negotiations.

Let’s reflect this concept back to myself and how do I frame peacebuilding. I feel it is important to understand what I understand by peacebuilding, or at least what do I want to achieve by being in this field (what is my framework of action.) I think I know the answer to this one: If the naming is peacebuilding, my framing is social justice (maybe that is the general framing form peacebuilding, I do not know, I do not want to assume so.)

And then I could go one step forward and question what meaning I give to social justice, which is a much longer answer. In short (and for now, because is constantly evolving since I am constantly learning), it is about the fight for equity through the dismantling of the structures of oppressions that surround us.

The implications of these framings are constantly formulating questions on my role and approach in the field. It is a constant fight for balance between conflict sensitivity and activism. The dilemmas and struggles will always be there, otherwise there would not probably be any transformation.

By a conscious naming and framing of not only programmes but also our careers, actions and so on, we could get to a deeper understanding of our motivations and ourselves – an important first step in peacebuilding.

Grassroots Technologies

By: Óscar Cejudo Corbalán

I have already mentioned in a previous blog the four megatrends that Richard Matthew says are shaping the world. Among them, technology has been a recurrent topic in a couple of sessions these last two days.

This tool has the potential to be a strong divider in society – especially in conflicted areas. We see examples of this constantly: from the most obvious ones such as the free and instant access to media that is conducive to hatred or military devices, to some other much subtler ones. But at the end, as Madhawa Palihapitiya said, technology is only a tool, and judging it as a positive or negative one will depend on who and how to use them. In good hands and with good will, technology can (and will) be an ally for peacebuilders that will help us establishing the well needed relationships that can transform society.

Therefore, in making technologies a connector rather than a divider, it is important to think about the users. And this is where I think both Joseph Bock and Madhawa Palihapitiya coincided in their discourses, since they shared the vision of technologies as a tool to share at the local-local grassroots level. It is both efficient and empowering. A simple gesture that can help prevent or mitigate many conflicts, since the local population already know their needs and goals.

But at the same time I agree we should consider the users, we have to question who the producers are. And what is my first thought on factors to consider or to be wary about? Neutrality. There is nothing neutral in this life (everything is political, gendered, and so on) so what does this mean for technologies? Specially if we are speaking about technologies for peacebuilding.

The first and most intuitive factor that breaks the neutrality (for me) is gender. If we understand technology as if it were knowledge, we can all agree that the engineering and coding world is vastly male dominated. What are the implications for this? Are we being as efficient as we could be in producing these tools? (Considering efficiency in this case as a matter of engaging diverse experiences in the production process to create more sensitive technologies that can support a broader set of beneficiaries.)

Beyond this, it is a very profitable market which makes me wonder what the outcomes of this production/dissemination of technologies in such an unequal world are. If they are designed and created in countries with a certain access to production means whose reality differs from those who are going to serve, are we perpetuating some sort of inequity? Is it another form of creating dependency? Some sort of technology humanitarism that provide services that do not transform structures? Or will it be also provided the means and knowledge necessary to replicate the needed technologies in the place where they are used?

One of the reasons why I decided to shift my career from Architecture to the Social Justice field was precisely to run from being in front of a computer and getting closer to human beings. I am not a fan of technologies. However, these sessions have stimulated my thoughts on the positive (inevitable and necessary) connection between peacebuilding and technology, and some questions to reflect on. I am excited to keep exploring this connection and its possibilities.

Not in my lifetime

By: Óscar Cejudo Corbalán

The idea of decolonizing opens so many new thoughts (and headaches.) Since I have been exposed to the theoretical field of social justice I have been learning about and from many concepts. It is interesting to see how a new term (for me) can easily supersede the old one. Diversity (the representation, the numbers, the “tangible”) is not enough without inclusion (the interactions, the behaviors and attitudes, the “rules” that allow an equitable relationship to take place in a diverse setting.) Now it seems that inclusion is not enough if it is not achieve through decolonization.

It now feels that inclusion is a way to allow people outside the center (the unprivileged, the oppressed, the marginalized) to interact with the rules imposed by this center – to include them in that center. I know it is not the case, and that the idea of inclusiveness includes challenging the power dynamics. But the question is: can we be inclusive enough if we do not engage in decolonizing our minds and structures?

This decolonization can be explained using Galtung’s model of center-periphery. If we can expand the center to include more types of thoughts we will be disrupting the established systems of knowledge. And it was important for me to rethink that expanding the center does not mean perpetuating the same structures with more identity or status groups enjoying the privileges of being in this center. It does not mean either to revert the structures, interchanging social status and putting in the center those who used to be in the periphery and leaving in the side the ones who used to be the privileged. It means a completely rethinking of what we understand by knowledge (who, how and why is produced, disseminated and received.)  Once my first misconception of this idea was overcome, the question is how?

I see the theory and practice quite clear in some cases. I can highlight two from this week: ghosts and peace education. Early in the week, Kathryn Poethig came to talk about the importance of taking into consideration the dead people in the process of trauma healing and reconciliation. I was completely astonished about this idea and my complete ignorance on the topic (as with many other topics.) It will clearly depend on the needs of the local people in the post-conflict environment, but once the idea was presented to me, how can I deny the relevance of this issues in conflict resolution or even transformation? The field is so centered on the livings (the material realm) that these types of knowledge and approaches are left out.

More recently, Qamar Houda brought another decolonizing approach (unless that is how I see it) when talking about Peace Education and peace curriculums. Specifically talking about history curriculums and textbooks which are usually coming from a very biased (and intentional) perspective, Houda maintains that the only way to break this faulty and incomplete history is by including many other voices.

I understand that in an ideally decolonized world, dialogues with ghosts and curriculums that include many perspectives in (let’s say) the common history of a region/state, are at the same level as any other knowledge or understanding of the world. However, I am facing a wall in my colonized mind (one of many in this decolonizing headache process.) Can we accept knowledge from every single source? Can we draw a line? How can everything be accepted? No, how can anything be rejected? And why? (Argh!)

Even deeper than that (and thicker, if I continue talking about this as if they were walls in my colonized mind), is there an escape from this concept? It seems to be an irrefutable truth because it explains itself and it defends itself, perfectly protected (interestingly enough, even better self-protected than the structures of privilege that it wants to eliminate.) By questioning the process of decolonizing we are reaffirming the colonized mind we have, and the need to decolonize it. Once you have started to think about it there is no way out! (ARGH!)

As many things in the field it is a process and a constant learning. We can only plant the seeds of the decolonization and hope that someone will eventually collect the fruits. As everything in the field it starts in oneself but without being oneself the ultimate goal or protagonist. However, and this is the ultimate difference with many other aspects in the field: Decolonizing my mind sometimes seems way harder than decolonizing the superior structures.

I am convinced that I have to decolonize my mind, I completely embrace the idea (as I said, there is no way to escape it anyways), but I have the feeling that it is not going to happen in my lifetime.

Deconstructing dichotomies

By: Óscar Cejudo Corbalán

Security and peace, social structures and individuals, spaces for reconciliation and spaces for justice, complexity and simplicity, peacebuilding and building peace, offender and victims. During these past two weeks I have been thinking over and over about these terms that seem to me to somehow oppose each other. Oppose is not the most accurate word; maybe contradict? Or clash with each other? I know some of them seem obvious and some of them do not seem to clash at all (reason why I was surprised when I started seeing them as contradictory to each other), but after much thought and many sessions with different speakers I now see how these coupled terms complement each other.

Maybe the easiest one to see is how security and peace are interconnected, but it is interesting that the connection does not go both ways. When we were going over sessions related to gang violence, law enforcement or criminal justice system it struck me how security (being as fundamental as it is) does not mean peace at all. All the speakers and people we talk with related to these issues emphasized the need for security and sometimes (many times) this means to use force or violence to achieve it (whether if it is direct violence as it could be in the case of law enforcement, or structural violence as it could be in certain aspects of the criminal justice system.) Therefore, it seemed to me that in our society today (at least when we are dealing with violent conflicts), guaranteeing security compromise the goal of achieving peace (positive and negative peace in Galtung’s terms). However, there is a necessary unidirectional link between both concepts, since there will be no peace if we cannot provide security (it is one of Burton’s basic human needs.)

The reciprocity goes both ways when we are talking about social structures and individuals. We were privileged enough to have a conversation with two people who were in prison in the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad. When asking them about challenges and ways to break the cycle of violence they stood firm in the idea that the transformation has to come from each individual’s will, they were very aware that the fault was only theirs and they have to pay and learn from this. My “structural violence” lenses first did not want to fully agree with what they were saying, there are many structural issues in the US (and the whole world) to solely blame yourself for where you are. And I am not talking only about the institutional level, but also at community or family level. But obviously, how can I argue or doubt their experience when they are the ones who know what is actually going on? It was a really eye opening experience, because I am usually thinking about changing the structures to achieve peace, but in order to do so we need to work individually. They were a great example for this, but it was also a great example of the relation in the opposite direction: in order to achieve individual transformation there has to be structures in place to support it (as it is the case with all the programs offered in this Correctional Training Facility.)

For me, this relationship between the structural and the individual transformation is linked with the relation between complexity and simplicity. There is nothing that could be consider simple in the field of peacebuilding (not working in the structural or individual level), but there is much to say about the simple gestures that build peace. The perfect example for this is the story Lou Hammond told us about the prison guard who silently approached him to tie his shoe lazes. This completely simple gesture cracked what he calls the glass ceiling of insanity and sparked his individual transformation. My takeout (which luckily is not new but is well needed to be reminded of) is that at the same time that we, as peacebuiliders, have to design and/or implement complex programs, we also must engage in those simple gestures daily to build peace around us.

Like these ones explained here, other “coupled” terms that at one point I saw as opposed to each other (some of them more intuitively than others) ended up being mutually connected and reinforcing each other. This is why when Megan mentioned “deconstructing dichotomies” as an strategy to build peace during Jerome Sigamani session I immediately connected to all these thoughts that were going through my mind. And the idea of deconstructing dichotomies does not refer to the type of “dualities” I have been writing about in this post (they are not dichotomies), it talks about diluting the borders between us and them, understanding that the differences that there are between different people are not opposed. There are reservations to this approach (like to all the ones we could adopt) but I do feel it is a beneficial and necessary strategy for bringing security and peace, for reshaping the structures and the way individuals understand each other, for narrowing the gap between complexity and simplicity, for peacebuilding (and building peace.)

The space around us

By Óscar Cejudo Corbalán

Deconstructing spatial barriers to revert the collective meaning of division and transform them into symbols and spaces of reconciliation.

I recently spent over two months in Beijing and during that time I lived in two apartments (and looked at several others before renting those ones.) It quickly called my attention (my architectural lenses) that all of them were lacking a living room, a space where home mates could interact and establish relationships.

Similarly, although in a bigger scale, living here in Monterey, California, it is very noticeable to me how public spaces are not usually used as spaces of simple interactions and bonding, but as means to an end. This end could be moving from point A to point B, buying food on Tuesdays in the farmer’s market, walking your dog, or looking at cute sea otters in the bay, but it rarely means just sit and chat.

Having physical spaces to share and bond (whether it is at home or at the urban scale) will potentially improve the sense of community among people. This is especially vital in conflict contexts (I have just written a blog about the importance of building relationships among parties in peacebuilding for transforming conflict.) Human beings coexist in physical spaces, and it will be in these ones where relationships can be strengthened, or damaged (there are many virtual spaces nowadays that could also serve the function of create relationships in these contexts, but that is not what I want to talk about here.)

As we learnt during Guntram Herb’s session, there is a link between conflict and space (since conflict understood as war is usually a contestation over space), but most importantly there is a link between space and peacebuilding, since the former could be the facilitator (or disruptor) for reconciliation.

Space is around us; it transmits feelings and meanings to the people that use them; it can provide security, sense of belonging, identity and recognition; it can be the platform where relationships are strengthened and conflict is transformed. In societies torn by conflict, space has a key role to play, especially to me the everyday spaces and the spatial barriers have a huge potential to foster reconciliation.

These everyday spaces, as I understood them, are the ones we use regularly without stopping to think about them. It can be markets, places where we collect water, or even the streets we walk daily. Paying attention to how we configure these spaces in post-conflict settings can change completely the way we do peacebuilding. People from all parties involved in the conflict have to make use of them, so this is a great opportunity to design with the mind focused on making the space as conducive as possible for human relations and peace.

In the opposite side of the spectrum spatial barriers represent division (cause and consequence of the conflict.) Sadly, there are many examples of these spatial barriers: the Berlin wall, the green line in Beirut, the peace walls in Belfast, etc. They are urban scars that symbolize one of the worst faces of conflict. For this matter, I think they have this great potential to be a cohesive symbol if we can revert the collective meaning of these scars.

We can already find examples of these types of interventions. Going back to the peace walls in Belfast, a scar which negative connotations are still very alive, there has already been micro interventions in few parts of the wall to revert the divisive meaning. A door in Alexandra Park (a park that was divided by the wall) and a small community garden in a space opened in the wall are two of these examples.

However, we need to be cautious of who is shaping these spaces and who is in control. In order to achieve spaces that can function as facilitators we need to make them inclusive, otherwise we will still present barriers to certain groups of people that will be therefore excluded from the exercise of building collective and peaceful meaning from the spaces they share. The opportunity is out there, in every inch of space that surrounds us, we just need to pay attention and see it.

I studied architecture and I have always said that (as it happens to everyone with any other studies or subject of interest) this developed certain lenses that changed the way I saw the world. I see the architecture (or lack of it) around me and I am unconsciously analyzing it: light, orientation, distribution of spaces, connections, materials, intentionality, etc. Now that I am studying peace and conflict, it seems that I will be able to merge both lenses and look at spaces as potential (or unconducive) spaces for reconciliation.

Changing mindsets

By Óscar Cejudo Corbalán

“We are always talking about changing mindsets in order to change the world. The field itself of conflict resolution has evolved from managing or “resolving” the conflict to transforming the relationships among the parties to ensure that the conflict does not arise anymore. Transformation and relationships; these two concepts have been a constant along all this week and that gives me a lot of hope.”

When I was a teenager, I used to go for long walks with my grandmother. She needed to walk almost daily to stimulate her blood circulation, and these were moments of profound bonding between the two of us. I learnt a lot from her, and what it is more impactful, I keep learning today a lot from those conversations.

As we walked along the coastline in my town, we used to cross paths with a lot of people, most (if not all) of whom did not say hello or any other type of greeting. My grandmother always commented on that, she said that when she was younger everyone would say buenos días [good morning] to each other, and how sad was to see how neighbors became strangers and how society was falling apart.

It never abandoned me. I have always tried to say buenos días to strangers in the contexts I considered it was not too weird to try (even with that I have had people staring back trying to recognize me or as if I had a problem.) But those megatrends that Richard Matthew identified in his session (specifically in this case the world population growth and the game-changing technologies) make the task very difficult. However, the sessions and field exposures that we have had during this last week have made me stay optimistic.

We are always talking about changing mindsets in order to change the world. The field itself of conflict resolution has evolved from managing or “resolving” the conflict to transforming the relationships among the parties to ensure that the conflict does not arise anymore. Transformation and relationships; these two concepts have been a constant along all this week and that gives me a lot of hope that it seems we are moving in the “right direction” (I say this very carefully and I will question it later.)

As José Arreola said, Community Alliance for Safety and Peace (CASP) is based on the principle “relationships improve safety in the community.” The traditional (many centuries old) retributive justice is evolving towards restorative justice, which focuses in working with the relationship between offender and victims and the community (some of the people pushing for this are calling this new approach transformative justice.) Law enforcement is embracing the idea of community policing, as a way to establish and strengthen relationships with the people they serve to ultimately better serve them.

There have even been conversations that pointed to a need in changing donors approach. Richard Matthew pushes for a more sensitive and practical way to provide funding, with a much more long term strategy than nowadays (if we actually want a participative consultation to design and implement programs we would need 2-3 years only for that) and shifting the mindset from a benefit oriented to a results oriented approach. Also, Jose Arriola and Susie Brusa both coincided in the role that donors could have in fostering partnership (relationships) between NGOs.

There have been many examples in just one week. It feels good to say that the desired change in mindset seems to be happening (and in the case of the donors approach transformation, it is a conversation that at least seems to have started, first step.) This does not mean that we can let our guard down, there are many issues that can go wrong: who and how is leading this change in mindset? Is it actually applicable everywhere? In other words, can we say this is the “right” change in every context? (I do not think so.) How do we sustain these paradigm shifts? Do we even want to sustain them? And a long etcetera of questions that we have to keep in mind to be healthily skeptical.

Neither it means that we have to get desperate because the change is too slow. This is a process; it takes a lot of time to dismantle structures that have configured our society for so long. They are strong and well designed to be self protective, so the change needs to happen necessarily in an incremental way. But it seems that different disciplines or professions are converging in the idea of being transformative through enhancing relationships.

What my grandmother deeply understood because of her humble wisdom (simply because she lived a life) is directly connected with this. Every time she told me how sad it was that people will not greet each other anymore on the streets take on a new meaning today. She knew that relationships are a key component for a healthy and peaceful society (at least where she grew up, and apparently also here in the US.) I can only be grateful that after so long she keeps teaching me.

Differences

By: Óscar Cejudo Corbalán

“I think differences are one of the major drivers of violence” – Eugenia Manwelyan

We are all surrounded by them, at all levels, in all spheres of tangible and intangible realities. At the people level: we all have experienced different lives, we all think differently, we are all different. (I am not going to write about subjectivity again, although it might as well be the case.) And, as Eugenia Manwelyan stated during her session, differences are one of the major drivers for violence, and more broadly for conflict. Therefore, as a conflict intervener, how do we deal with these differences?

It was really interesting for me when Eugenia Manwelyan pointed out how language (this is at the very least applicable to the languages I know) is constructed based on differences. When we analyze a simple sentence such as “I love eating cheese with crackers” it comes clear that all the components of the sentence are differentiating: “I” instead of “we” or any other subject, “eating” instead of many other actions, and so on. Even the fact that we differentiate among different components of the sentence is a reflection of how much differences are part of our language.

Language is especially significant since we all know that it is the main tool we use to elaborate, register and share understanding (or knowledge.) Therefore it would be fair to assume that our processes of understanding (abstract or concrete) reality are based on seeing and studying differences. I would argue that this is not bad or good in itself. It served an evolutionary purposed to distinguish between food and non-food, dangerous and non-dangerous, dead or alive, etc., and it has evolved until today’s way of communicating.

When does it get tricky then? Why all these differences that we register and reproduce unconsciously become an obstacle to peace and a driver for conflict? I am sure there are many reasons, but I am going to highlight two key ones for me here: the search for simplicity, and the ultimate difference.

If we reduce the purpose of language to understand (and be understood), then the first of these two factors seems to me pretty obvious. In order to understand such a vastly complex reality filled with differences we need to simplify. So as much as we are conditioned by a differentiating manner of understanding reality we struggle so hard in making things simple (to facilitate understanding.)

We are obsessed with organizing and categorizing. So we want to find commonalities among differences and put them in big (or small) clusters that we can differentiate from each other. An example of these clusters will be what we understand as “cultures” (in the words of Kevin Avruch, culture is precisely a way of organizing the differences).

Cultures usually facilitate understanding within them, but also could result in misunderstanding among different ones. In the exercise of making things simpler we tend to erase nuances (that I consider vital for our field) and we tend to generalize, which gets us closer to prejudices and conflict. I think it is our role as conflict interveners to run away from simplicity and look into all these nuances in order to understand better and to be able to work better with people.

Adding to the need to study as many differences as possible, special focus will be put to the ultimate difference: the power asymmetry. I like to think about it as the ultimate one because it is the one that makes the other differences matter. Under the effect of power unbalances all the other differences become beneficial or harmful for the people, there is no space for neutrality.

There should be no difference if you are born transgender or cisgender, white or brown, black or asian, in Spain or in Senegal, disabled or able-bodied, woman or non-binary, etc., but the fact is that it is not the same. There is a social hierarchy where certain types of people (and also certain types of cultures) are in the center, and the more differences you have from that center, the less power you will have. Depending on the scale and the context the center is defined with different features, but there is always a power imbalance that makes differences one of the major drivers for conflict.

So, as a conflict intervener, how do we deal with differences? I would say let’s try to escape from simplicity and let’s always have in mind the ultimate difference to try to break the power imbalance and transform society into a decentralized one, where differences do not benefit or disadvantage people. Not to forget either that we are not exempt from this reality, so knowing our place in the social hierarchy is fundamental to be fully aware of the reasoning behind and potential consequences of our interventions.

What is my role?

By: Óscar Cejudo Corbalán

Neutrality is a myth.

Neutrality is a myth, it is impossible to achieve. Objectivity is an unattainable ideal since we are never free of our experiences, biases, backgrounds, aspirations, and all the factors that condition our understanding.

This has a very strong influence in me, especially when thinking about it in the field of peacebuilding. Since I started studying the field (quite recently), subjectivity has been probably my greatest struggle: How can I as third parties transform a conflict without my biases constantly intervening and potentially imposing our worldview? Should I try to change certain structures (that we consider oppressive) despite being traditional customs of the people we are working with? Or should I respect them for the sake of being sensitive and avoid imposing my view of fairness? How do I deal with the fact that sometimes expanding the pie is not a possibility and there will be people who are negatively affected?

These are just some first thoughts that come to my mind, but there are many dilemmas in the field. As Kevin Avruch explained in the session he and Pushpa Iyer shared, the best we can do is to choose the least bad option among all the bad choices. This practice, called dilemma thinking, could be in itself problematic, since we could question “the least bad option” for whom? So even the definition of dilemma thinking brings us a dilemma based on subjectivity! But let’s not get caught up with this and let’s get to the point.

Among all the dilemmas and struggles that are linked to the paradox of neutrality and the ubiquity of subjectivism, there is one question that I go back in circles over and over again: Who do I represent as a third party? I could ask this question differently: what do I understand as a third party, and what do I want to achieve by being a third party? Why do I want to do this?

A simple answer would be “well, I want conflicts to be resolved!” But that is definitely not my deepest objective, so an answer that will get closer to my intentions would be “well, I want societies to be transformed.” Which is completely true, but I could specify a little bit more and answer with just two words: social justice.

That is the main reason I am in this field. But what is social justice? Any definition for such a broad concept will be completely biased (or course!), so what is social justice for me? It is definitely linked to Galtung’s positive peace – the absence of structural violence; to equity – all differences are acknowledged and respected and no one is benefited or harmed by them, and to a decentralized system – where basic aspects such as knowledge or socialization do not have a standard or “center.”

Then if social justice is my hidden (not any more) agenda for being in this field, and I define it as an opposite to the oppressive systems that we have in place (which uses structural violence to benefit a certain “center” who are, not surprisingly, the ones who establish the norms), it seems intuitive that my main effort should be either supporting an empowering process of oppressed people or a disempowering process for oppressors. No matter how I put it, I have to make a distinction between “sides” (as if it were that easy), and (again) there is no neutral election.

Therefore, if we go back to the dilemma question, the answer would be that I want to represent the oppressed people as a third party. But that brings a lot of other issues! First, how can I guarantee impartiality if my intentions are so clearly in favor to one side of the table? Second, how can I achieve a meaningful transformation of the structures if I do not include the oppressors in the deal considering them to be in the same plane? (otherwise, why would they sit and listen?) Third, to what extent am I going to be able to represent the oppressed people if their customs might perpetuate systems of oppression (e.g. patriarchy)?

How to navigate all this nuances and complexities? I think there should be no external and unique answer to this, and that our place and answers must be found through self-reflection and study. However, I found highly illuminating (and helpful) the couple of insights from James Laue that Kevin Avruch shared with us.

First, I can completely empathize with the three core values to which Laue says we should pay more attention to rather than the perception of “neutrality”: the empowerment of the weaker party, striving to achieve social justice, and striving to enhance  freedom (defining this would give us for a whole new blog.) But secondly (and most importantly), Laue makes a distinction between the different roles that a third party may have and this is where I might find my way out of this apparently (but not actually) contradiction of being a third party and the subjectivity that comes with the human condition. Laue distinguishes different roles such as activist, mediator, researcher, enforcer or advocate. Like I was talking in my previous blog about the different roles of law enforcement, I also have to think about these roles of the third party and know which one is mine.

I am clearly inclined to take the advocate role, but this is not a made decision, it is something that I will keep reflecting on and going in circles over and over again. It is a deeper level of understanding of me and my relationship with this field. I started my first blog by asking myself what my place is in peacebuilding. Now I know that I have to add to that question: and what is my role?

Violence calls violence, peace calls peace.

By Óscar Cejudo Corbalán

“There is actually this spiral of conflict growing and growing, perfectly represented in the case of gang violence with the arms race between gangs and law enforcement.”

Tomás starts talking aggressively to another kid who answers in the same manner. The conflict rapidly escalates and shifts from verbal to physical violence. Luckily, the teacher was close enough to stop the fight before it got serious (we all know what could potentially happen next when the teacher scolds Tomás, but that is another story.)

Violence calls violence, and peace calls peace. It seems obvious to me; I could say it is a principle that I hold dear. This is not only at an interpersonal level, but also at the international one. I have always criticized military interventions that seek peace (and I would probably still criticize them.) Specifically talking about armed conflicts where the spiral of conflict leads to deadly outcomes.

That is why Kelly McMillin’s session was so insightful for me, because it brings the reality I was missing by talking about armed conflicts from the comfort of my town in Spain or in academia here in the US. He talked from the experience of a former Chief of Police (among many other ranks previous to that, and more identities/social statues he holds) about gang violence in Salinas.

Once you leave the theoretical field (and the security that comes with it) and get to the practice, in context such as these ones, the idealism of facing the conflict without counter measures of a similar caliber crumbles. People (gang members, other civilians, peacebuilders, etc.) are in real danger to be killed, and sometimes direct violence is the only way to stop that from happening. Then the questions that come to my mind are: can violence stop violence? And more specifically: can some types of violence be stopped without violence?

My answer would be no to both. Starting with the second question, this might be what I got the most out of the session: it shifted my stand from thinking that intervening in an armed conflict bringing more weapons to the equation can only escalate the situation and therefore is counterproductive to resolve it (therefore we should not do it), to bringing the weapons in is many times the only way to guarantee staying alive and therefore is necessary (also to resolve it.) I know, I am typing this and it seems pretty obvious, but it clearly was not my stand beforehand, you can call it privilege or ignorance (if they are not synonyms.)

However (and this brings me to the first question), I still think violence cannot stop violence (this is even clearer when we are talking about structural violence.) There is actually this spiral of conflict growing and growing, perfectly represented in the case of gang violence with the arms race between gangs and law enforcement. As much as I got to understand the need of the presence of weapons in the “resolver’s side”, it is also clear that (as stated in the beginning) violence calls violence, and the use of force cannot bring sustainable and real peace.

This is where peacebuilding as a multidisciplinary and multirole approach becomes even clearer to me. Police can be (and I would say must be) peacebuilders; and if we were to consider (for the purpose of this blog) law enforcement as a discipline, then we could break it down into different roles. The use of violence/weapons when needed to ensure classic (and basic)security could coexist with community policing initiatives that will hopefully bring about a different type of security based on social capital.

Having policemen and policewomen building relationships with the people they serve, enhancing trust, brings law enforcement closer to tackle the root issues of gang violence, and definitely help them to better serve the community. It is another type of security, a more sustainable one based on trust and social capital, one that does not need weapons to be maintained. Instead of a violent security based on the use force/weapons, they are building a peaceful security based in relationships. (It is interesting to see how these violent and peaceful securitiesrelate to Galtung’s negative and positive peace, respectively.)

I started this blog with the idea of concluding that I now understand that many conflicts will actually need the use of a violent countermeasure that will allow any other type of approach to happen (which I honestly do). But, focusing on the law enforcement vs. gang case, let me draw another conclusion (or raise another question): what if we are witnessing the development of a new understanding for law enforcement? What if this is the inevitable evolution of dealing with gang violence?

It is very interesting to me to imagine it as a natural evolution of law enforcement that goes hand in hand with the evolution of the field of peace and conflict studies: from a conflict management approach (by the use of force and violence) to a conflict transformation approach that seeks to change relationships. But probably I am still being too idealistic, privileged, or ignorant.

Finding my place in Peacebuilding

By: Óscar Cejudo Corbalán

“There are stages and sets of interrelated though very different skills that must be coordinated” – John Paul Lederach

The first memory I have of reading about peacebuilding brings me to a paragraph included in the article Civil Society and Reconciliation, by John Paul Lederach. Less than a year ago, I was assigned to read this piece for our Intro to Conflict Resolution course, and when reading this specific segment, it felt as if the author was talking directly to me.

It was my first semester studying my Master’s Degree in International Policy and Development, and my first theoretical approach to the field of Conflict Resolution (or Conflict Transformation, or Peace and Conflict Studies). Before that, I had completed my studies in Architecture to soon realize that my heart and my head were closer to the fight for Social Justice than it was to the noble and fascinating task of designing and building spaces. For this reason, I walked into a series of volunteering experiences that inevitably lead me to the desire (and need) to know more about the theories behind the practices. I came to study to Middlebury Institute, and I chose to focus on Conflict Resolution and Social Justice: because conflict is the ultimate expression our social struggles, and it is also a window to transformation.

In the article, Lederach proposes a beautiful and very clear metaphor (as usually happens with him) to explain what peacebuilding is. He suggests that peacebuilding could be understood as building a house. A house, he explains, “requires a vision, often contemplated early on in the architectural design, which provides an image and a direction.” However, (and I can testify to this) the initial design will be revised multiple times depending on many factors and specificities that will vary for each different project (terrain, structure, materials, plumbing, water evacuation, electrical engineering, air-conditioning and heating systems, fire protection system, etc.) Moreover, for all these different aspects there will usually be different professionals that will have to coordinate to produce such a complex and interrelated work.

What an elegant and efficient way to bridge my former career path with the one I am trying to get into! And beyond the anecdotic coincidence, what a great way to start understanding what peacebuilding means. In a world so immersed in conflict, Peace becomes an extraordinarily ambitious goal that can only be achieved by the cooperation of practically every component/discipline/system of our society. If we fail to take in to account all the aspects that shape our reality, we will probably fail. It was challenging and inspiring; and it reinforced my decision to start walking this path.

Despite (and probably because of) my limited experience in peacebuilding (that does not go beyond the receiving end of the academic setting), my interest and eager to know more has only increased since then. Summer Peacebuilding Program presents itself as a unique opportunity to keep learning and growing about such a complex field. I am excited to hear from scholars whose articles I have read for my Intro to Conflict Resolution course (such as the one from Lederach), and practitioners from organizations that I have been looking up to in the last year (since I entered this field). I am also eager to absorb as much as possible from the colleagues I will be sharing the experience with. I hope the sessions and activities raise a lot of questions, many answers, and even more questions from those answers that will keep pushing my curiosity for the field. Moreover, I hope to obtain a critical view of peacebuilding, to learn the reasons for skepticism and the potential (or actual) cons of the approach.

In essence, I would love for this experience to help me in the search for my path in the constantly expanding field of conflict resolution. I wrote at the beginning that I felt the author was talking directly to me, this was not (only) referring to the link Lederach establishes between my two realms of studies. When I decided to shift my career path, I was really skeptical on being able to actually contribute significantly to the field. Any discipline that works with/for society (the so called social sciences) has such a complex and ambiguous task in hands, and I had the feeling it might be late for me to step in the field since my foundation was a mix of technology and arts. However, Lederach text was inspiring, it was telling me that I (as anyone else coming from any other background that share the vision of peace) have a place in Peacebuilding, and I want to find my place.