Friday, June 29, 2012

Experiential Peace Curriculum in Morocco

I recently had the pleasure of leading a “global hybrid” course to Morocco.  The curriculum was experiential, in that we traveled in country (Ifrane, Fes and Rabat) to attend classes on conflict and development in Morocco, cross cultural workshops and a series of meetings at schools, youth development organizations, human rights advocacy organizations and women’s democratic groups.  Of course, we also made some time for tours of the Old Medina in Fes (which is NOT to be missed), as well as the shore and the historic section of Rabat, to include some ancient Phoenician ruins, historic Mosques and the Palace. 

Why do such experiential courses matter?   They move students out of the classroom and into communities, which is where peace building and conflict resolution happen.  They offer students opportunities to be immersed, even if only for a few weeks, in another culture and to learn first hand from practitioners in the field.  This sort of experiential curriculum facilitates students making profound connections between the peace building models and theories they’ve encountered in books and the realities of the field.  But perhaps more importantly, the intensity and unique nature of the experience also encourages reflection on one’s self, both as a person and as a professional.  This sort of transformative learning, I would argue, cannot happen in a classroom.  Daniel Schön, in his The Reflective Practitioner, began this conversation decades ago but universities can and must do much more to respond with innovation to provide our students experiential courses which challenge them to build community, create new knowledge which they truly own, and form relationships which can facilitate their conflict resolution careers. 

This sort of innovative, experiential curriculum is especially important for student peace builders.  Lederach has used the metaphor of “web building” for community peace makers.  Immersed in the field alongside practitioners, students can witness the web being built.    Kolb’s classic Learning Cycle is a key theoretical underpinning here as well.  

Especially at the graduate level, we expect students to be able to do more than simply recite or describe content.   We expect them to be able to apply, evaluate, synthesize and create.  Our global hybrid courses are a key part of empowering students to meet this challenge.  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Critical Peace Education and Conflict Transformation

I'll be presenting on critical peace education next week at the CIES 2012 conference, arguing that critical peace education (CPE) is vital to our efforts to achieve larger scale conflict transformation.  One particular skill, collaborative problem solving, is not often described within the context of classic critical theory (Habermas 1989, Foucault 1995). Here is a key contribution of critical peace education to the project of global conflict transformation. 

However, CPE results in not just local capacity-building, in the sense of collaborative problem solving, critical thinking, or the sort of critical analysis political and economic elites abhor. When at its best, it can inspire a new sense of dignity, which is a basic human need (Burton 1990; Duckworth 2011). I am defining dignity here as a sense of self-worth, as well as a sense of one’s ability to contribute to one’s community in a positive manner. Also inherent in dignity, I believe, is a sense, both individual and social, of some sort of say in one’s future.  Perhaps such critical dialogues take the form of dialogues on alcoholism, labor, and the military junta, as in Freire’s foundational Pedagogy of the Oppressed (2003). Perhaps it takes the form of one group of young nonviolent revolutionaries from Belgrade teaching younger revolutionaries in Cairo how they overthrew a tyrant (Rosenberg 2011). Maybe communities in Colombia empower themselves by mapping the resources of their own local community (Bastidas and Gonzales 2008).  Detained juveniles have used writing and blogging to reflect on their communities, families, schooling, and choices (Duckworth 2011). 

Beyond engaging students in critical dialogues about their worlds and what must most urgently be transformed, critical peace education classrooms at their best immerse students in practical, localized, and multi-disciplinary projects through which students can simultaneously develop essential skills such as critical analysis, community-building, and collaborative problem solving (Bajaj 2008; Duckworth 2006, 2011; Salomon 2002; Salomon 2004; Salomon 2007; Ndura-Ouédraogo and Amster 2009). They design and implement programs which positively transform their communities and so experience themselves as powerful agents who can indeed impact society. Given that a sense of powerlessness is often part of the identity of those oppressed or marginalized, the importance of beginning to challenge that narrative by helping students experience themselves as effective agents cannot be underestimated.

Students participating in CPE programs in public school classrooms or any other community venue should emerge, in my view, with a clear understanding of the processes of oppression and totalitarianism in general; they are hardly relics of the 20th century. Cultural manipulation through excess consumerism, atomized individualism, encouraging xenophobia, stoking fear of foreign enemies, policies which discourage education, and other such strategies should be “called out” as seeds of authoritarian oppression.  Authoritarianism is at least as much of a mindset as it is a form of government. This makes us as citizens the last real defense against authoritarianism. 

*The above is adapted from my forthcoming chapter in my edited volume Conflict Resolution and the Scholarship of Engagement.  

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Conflict Resolution and the Scholarship of Engagement

I'm currently editing a new book, Conflict Resolution and the Scholarship of Engagement (forthcoming 2012 from    Cambridge Scholars Publishing).  Here's a snip from the intro!  

As the field of conflict analysis and resolution continues to grow, scholars and practitioners increasingly recognize that we can learn from one another. Theory must be informed by practice and practice must draw on sound theory. Above and beyond this lies a further recognition: without at least attempting to actually engage and transform entrenched conflicts our field cannot hope to achieve its potential. We will merely remain in a more diverse, multi-disciplinary ivory tower. This edition breaks new ground in explicitly connecting the Scholarship of Engagement to the work of conflict resolution professionals including those in the academy, those in the field, and those who refuse to choose between the two. The text explores a wide variety of examples of and thinking on the Scholarship of Engagement, from participatory action research to peace education and from genocide prevention to community mediation and transitional justice.

The Scholarship of Engagement is a model of scholarship that bridges theory and practice. North Carolina State University (NCSU) defines it as follows: “Community engaged scholarship encompasses scholarly activities related to research and/or teaching that involve full collaboration of students, community partners and faculty as co-educators and co-generators of knowledge and that address questions of public concern.” Barker (2004) offered a similar definition in his recent taxonomy of the Scholarship of Engagement : “Reacting to the disconnect between academics and the public, in somewhat dialectical fashion scholars are finding creative ways to communicate to public audiences, work for the public good, and most important, generate knowledge with public participation” (123). He continued, clarifying that scholarly engagement is, “…research, teaching, integration, and application scholarship that incorporate reciprocal practices of civic engagement into the production of knowledge” (124). As we will see below, this notion of the reciprocal co-production of knowledge represents to our minds a key synergy between the academic framework of the Scholarship of Engagement and conflict transformation. Particularly in contexts where one or more conflict party has been oppressed or marginalized, conflict transformation practitioners and scholars risk reproducing that marginalization if we imagine that we hold objective answers that we can bestow upon conflict parties (see for example Lederach 2005, Cloke 2008). Rather, the process itself of generating solutions is fundamental to building the confidence, skills, capacity and trust with the other party needed to transform the root political, economic and socio-cultural drivers of the conflict. Similarly, as the above suggests, those committed to the Scholarship of Engagement embrace an epistemology that is harmonious with conflict transformation. The co-creation of knowledge, with respect both to initial setting of the agenda and priorities, as well as with respect to the ultimate “product” created, is essential to the values of this academic framework. This harmony between conflict resolution and the Scholarship of Engagement, of course, is a central reason for and theme of this volume. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Dignity and Social Movements

What is Dignity?  And why does it galvanize social movements? 

The more I study social movements and conflict resolution, the more convinced I become that dignity is an essential basic human need;  denied this, a social manifestation will almost always occur.  I wrote about this extensively in Land and Dignity in Paraguay, and have continued to observe the primary role of dignity in the Arab Awakening as well as the Occupy movements that have essentially been demanding economic dignity.  It even seemed to be paramount in the recent protests in Moscow which demanded (at a minimum) an investigation into recent election fraud. 

I increasingly view dignity as a way to understand these dynamic interrelations.  Theorizing dignity, however, does even more than help us understand contentious politics.  It can help us progress towards actionable clarity regarding how to expand free democratic space with respect to women, first peoples, minorities and other groups whose specific historical experiences make contentious politics necessary. 
This all suggests that we need a more developed theory of what dignity is exactly and why it seems to matter so much to the kinds of socio/political/economic conflict that we’re seeing today.

So then, what is the nature of dignity?  Let’s start with what it is not.  I recently spoke at a workshop on Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies, where it was argued that humiliation is dignity’s opposite.  To be humiliated is to be treated as something less than human—dehumanized.  Extending this, dignity must involve or enable somehow rehumanization.  This is especially true when we think about dignity in post-conflict (or during conflict) contexts, where it arguably matters most. 

So, first, dignity is political.  I have observed elsewhere that dignity is related to inherently political ideas such as autonomy and participation.  As Seyla Benhabib recently (2011) wrote, Arendt was one of the first to really theorize dignity as a political concept. This, Benhabib explains, was a response to explanations of anti-Semitism which Arendt viewed as relying too heavily on economics at the expense of the political.  Indeed, the important question to ask is how the political, the economic and the individual (culture, identity) interact in very specific historical contexts.  The political nature of dignity is almost certainly why social movements demanding dignity for certain groups simultaneously demand political (and social) recognition/inclusion as well as autonomy. 

Second, dignity is relational.  While some of us are amazingly, defiantly self-possessed, especially when we think of the socio-political sense of dignity, we know from social identity theory that we define ourselves largely via connection to or in opposition to others.  This is why a sense not just of personal but of social esteem is so important to a theory of dignity. 

Third, dignity is a basic human need.  From the standpoint of basic human needs, then, we know that it cannot be negotiated away.  The only sustainable, just way to resolve a conflict in which one party feels her (their) dignity has been lost is to meet that need.

This leads me to the question of why dignity seems to be such a prominent theme in the social movements, like the Arab Awakening and Occupy, within what some have called the “Spirit of 2011”.  To simplify quite a bit, social movements tend to emerge when there is

1. Shared grievance
2. Shed helplessness.

Part of this occurs because social movement leaders make political claims that resonate.  Other times it is more organic, especially in our decentralized social media era.  What’s key here is that individuals no longer see their struggle as individual and they no longer see themselves as to blame.    This appears to be just what is happening with the Occupy movement worldwide as a response to the global dominance of neoliberalism.  What is it then that people find so dehumanizing about neoliberalism? Quite a meaty subject, this we will have to leave for a future blog.