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Building Sustainable Peace and Compassionate Community

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter argues that sustainable peace is most likely in stable, cooperative, and compassionate communities that place a higher value on trust, equality, and welfare than safety and security. While states and multilateral organizations have a significant role to play in generating the conditions for stable peace, they will only be successful if they focus most attention on issues of justice, welfare, and positive incentives for social cohesion. If they concentrate on security and safety at the expense of these other factors, they will not be helpful players in the quest for sustainable peace. It is a central argument of this chapter, therefore, that more analytic and political attention should be directed to understanding interpersonal “bottom-up” strategies for peace and how these connect to the “top-down” long-term structural prevention of violence. This chapter argues that sustainable peace is most likely to flow from a deeper attention to relational ethics and egalitarian community building than imposed macro-level development initiatives. This is a challenge to many standard approaches to development and peacebuilding, which promote strong coercive, deterrent capacities and didactic top-down development.

Keywords: Positive and negative peace, peacebuilding, community, equality, welfare, Levinas, responsibility, cultures of peace, nonviolence, conflict sensitive development, justice

Stable peace (both negative and positive)1 is a common feature of cooperative, sustainable, relatively egalitarian communities (Galtung, 1971; see also Christie & Louis, this volume). These communities are not only capable of preventing the state or those in positions of authority from acting violently and oppressively toward citizens, but more positively, they are capable of ensuring that state systems act to guarantee welfare, social security, the rule of law, and social continuity.

Building sustainable peace, therefore, requires integrated actors capable of trustworthy, empathic, and predictable relationships. Such actors emerge from secure attachment to family and friends and understand the importance of strong, resilient and relatively equal communities. They do better when they emerge from economies capable of satisfying basic human needs and political systems capable of maintaining order, the rule of law or custom, and the promotion of justice and the common good (see also Opotow, this volume; Staub, this volume).2 Peacebuilding, therefore, is a never-ending process that occurs at micro-, meso-, and macro-levels. Each one of these levels has a role to play in the construction and maintenance of harmonious and peaceful relationships. It is important, therefore, to analyze how they connect systemically and dynamically (Vallacher, 2010).

Systems analysis has both analytic and normative dimensions. Systems analysis highlights the ways in which different social and political actors interact (cooperatively or conflictually) but also the sorts of conditions that will generate coherence and stability for the system as a whole. It is, therefore, equally (p. 345) concerned with how such actors ought to interact in order to optimize peaceful, productive outcomes, and it directs attention to the contributions each actor makes to the continuity of the whole and to the value frameworks within which these actors operate.

It is important, therefore, to understand what ethical frameworks undergird different types of social systems and whether or not they are oriented primarily toward cultures of peace or cultures of violence. There are many different kinds of ethical frameworks that could be explored in this regard. For the purposes of this chapter, I wish to focus primarily on the work of Emmanuel Levinas (1988, 1989), since he has a very elegant rationale for welfare and nonviolence from which it is possible to extract criteria for determining whether different types of actions will generate fear and anxiety or confidence and peace. The chapter begins, therefore, with Levinas's rationale for nonviolence and then in subsequent sections explores what this means for those interested in reversing delegitimizing, dehumanizing dynamics and building sustainable peace at the interpersonal, intergroup, national, and global levels.

A Philosophical Rationale for Nonviolence: Levinas and Responsibility to and for the Other

Most peaceful communities emerge relatively spontaneously and organically as individuals, groups, and societies evolve through time. Still, ethicists, philosophers, and religious leaders have invested considerable effort in developing ethical and philosophical justifications for intentional nonviolence and peacefulness. These perspectives tend to take two directions.

The first, epitomized by Emmanuel Kant and neo-Kantian philosophers like John Rawls (Rawls, 2005) emphasizes individualist approaches to peace and peacefulness and lay great stress on agreed rules, impartiality, and individual abilities to discern fair, just, and peaceable solutions to problems. According to this perspective, peaceful and tolerant communities flow from the character and “virtuous qualities” of individuals who abide by specific principles such as fairness and justice. Those who espouse these “virtue ethics” see moral value and inclinations toward peacefulness as residing primarily in individuals’ attitudes, traits, and motives rather than in social relationships.

The second perspective is drawn from relational ethics and has been given its most recent expression in what is now known as a feminist ethics of care (Held, 2006). This approach focuses attention away from individual character and directs much more attention to the ways in which ethical imperatives toward peacefulness and justice flow primarily from relationships with family, friends, and meaningful “others.” It is in relationship that one discovers the true source of ethical responsibility and obligation and from which it is possible to draw wider ethical bases for justice and peacefulness.3 According to this perspective, more important than individual “character” or “virtue” are relational capacities to care, trust, empathize, reciprocate, and be compassionate. These relational qualities are what generate stability, altruism, mutual consideration, solidarity, and a concern for the welfare of others. The central argument is that peaceful, tolerant people emerge out of good relationships. Thus, although nonprejudiced individuals will have a positive contribution to make to building tolerant, peaceful communities, this perspective holds that relations between individuals and social categories are much more important to building peaceful and sustainable communities than the character traits of any specific individual.

Much of what is now thought of as relational ethics flowed out of the work of the French moral philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (1988, 1989). Like millions of 20th-century European Jews, Levinas understood suffering and despair personally and directly. He was dispatched to a concentration camp and lost many of his family and friends in the Holocaust. It is probably not surprising, therefore, that he focused a good deal of his early philosophical attention on why such violence occurred in Europe and how such violence might be prevented in the second half of the 20th century. He was interested in exposing the roots of violence, racism, sexism, and classism and to work out ways of preventing such pathologies in the future (see Burggraeve, 2002). Levinas's work was oriented toward controlling individuals and collectivities who tried to totalize, tyrannize, delegitimize, and destroy those they could not face or tolerate.

For Levinas, ethics is, at root, “a struggle to keep fear and anxiety from turning into murderous action” (Levinas, 1988, p. 34). Because of this he wanted to understand the deepest sources of human fear and to develop an awareness of how these might be addressed at their source. He was not interested in religious or philosophical moralizing. Rather, Levinas sought to develop a sociological and relational justification for an ethical life that would guarantee that human beings do not kill each other. (p. 346) To do this, he wished to remove any possible justification for causing harm to others or for killing those who are doing no harm. Levinas knew that he could not stop all human aggression and conflict, but he still worked to develop a methodology and framework for engaging the “Other” to make aggression the bluntest and least effective of all instruments for realizing human potential and serving the common good.

In order to do this, he developed an ethics of responsibility that flows from a profound awareness of the universal vulnerability of all human beings. In “Ethics as First Philosophy” (Levinas, 1989, pp. 75–87), he argues that the ethical attitude flows from our basic awareness of each other, and from understanding of our common and shared vulnerabilities. By focusing on ways in which we can enhance awareness of the vulnerable Other, in all its singularity and uniqueness, Levinas argues we will discover why nonviolence toward others is a human imperative and why it lies at the heart of well-functioning social systems.

Three Vulnerabilities: Limitations to Our Physical, Social, and Moral Selves

Levinas suggests that each human being on the planet faces a triple vulnerability.

First, there is a permanent physical vulnerability; we may die anytime and we will all certainly die sometime. Levinas sees this as an extremely important equalizer, as mortality is a fate that awaits all of us. How we respond to the certainty of our mortality will have an important impact on whether or not we will have a disposition to nonviolence or violence. He believed that an acknowledgment of our individual and collective mortality could generate a softening of our demands on one another as we individually and collectively confront death. In this reflective process he suggests that we need others to help us live and to die.

Related, psychological research suggests that enhanced salience of our own mortality can have effects on our motivations, attitudes, and behavior (Greenberg et al., 2008; see also Becker, 1973). More specifically, terror management theory argues that mortality salience will generate increased focus on what brings us value and esteem, such as a heightened concern for our own group versus the outgroup, and an expansion of concern for close personal relationships (Greenberg et al., 2008; see also Becker, 1973).

While Levinas would not necessarily disagree with these propositions, he was generally more interested in mortality as a spur to thinking about ways of enhancing life, such that confronting mortality generates broader concerns about meaning, value, specialness, and our particular place in the world.

In response to psychological research on mortality salience, Levinas would likely ask how widely or narrowly we define our boundaries of responsibility and care (see also Opotow, this volume). If we have some idea of species identity, for example, Levinas argues that an awareness of mortal vulnerability should generate an openness to thinking more profoundly about relational obligations across boundaries of national difference. If we have narrow conceptions of identity based on kin, locality, and a strong sense of group identification then consciousness of mortal vulnerability may generate less generous behavior (see also Staub, this volume; Vollhardt, this volume).

The second vulnerability with which Levinas grapples has to do with living in the company of others. The fact that we exist alongside others generates what Levinas calls a psychological vulnerability. He argues that other people constitute a psychological threat simply because they are Other. As Albert Schweitzer put it, “I am life that wills to live, in the midst of life that wills to live” (Schweitzer, 1965, p. 26). This is existentially unsettling as we never know whether or when we are going to be taken advantage of and it is all too easy to become wary of others instead of trusting them. Grappling with psychological vulnerability in our social relationships is, therefore, a critical element in determining the extent to which we will adopt an ethics of care instead of an ethics of fear. If we adopt a paranoid disposition toward others and try and allay that with deterrent threat and coercive capacity, that will generate very different types of behavioral outcomes than if we have a positive disposition toward others and look for ways in which, at minimum, we can coexist, or more optimally develop strong and robust relationships with others (see Kramer & Messick, 1998, for a related argument).

Third, and most importantly, however, is what Levinas identifies as our moral vulnerability. Since I am an Other for the Other, I am not only potentially threatened by the Other but also constitute a threat to the Other. The awareness of our moral vulnerability, or our capacity to do harm to others is absolutely critical to the evolution of Levinas’ sociological ethic, because it requires each individual to decide what sort of relationship they wish to have with others—especially with those who are strangers. He writes: “As a threat to others I am here in the world with no right to exist; if I cannot claim to (p. 347) be harmless, how can I claim any right to be here?” (Levinas, 1989, p. 80).

This capacity to harm others is a fundamental challenge to all interpersonal, intergroup and international relationships.

Levinas concludes that the only solution to this moral vulnerability is to intentionally address the ways in which we individually and collectively may threaten others. He comes up with an elegant solution that underpins all relational ethics.

In his view, the only way that individuals and collectivities can establish their harmlessness to others is to accept unconditional (and unlimited) responsibility to and for the Other. This is a compelling sociological argument for a deepening of relationship and for paying more attention to the quality and “sanctity” of the intersubjective. The way we do that, minimally, is by accepting a responsibility not to kill the other. More optimally it is done by accepting responsibility for the welfare of the other. For this to happen, individuals, groups, and institutions must think much more extensively and intentionally about what sorts of social, economic, and political relationships will create a peaceable community and guarantee its continuity through time.

Rational choice theorists, on the other hand, argue that it is irrational not to care about individual welfare and maximization of resources for one's self. When thinking about building sustainable peace, it seems equally irrational not to care about the welfare of others and the welfare of the community—however narrowly or broadly we wish to define the boundaries of that community. Here, it is also important to note that there are good selfish as well as altruistic reasons for doing so. Levinas's argument is that because human beings are equal in their vulnerability they can only be truly safe in relationships where selfish interests give way to the interests of the Other and vice versa. Moreover, this unconditional responsibility for the Other is an imperative that does not have to be justified by any social contract, political system, or special relationship between me and the Other (Lesser, 1996, p. 149). It is an argument that assumes an acceptance of responsibility without any expectation of return except for that most precious return of all, namely human trust. When we accept responsibility for the welfare of others we are in fact creating the only solid basis for a peaceful community and for dealing with the triple vulnerabilities of human existence. As such, the argument for an ethics of responsibility is grounded in deep reciprocity, thereby providing a compelling social psychological and political rationale for an ethic of nonviolence.

In addition, and contrary to terror management theorists who argue that mortality salience generates higher levels of selfishness (see Becker, 1973; Greenberg et al., 2008), Levinas argues that assumption of responsibility to and for the Other is sufficient for giving meaning and shape to life. If Becker (1973) is right and people deal with death, in part, by a quest for personal “heroism,” then Levinas is also right. The heroism that is most rewarded in most societies is altruistic. It is a heroism that flows from service to others rather than a heroism generated in opposition to others. Furthermore, the service-oriented heroism that builds sustainable peace is not military but communitarian. The real heroes are those who subordinate self in the promotion and building of resilient and inclusive relationships. These people create communities of inclusion and possibility rather than exclusion and fear. The challenge facing peacebuilders, therefore, is to illuminate the heroic actions that build rather than destroy social relationships. This may be one reason why feminists have been so prominent in developing relational ethics and the ethics of care. Women in most communities of the world “heroically” sacrifice self on a daily basis to ensure the well being of families, neighborhoods and communities (E. Boulding, 2000).

Initially, Levinas advances these arguments in relation to dyadic relationships, but from there he extrapolates to much more complex relationships, including triads, groups, and institutions. There are all sorts of other issues that come into play when one adds more complexities to social relationships, especially when there are major discrepancies of power, privilege, and prestige. For example, Why should I have responsibility for an Other if that Other may be exploiting or threatening to exploit me? The ethics of care and responsibility therefore, are based on some degree of equality of power, privilege, and opportunity, which is why promoting equality is a prime contribution to peacefulness. Indeed, according to our work on the Global Peace Index, those societies that rank most highly on levels of peacefulness are those that have a radical commitment to equality of opportunity and equality of outcomes and the welfare of others.4

Engaging the Face of the Other: A Technique for Resisting Cultural Stereotypes and Delegitimization

Levinas's method for resisting selfishness and engendering “positive othering” is based on an engagement with what he calls the Face of the Other (p. 348) (by which he means the visible and invisible face of the other). This deep attention to the presenting and underlying face is an important means of enhancing relational capacity, and it is also critical to preventing the delegitimization and dehumanization of others (see also Bar-Tal & Hammack, this volume) By focusing on the Face, especially the Face of those who suffer, or are in pain, or the Faces of the subordinate, the imprisoned, or the marginalized, we begin to establish our human obligations and responsibilities. What this requires, therefore, is deep and radical attention to the concrete and particular features of the Face in encounters between the self and the Other. We engage the Other not only in terms of his/her individual differences but in a deeper acknowledgement of the Other's incomparability, uniqueness, and distinctive singularity (Levinas & Hand, 1989, p. 83) Somewhat paradoxically, therefore, by acknowledging the Other's singularity, individuals and groups generate processes for combating prejudice, enemy imaging, and for building more sensitive community. In conscious engagement with the Face, Levinas suggests, we discern the ethical basis for responsibility, which begins not from ourselves and is not based on our individual virtue or capacities but on a deep recognition of the Other. In the encounter with the Face, we see joy and happiness as well as misery and suffering. It is by paying attention to the Face of the Other that we can begin resisting the totalizing forces that challenge the deep and incomparable individuality that flourishes in sustainable relationships (Morgan, M 2007: p.67). This is particularly crucial to building cultures of peace and tolerance and to combating murderous ethnocentrism.

By contrast, ideological totalizations like fascism, communism, imperialism, as well as a large number of naming, blaming, stereotyping, and discriminatory processes are all aimed at preventing us from seeing the individual Other as unique human beings. It is only by focusing on the Face of the other and attending to what Levinas calls “the wisdom of love rather than the love of wisdom” that we can establish a solid basis for ethical encounter and for respecting and honoring those we depend on for our own life and well-being. But more importantly Levinas develops an imperative for developing respect and cohesion that is not dependent on our needs or on group dynamics. Here we find some very interesting links between this kind of philosophical perspective and the more empirical orientations of social psychology. Vollhardt, Migacheva, and Tropp (2009), for example, argue that tolerance, understanding, solidarity, and cohesion are critical to building a culture of peace and for ensuring that perceived differences do not result in discrimination and violence. The challenge, however, is to ensure that social cohesion is based on positive rather than negative dynamics. It is relatively easy to generate social cohesion using internal processes that bolster our group's image and external processes that promote negative imaging of other groups. It is much more difficult to generate cohesion based on a strong sense of species identity, social solidarity, and joint commitments to advancing the welfare of others (Vollhardt et al., 2009).

This way of humanizing and deepening human exchanges is or should be reciprocal. It also has implications for the way we deal with others in peace as well as war. Our ethical responsibility to and for the Other lies at the heart of peaceful coexistence, the nonviolent pursuit of justice, and the development of sustainable peace. In ensuring that the interests of the other take precedence over selfish interests, individuals discover what Levinas calls “infinity” in the present.

A critical part of this dynamic, which is also highly relevant to building intergroup harmony, is the central importance of hospitality, especially when it is directed toward those who are strangers to us. By being welcoming and friendly, we acknowledge the vulnerabilities that we share as human beings and attend to others with care and single-minded attention. Many people feel somewhat ambivalent about others and the notion of an Other. They have experienced more pain than pleasure at the hands of others. Levinas's argument is that even for these people, focusing on another in the way he explains it will generate gentleness rather than fear.

More broadly, Levinas builds a theory of community, society, law, and government on a basis of the interpersonal ethics that bind us to each other. In this sense he is adopting a view of politics and political responsibility that stands in tension with Hobbesian realist views, which discount the centrality of self-other relations and have a very pessimistic view of community (e.g., Macpherson, 1962). Levinas argues that all of our fellow citizens—within nation-states and across national state boundaries—have the same needs for recognition, welfare, justice, and stability as we do. It is important, therefore, that our social and political institutions make the satisfaction of these basic human needs possible (see also Staub, this volume). When we cease attending to the singularity of others in community and ignore justice we start rendering Others faceless and in this (p. 349) process generate the conditions for harm, violence, and genocide. Building on Levinas, in her book Precarious Life, Butler (2006) states,

Those who remain faceless or whose faces are presented to us as so many symbols of evil, authorize us to become senseless before those lives we have eradicated, and whose grievability is indefinitely postponed. (Butler, 2006, p. xviii)

Acknowledging and honoring the Face of the Other, therefore, is not an optional extra for Levinas. Honoring the Other is in fact, at the heart of human relationship, nonviolent ethics, and the never-ending quest for justice and peace. Only by establishing our harmlessness and a radical responsibility to-and-for the Other can we establish the basis for committed relationship and for building just, peaceful, and sustainable communities and societies.

Implications for Building Peaceable Communities

So what has all of this to do with generating conditions where intergroup conflict is replaced by openness, tolerance, and inclusion of others? Highlighting the sanctity of the intersubjective—that is, acquiring a radical reverence for all life (Schweitzer, 1965) and deriving social and political ethics from a deep responsibility-to-and-for-the-Other (Levinas, 1988, 1989) are critical to the development of harmonious and peaceable communities. They are critical because most stable peaceful communities rest on: (1) a commitment to and the practice of equality, justice, and responsibility (Galtung, 1996); (2) the cessation of relationships of domination and subordination (Wallerstein, 1974); (3) the expansion of trust and mutuality across boundaries of difference (Sennett, 2003); and (4) a deeper reverence for nature and commitment to sustainable development (Singer, 2001).

What is interesting about these positive peaceful dynamics is that they all depend on individuals and groups controlling egotism, selfishness, and greed. They all vindicate Levinas's concern for personal relationships where there is a commitment to the care of others and the promotion of cultures of peace as opposed to cultures of war, violence, and revenge (De Rivera, 2008). Cultures of peace flow from experiences of positive informal and formal relationships at the micro- and meso-levels. It is very difficult for rule-based political institutions to legislate for these types of relationships. Their presence enables families, groups, and organizations to generate strong, welcoming, inclusive groups and associations, while their absence means that solidarity is much more likely to be achieved by divisions between ingroups and outgroups.

Because state systems cannot legislate for friendship, compassion, empathic awareness, and an ethic of responsibility, the onus is on individual actors who have experienced positive attachments to others in the past to reproduce these relationships in the future. While political systems can generate macro conditions for empathic awareness, equality of opportunity and outcome, and social and political security, their willingness to do so depends on individuals and groups articulating these values as ideals and making commitments to realize these ideals in practice. Societies that are thought of as peaceful (Vision of Humanity, 2010) tend to value Levinas's ideals of empathy, a commitment to the welfare of others, and hospitality to strangers (see Vision of Humanity, 2010).

The intentional pursuit and achievement of sustainable peace and justice, therefore, requires perspectives that draw on the wisdom of many academic disciplines but it also requires specific cultures and communities having some positive visions of what harmonious communities look like. Without an ethic that is firmly relational the probability of achieving peaceful relationships, intentionally, is slight. If the visions are not inclusive and cross-culturally sensitive, or worse are primarily ethnocentric, however, this too is problematic since transferring ethnocentric visions from one place to another will inevitably generate cultural dissonance and, if imposed on others, incompatibility and conflict. This is what happened during periods of imperialism and colonialism. The negative peace that flows from empire, whether it be Pax Romana, Pax Brittanica, or Pax Americana, is inherently unstable and cannot be considered the basis for sustainable peace with justice.

There are some important philosophical and empirical questions associated with how we imagine peace. Most communities and societies, most of the time are peaceful and harmonious. If peace is the norm and war the aberration then we already have historic and empirical models of peacefulness from which to learn. Despite the high media attention focused on violent conflict, the world as a whole has been getting more rather than less peaceful since the end of the Cold War (Harbom & Wallensteen, 2005). Thus, it is violent direct conflict that tends to be the exception and peaceful communities the norm.

(p. 350) Most states, however, are not positively peaceful in terms of indirect or structural violence (Galtung, 1971) and most have high levels of spontaneous and organized criminal violence (Rotman, 2001). It is also true that the atomization and pace of modern industrial communities makes it challenging for most members of such communities to pay attention to the interests of others in the ways in which Levinas suggests we should.

Most member states of the United Nations, for example, have high levels of vertical and horizontal inequality and there are far too many minority groups systematically and deliberately excluded from sources of political, economic, and social power (Gurr, 1993; Stewart, 2002). Competition over scarce resources, ideological differences, and protection of personal and group identity remain important proximate sources of conflict (see Roccas & Elster, this volume; Vallacher, Coleman, Nowak, & Bui-Wrzosinska, this volume). Inequality, corruption, and criminality are also potent sources of structural unpeacefulness. These last three factors certainly make it difficult to treat others with reverential respect.5 Of these three factors, however, the one that seems to undermine relationship and trust most of all is levels of inequality. Unequal societies perform less well on most indicators of well-being, health, education, and peacefulness. General life chances are more restricted in unequal societies than in more equal communities (Wilkinson & Pickett, 2009). As Marshall Sahlins (1972) put it, “Poverty is not a certain amount of goods, nor is it just a relation between means and ends, above all it is a relation between people.”

Unfortunately those who are relatively and absolutely deprived are those who are more likely to live in a state of unpeacefulness than those who are not (Gurr, 1970).

Based on the research evidence, therefore, it is clear that equality is critical to building sustainable peace. Equality is implied rather than developed in Levinas's theory and yet is critical to establishing an appropriate contextual base for radical relational ethics and the creation of cultures and structures of peace. The recognition of human equality is critical to the development of an ethics of care and responsibility. This is why it is important to know what states, societies, markets, and individuals are doing to advance equality. Most advanced industrial states do not have explicit objectives in favor of equality but they do have educational, health, and social policies that create safety nets below which citizens are not allowed to fall. The pursuit of equality and justice as a peacebuilding exercise, therefore, requires both ethical and political as well as social science justification. There have to be compelling reasons for individuals, groups, and communities to move in this direction, otherwise the tendency is to maintain the status quo and reinforce existing patterns of power, prestige, and inequality (see Cohrs, this volume; Sidanius & Pratto, 1999).

In terms of peace research and practice it is my impression that many North American and European researchers tend to keep the focus on negative peace—the absence of organized violence—because it keeps the field relatively well defined and does not demand close attention to issues of equality, justice, and relational ethics. Focusing attention on national security, for example, does not require a critique of the socioeconomic or political order and is intensely conservative in terms of maintaining the status quo. Peace researchers concerned with “structural violence” and especially those working in and on the global South are much more inclined to focus on positive as well as negative peace and do not believe that negative peace alone is sufficient. There is no possibility of stable peace if there are small pockets of wealth and privilege and large pockets of poverty and misery.

There are, therefore, important ethical, relational, and communitarian reasons for promoting positive peace. As Galtung (2010) argues, it is vital that we know the deep psychological, sociological, anthropological, and political sources of both direct and indirect violence if we are to promote realistic scenarios for both negative and positive peace. A negative peace that ignores or fails to address structural and cultural sources of violence will always be unstable, and a positive peace that exists alongside large amounts of direct violence would be somewhat oxymoronic and difficult to imagine.

So how do we, as peace researchers and practitioners interested in the social and psychological conditions for peacefulness, combine the negative and positive peace agendas? In particular, what are some of the research and practice concerns that might guide scholars and practitioners seeking to develop systems that prevent or transform violent conflict and build stable and sustainable peace? I explore possible responses to these questions in the following section.

Building a Culture of Peace

At a basic level, it is vital that researchers and practitioners identify and politically locate those who are articulating particular visions of peace (p. 351) from a range of cultural and gender perspectives. E. Boulding (2001) writes:

Peace cultures thrive on and are nourished by visions of how things might be, in a world where sharing and caring are part of the accepted lifeways for everyone. The very ability to imagine something different and better than what currently exists is critical for the possibility of social change. (p. 29)

Within specific cultures, outsiders and insiders need to be able to identify different cultural visions of peace in order to ascertain which individuals and institutions embody and espouse them and whether they are contested or mainstreamed. Those who have a commitment to an ethic of responsibility and coherent visions of peace and justice are those who will be most inclined to constitute idealist peace constituencies that will advance both positive and negative peace. Those who are content to let political leaders articulate concepts of peace will probably be content with negative peace and more inclined to adopt realist state-centered perspectives of how to control direct violence. Those who see peace as a process embedded in a wide variety of social relationships will be more interested in advocating and working for just and peaceful communities and bottom-up strategies for peace. To advance Levinas's vision, therefore, it is important for analysts and practitioners in pre- and postconflict zones to identify individuals, groups, and institutions who understand what has worked in the past, are capable of imagining alternatives to what is, and have a “reality-based optimism” about the future.

Anderson and colleagues refer to these people as “connectors” and contrast their generally positive contribution to community with those they see as “dividers” (Anderson, Chigas, Olson, & Woodrow, 2004). It is through these “connectors” that one can build empathic consciousness of how to build and maintain community in the face of those who seek to divide and rule through chaos rather than integration. There is little point in having peaceful visions unless there are actors willing and able to realize them. There will be no stable peace anywhere without people who are committed to connecting across boundaries of difference, and who are knowledgeable about how to solve problems peacefully and nonviolently. These connectors are the sorts of people who embody Levinas's concern with responsibility-to-and-for-the-Other. They stand in tension with those who choose unpeaceful paths, namely the “dividers” and spoilers of peaceful processes. Knowledge of both sets of actors is critical to a building of sustainable peace; however, it is important that researchers and practitioners spend more effort identifying those who are committed to building relationships and community so that support can be given to them and withdrawn from those who do not have these interests.

Bringing the Individual and Community Back Into State Systems

Levinas's rationale for nonviolence and a culture of peace is radically individual, and interpersonal. As described previously, he argues that interpersonal relationships contribute to functional or dysfunctional communities and these in turn generate social and political institutions capable of dealing with the anonymous “other” and strangers. The logic of Levinas's argument, therefore, is that peace begins with individual attitudes, behavior, socialization, and learning, and that these dynamics are critical to levels of peacefulness at the national, regional, and global levels. Clearly there is a need for state systems to adjudicate between different sets of individual and community interests and to prevent exploitation and suffering. But such systems also need strong, robust, and resilient communities to keep their power in check. A primary argument of this chapter is that too much academic attention has, in the past, been directed to the power of the state in social transformation and the maintenance of order and not enough has been given to interpersonal and communitarian processes.

Because of this bias peacebuilding has been seen primarily as an issue of states, governance, and legitimacy, rather than a dynamic that rests principally on peaceful individuals, families, organizations, and communities (Chesterman, 2005; Clements, Boege, Brown, Foley, & Nolan, 2007). This preoccupation with the role of the state in peacebuilding has fed directly into the neoliberal economic agenda, the neoconservative political agenda, and most recently into what is known as liberal peacebuilding. Critics of liberal peacebuilding argue that many researchers and practitioners over the past 25 years have worked too intimately and are too closely associated with promoting the specific political and economic agendas of official governmental agencies (Roberts, 2009). The consequence of this is that they have tended to ignore the critical roles of individuals, groups, and institutions in generating structural stability and the communitarian conditions for peace. This has generated a preoccupation with top-down, didactic strategies that have done little or nothing to advance positive attitudes between different (p. 352) ethnic, class, and gender groups (Newman, Paris, & Richmond, 2009).

Without wishing to diminish the importance of state institutions and the regional and multilateral institutions associated with them, this chapter argues for much closer attention to the individual, group, and community in the building of positive peace. This means more detailed contextual, stakeholder, and issues analysis (see also d'Estrée, this volume). Far too many peacebuilding interventions have foundered for lack of local knowledge and the application of exogenous theories and models that are inappropriate to a locality. The importance of language and knowledge of local culture, traditions, and dynamics, therefore, is vital to successful peacebuilding (Havermans, 2002). In fact, acquiring this knowledge in itself is a peacebuilding act as it conveys cross-cultural respect and acknowledgment (Sending, 2009). These types of analyses are also salutary reminders that peacebuilding requires both heart (passion) and mind (intellectual rigor). There is little point in desiring peace as an end or a process without knowledge of the sources of unpeacefulness and impediments to realizing both peace and justice.

Although state systems and markets have important roles to play in the achievement of sustainable peace, communities and civil society actors need to be given equal or greater prominence. These are the spheres within which individuals live most of the time, and the quality of their interpersonal, group, and intergroup relationships is a critical determinant of whether or not communities will be capable of fostering trustworthy, reciprocal, and peaceful relationships (Saunders, 2005). During times of violent conflict and fragility the burden of care and responsibility for responding to uncertainty falls heavily on individuals, families, and communities. The adequacy of the coping and survival mechanisms of these actors will, to a large extent, determine whether or not, and how soon, normal politics and commerce will regenerate after conflict. If community relations have been deeply broken during the conflict, the prospects for rapid recovery will be slight. If strong and inclusive community has persisted through the conflict then the prospects for postwar recovery will be brighter. This is one area within which social psychological and sociological perspectives might help illuminate the dynamics of peacefulness and unpeacefulness.

In East Timor, for example, individual actors and groups demonstrated more resilience and hopefulness after conflict if their communities had provided basic safety and welfare nets through the conflict (Brown & Gusmao, 2009). So too in other conflict zones like the Solomon Islands, individuals and communities survived in their villages where they were known, had a place to stand, and where they were treated with respect (Scales, 2005). The independent role of community and civil society networks in determining stable peace is relatively undertheorized and needs to be given greater attention. Just as Skocpol (1985) called for the state to be brought back in when sociology focused too much attention on the role and significance of society and community in the 1970s and 1980s, it may be time to bring community back in for the 21st century. This is especially relevant for postconflict environments where violence has destroyed trust, hope, identity, and family ties. How insiders and outsiders work with civil society and community leaders to rebuild these relationships is a question that needs much closer attention (see Pouligny, 2005, for an extended discussion).

Dealing With Power

Peace researchers and practitioners also need to understand the ways in which cultures and structures of domination (at all levels) generate adversarial behavior and impede or prevent the development of reciprocal and mutually beneficial relationships. Dominant-subordinate relationships certainly prevent the emergence of the empathic consciousness that Levinas argues is so critical to peaceful relationship (see also Dovidio et al., this volume; Nadler, this volume). Resisting domination creatively is an important dimension of positive peace, especially in relation to hegemonic and subhegemonic power. It is a problem that needs to be analyzed in its own right, however, given that those who are dominant determine those who are or are not included in their specific moral communities (see Opotow, 2001, this volume). One approach to this issue of domination is to concentrate on what Kenneth Boulding talks about as integrative as opposed to threat-based power or exchange-based power (K. Boulding, 1989). Integrative power is the power of love, as opposed to threat-based power, which rests on coercive capacity, and exchange based power, which rests on the market. Integrative power is critical to the functioning of the other two faces of power. It is what generates individual and collective dispositions to act peacefully. The ratio of integrative power to threat-based and exchange -based power is critical to concepts of good citizenship, because it is necessary for active citizens and communities to feel (p. 353) a part of the prospects for sustainable peace. This analysis relates closely to psychological research on the need to belong (e.g., Leary, 2008), which suggests that once people are affiliated to others and social bonds are formed people are very reluctant to allow them to dissolve (Leary, 2008). Threats to such social bonds provoke strong defensive reactions, while strengthening them generates higher levels of happiness and joy. Belonging theory, therefore, can be interpreted as a social psychological justification for Levinas's ethics of care, and communities of belonging can provide important counters to repressive and hegemonic power. Focusing on the intersubjective and paying as much attention to individual, interpersonal, and community well-being as the capabilities, effectiveness, and legitimacy of state institutions, will therefore go a long way toward the building of strong, resilient, and peaceful communities, societies, and polities.

However, this is a rather radical direction to consider when most pre- and postconflict peacebuilding, as construed by the United Nations and related agencies, focuses primarily on governance rather than the building of peaceful relationships. The United Nations, for example, stresses state building before community building; national security before human security; the disarming of warring parties and the decommissioning and destruction of weapons before processes aimed at social healing and reconciliation (Chesterman, 2005). These objectives are important, but it is equally important for external and internal interveners to work with the strengths of local communities instead of focusing on state-level deficiencies. What is absolutely important in conflict environments is identifying resilience and capacity in action and working with agents that have these qualities. In concrete terms, then, this means a willingness to suspend “cookie-cutter” exogenous prescriptions for development and peace and an expanded willingness to engage with the complexities and singularities of specific conflict sites. Such efforts should be accompanied by the development of groups, organizations, and institutions capable of delivering goods, services, and relationships that can satisfy basic human needs and generate a reasonable basis for social harmony and unity. These may include state institutions but should not be confined to the state.

Integrating Local Actors in Peacebuilding Efforts

Establishing responsibility to and for the other in conflict environments, and working with families, kinship groups, and religious and economic organizations, is crucial to generating effective counterweights to predatory or oppressive state systems. Such an approach would help to avoid top-down processes of development or primarily state-centered notions of peace, while also minimizing attempts at parasitic exploitative relationships with the community. Moving in such a communitarian direction directs attention to what could be called “horizontal integration” as opposed to vertical integration. In this way, attention is directed toward the ways in which different sectors—such as the family, village, friendship networks, and religious, educational, health, economic, and political institutions—intersect with each other and identifying what the positive and negative consequences of such connections are.

To do this effectively requires deliberate attention to the many different ways in which individuals and groups imagine peace and more sensitive appreciation of the ways in which locals see challenges to peace. This step can be quite challenging for internal and external peace builders. Political leaders, for example, see cultural and social differences in perspectives on peace through the lens of elite politics and national interests. External interveners see these differences (if at all) from the perspective of official or unofficial bilateral or multilateral agencies. All of these actors will be applying very particular models of both change and politics to locality. One of the challenges of peacebuilding anywhere, therefore, is that of utilizing endogenous and exogenous institutions to include as many locals as possible from as many different sectors as possible in the identification and solution of their own problems.

Incorporating women and women's perspectives into peace processes, for example, is no longer simply optional but rather is key to the development of peaceful relationships. This is not only because women tend to have a more highly developed ethic of care than men but also because they are more attuned to social relationships in their communities, are more inclined toward integrative power rather than threat-based power, and see their security more in relational than agentic terms (Cox & Ebooks Corporation, 2008). Moreover, Security Council Resolution 1325 established specific international benchmarks for women's engagement in peacekeeping missions and deeper involvement in the design and implementation of development and peacebuilding programs. But there are many instances where women have played absolutely critical roles in brokering cease-fires and in persuading warring (p. 354) parties to negotiate solutions to violence. For example, it was the determined actions of women in Bougainville and the Solomon Islands who created the ripe conditions for cease-fires and settlements (Hakena, Ninnes, & Jenkins, 2006). Though it is simplistic to promote essentialist arguments for women's engagement in peace processes, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that women are more attuned toward empathy, have instincts for fairness and justice, and they understand the central importance of relatively equal communities for personal and social security (see Hermans, Putman, & van Honk, 2006; Singer et al., 2006). The incorporation of women into peacebuilding processes, therefore, makes sense for both micro and macro efforts to generate programs that are inclusive, fair, and likely to promote integration rather than separation.

Youth and children are also normally excluded from peacebuilding processes, yet effective peacebuilding, based on Levinasian principles, should ensure that they, too, are acknowledged and included in peacebuilding efforts. While it might seem culturally inappropriate in “high context” cultures that value age over youth to develop special mechanisms for listening to children and youth, there is a growing body of evidence that children and young people bring novel and fresh perspectives to a variety of adaptive problems. Elise Boulding (2000), for example, has written of the importance of thinking about and developing new children-adult partnerships in the development of peaceable communities where children can “gentle” adults and share their own distinctive perceptions of the world around them.

Most importantly, however, it is important that whenever possible, outsiders (and insiders) go with the grain of locality rather than impose external solutions to conflict, most of which are likely to generate considerable cultural, social, and political dissonance. What this means in practice is a willingness to reject universal cookie-cutter solutions and develop programs that are informed by broader theories and universal principles, yet still based primarily on locally based contextual analysis. Wherever possible, such analysis needs to be based on total system strengths rather than explorations of vulnerability and weakness. For too long, beneficiaries of aid and development assistance have bridled somewhat at the deficit models applied to their societies and polities (Bush, 2003). A focus on strengths and on what is working rather than weaknesses and what is not working is useful for developing culturally appropriate peacebuilding strategies.

This means broadening peacebuilding perspectives beyond the functions of the machinery of government and focusing more attention on strengths of nonstate institutions as sources of resilience and order. State functions are not an end in themselves, but a means to provide citizens and communities with development, internal and external peace, and human security. In this perspective, psychological relational strengths are as important to peacebuilding as the political economy. Even on issues of internal security and law and order, which are considered the exclusive preserve of the state, it is vital to acknowledge the relevance of nonstate, particularly customary, actors and institutions and what their contribution to internal security might be. Similarly, in relation to the provision of basic social services (particularly health and education), these too are not the sole preserve of the states, even if state systems have important coordinating and accountability roles. More attention needs to be given to the capacities of nonstate actors and to indigenous modes of providing such services (e.g. customary education) and their interplay with introduced institutions.

When it comes to enabling economic environments and support of economic growth, the perspective of interveners in conflict zones also has to be widened to include the strength (or weakness) of the local economy and its relation to the formal market economy. Beyond the institutions of the state, there are often other decision-making bodies and procedures that are of major importance for the governance of the everyday affairs of people on the ground. And in many instances, these are as effective and legitimate as constituted authorities. Nonstate sources of social safety have to be included in the analysis of welfare as well. Customary, mostly kin-based, social networks are often highly effective sources of social safety in many conflict zones. They are major sources of resilience but at the same time they are coming under increasing pressure from migration, the youth bulge, unemployment, and urbanization (Clarke, 2006).

Grounded contextual analysis, therefore, has to consider all the informal processes that generate community and that might enhance the accountability of the state to its citizens. These potentially may be as important as the formal state mechanisms. Focusing exclusively on state mechanisms excludes important social systems of control. Particularly in non-Western societies, indigenous structures and processes of ordering social life are often much more important to social survival in conflict zones (p. 355) than Western colonial and postcolonial institutions (Clements et al., 2007).

Summary and Conclusions

The central argument of this chapter is that building sustainable peace is not just a question of enhancing the power and effectiveness of the state, the economy, or civil society. These strategies will only be effective if there is an enhancement of positive peaceful relationships and responsibility-to-and-for-the-Other at all levels of social engagement. Oftentimes, there are important disconnections between community and state institutions, frictions between liberal modes of governance and local practice, and corresponding challenges to legitimacy and citizenship in most conflict zones of the world. At the end of the day, however, the extent to which state systems are rooted in society and community is decisive for their strength, effectiveness, and legitimacy. Hence, engaging with communities and nonstate customary institutions is as important as working with central state institutions and governments to build sustainable peace.

Peacebuilding processes that take account of the constructive potential of local community, including customary mechanisms where relevant, are likely to be much more effective than those that simply aim at strengthening central state functions and the political will of state representatives. For example, instead of perceiving kinship-based societal formations as sources of corruption and nepotism, and as hindrances to accountability and transparency, one can also look at them as valuable social support networks that have their own checks and balances. Accordingly, through engagement and mobilization, these networks can positively contribute to political order. The best outcome of such a novel approach to peacebuilding would be that new forms of postcolonial governance emerge: combining state institutions, customary institutions, and new elements of citizenship and civil society in networks of governance that are not introduced from the outside, but embedded in the societal structures on the ground.

To build and rebuild community where it has been fractured by violence requires both local and external actors. The reality is that all societies—whether rural or industrialized, poor or wealthy—are afflicted with some level of spontaneous and organized violence. Those emerging from organized armed conflict (e.g., civil war or transnational war) have very particular sets of postconflict needs but all communities have to develop mechanisms for dealing with violence, militarism, and dominatory cultures.

An acknowledgment of the commonality of violence should induce a certain amount of humility on the part of individuals and “donor” states and organizations seeking to bring peace and justice to those in conflict. There is a growing recognition on the part of many states and peoples emerging from conflict that outside interveners would be more effective if they were prepared to engage the sources of violence at home while addressing sources of violence abroad.

As argued above, in terms of intervention design, if “humility” is a prerequisite for negotiating effective relationships with those in conflict, it must also be accompanied by deep respect for local actors as well. External actors tend to make sense of local complexity by simplifying, totalizing and in many instances stereotyping those that they are working with. In Rwanda, for example, old colonial stereotypes of Hutu and Tutsi were transferred into many external perceptions of these same groups (Uvin, 2010). Respect and honor for the Others in crisis (in all their complexity and difference) is another important characteristic of an effective intervener. Without such basic respect the prospects for developing emancipatory partnerships between internal and external actors is very slight indeed.

External interveners also need to work out ways in which they can see beyond the faces of elites—especially political elites—so that they can see the less visible faces of the people behind the elites. This is very challenging in most peacebuilding environments since most development assistance is given on a state-to-state basis. Focusing on the state, however, often impedes or prevents an engagement with community and it is at this community level that sustainable peace and development is most likely to be built. Focusing on state institutions also means that external actors miss a lot of local texture and nuance as they design programs and projects for development and peacebuilding.

External interveners further need to develop trustworthy relations with locals so that the locals receive the resources they need to solve their own problems. There are very few, if any, organized conflicts that are solved by external actors. Outsiders can design different processes for bringing conflicting parties together and can catalyze particular types of conversations, but the solutions will emerge from the parties themselves. This means spending much more time in relationship building rather than program planning; paying more attention to culturally (p. 356) and conflictually sensitive development strategies than those that are developed outside, and working with local institutions wherever possible in ways that enhance rather than subvert their effectiveness. To develop these sorts of relationships requires more attention to linguistic and cultural competence than is currently the case, but it also requires high levels of emotional maturity. Many external interveners in conflict zones tend to be relatively young, inexperienced, and emotionally immature. These are not qualities that add much value to the age and indigenous wisdom of many of the key players in conflict.

Doing good work on the ground certainly means not doing harm and also doing this work with humility, respect, and emotional intelligence. It requires long-term commitment. Peacebuilding is a marathon and not a sprint. No individual, group, or nation emerging from violent experiences can expect to address their traumatic consequences quickly or frivolously. This long-term commitment is not something, however, that external interveners contemplate easily. States typically want quick fixes. They want to be able to secure insecure communities, shore up fragile states, create sustainable development and build resilient communities within the time frame of 3 to 5 years. This places impossible burdens on those seeking to make sense of traumatic experience. We need to think long-term rather than short-term, and we need to develop processes that celebrate small, incremental, and cumulative changes rather than pin hopes on overnight systemic transformation.

Building sustainable peace challenges every human being on the planet. It is not the exclusive preserve of those living in zones of conflict. It demands everyone's attention as we work out how to accept responsibility for the welfare of others. We must learn to radically reindividualize the Other while building just and caring communities; rehumanize those who have been demonized; resist efforts to disrespect and debase others, and create the conditions whereby peaceful processes are seen as a dimension of all human relationships and not the exclusive preserve of states.


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                                                                                                                (1.) Johan Galtung coined the terms “negative peace” and “positive peace” in the late 1960s (Galtung, 1971). Negative peace refers to the absence of violence, and positive peace refers to the restoration of broken relationships, cooperation, equity, equality, and the removal of the structural and cultural sources of violence.

                                                                                                                (2.) These relationships look very much like those that Susan Opotow describes as “Moral Inclusion,” namely, “relationships in which the parties are approximately equal, the potential for reciprocity exists, and both parties are entitled to fair processes and some share of community resources” (Opotow, 1990).

                                                                                                                (3.) See Slote (2007) and Held (2006) for elaborations of both these positions.

                                                                                                                (4.) See the following URL for discussion about the Global Peace Index:

                                                                                                                (5.) See the latest version of the Global Peace Index 2010 for examples of the drivers of violence and unpeacefulness (Vision of Humanity, 2010).