How Do We Decolonize Peace Research?

This is a guest blog post by a student who attended this year’s Peace Research course at the International Summer School 2018.

The imprint of war on my life and on those of other young people living in the Global South is the reason I chose to participate in the peace research course at the PRIO Summer School. When my family escaped Sierra Leone’s civil war in 1994, I was fortunate to study abroad in several countries where I developed cross-cultural perspectives that have been integral to my work as a peace scholar. Attending the International Summer School has been another great opportunity to travel to Norway for the first time and to visit a world-renowned institute where I could further explore some of my doctoral research questions on education, gender and conflict.

Summer School 2018. Photo: Marit Moe-Pryce / PRIO

During the last six weeks of the course, I’ve experienced first-hand the endless possibilities that arise from engaging young voices from the Global South in conversations about peace and conflict. The 2018 cohort of the peace research course is, undoubtedly, the most diverse classroom I have ever entered. My twenty-four colleagues and I represent nineteen different countries*, the majority of which, like Sierra Leone, have been affected by conflict. We’ve shared personal experiences with civil unrest in our communities and discussed certain limitations of current empirical studies on peace and conflict.

Group presentation at the inaugural PRIO Summer School Graduate Conference. Photo: Christiana Kallon

In recent years, there has been growing recognition of the imperative and value of incorporating voices from the Global South in prevailing discourses on peace and conflict.

My colleagues and I at the International Cultural Evening representing (left to right) Ukraine, Turkmenistan, Russia, Sierra Leone, Colombia, and Kenya. Photo: Kizanne James

In recent years, there has been growing recognition of the imperative and value of incorporating voices from the Global South in prevailing discourses on peace and conflict. This awareness, however, has often not been met with the necessary institutional and structural changes needed to grant access and increase representation. Fortunately, there have been some positive developments by national governments and by research institutes like PRIO who are taking practical steps to position scholars from the Global South as drivers of the kinds of theoretical and methodological shifts necessary to decolonize the academy.

As the PRIO Summer School comes to an end, I’ve reflected on some suggestions for continuing this process of decolonizing peace research:

1. Identifying committed leaders

We were very fortunate to have Kendra Dupuy and Ida Roland Birkvad as our PRIO course co-coordinators this year. From the very beginning, Kendra and Ida encouraged us to ask tough questions and think critically about dominant narratives in peace and conflict studies. In addition, they shared relevant resources with us and directed us to scholars who are engaging with similar questions about power within the movement to decolonize the academy. Through their leadership and guidance, Kendra and Ida helped to create a critically reflective environment.

2. Building diverse research teams

Young people from the Global South offer a wealth of insights and skills that can further research on peace and conflict. Inviting them to contribute research assistance to large projects will provide employment opportunities and shed light on local practices and dynamics, which may not be known to or understood by outsiders. These nuanced perspectives will contribute significantly to scholarly discourse.

3. Addressing gatekeeping challenges in academic publishing

The majority of publications in top-ranking journals are written by scholars from the West. We had the opportunity to discuss this concern with the editors of PRIO’s two International Relations journals, the Journal of Peace Research (JPR) and Security Dialogue (SD), who recognize this challenge and are seeking to address it. One recommendation is for research institutes and funders to cultivate mentoring relationships that enable emerging scholars from the Global South to develop methodological and theoretical tools that can help lead to academic publishing.

My visit to the Nobel Peace Center with two of my course mates, Ayu and Ines, on July 18 in celebration of Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday.

4. Providing creative platforms for peace dialogue

We tend to privilege publishing in journals or books over other modes of knowledge production. However, the arts provide access to alternative forms of knowing beyond written words – visual, tactile – that we don’t have access to through more traditional academic methods. The vocalists, poets, and musicians in our cohort demonstrated how the arts can be used in a number of effective ways: for example, to highlight the role of youth in peacebuilding processes, to discuss post-election violence, and to protest against political prisoners.

5. Funding researchers from the Global South

On Monday 9th July, Iselin Nybø, the Norwegian Minister for Research and Higher Education, visited our class and discussed Norway’s commitment to promoting the internationalization of universities across the country. The majority of my classmates and I were fortunate enough to have received partial or full scholarships that enabled us to participate in the PRIO Summer School. Continued financial support through research grants, travel grants and scholarships will help ensure engagement with scholars from developing countries.

Representation and critical contributions from the Global South are crucial to the decolonization of peace research. My experiences at PRIO Summer School have helped me to see the possibilities in such approaches and provided the inspiration needed to continue my critical engagement in the field of peace and conflict studies.

* (Armenia, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Egypt, France, Indonesia, Kenya, Lebanon, Moldova, Pakistan, Russia, Sierra Leone, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.)

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wonderfull observation for global south really inspired me to join summer school at prio thanks

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