InHouse&Guests Workshop

Peacebuilding and the Politics of Difference

26–27 June 2017

Initiated by the Centre's fellows Pol Bargués-Pedreny and Xavier Mathieu, the workshop sought to explore and critically engage with the way difference is being used in the theory and practice of peacebuilding. The study of peacebuilding has evolved dramatically in the last 20 years. While earlier peacebuilding approaches ignored difference or considered it as a clear obstacle to peace, difference is now seen more positively, often as a tool to foster emancipatory ways of building peace. Yet difference continues to be under-theorised.

As a result, and despite the good intentions of peacebuilding scholars, attempts to include difference in peacebuilding are having the unintended consequence of further excluding those considered different. Indeed, the lack of reflection on the way difference is theorised leads to problematic assumptions: differences are considered as existing independently of the actions of peacebuilding interveners, recipients and scholars, and identities and cultures are approached as essential and static phenomena. In addition, current approaches embracing difference often implicitly take the international/Western as the standard from which other actors and values are 'different from'. As such, problematic binaries and traces of colonial distinctions (e.g. liberal-illiberal or developed-underdeveloped) are reinforced.

How is one to pursue peace in a context where culture is a useful analytical lens to understand and potentially resolve war but also, and at the same time, the most divisive element for participants in the conflict? This dilemma has given rise to a fierce debate in the peacebuilding literature in the last 20 years. More recently, 'the local turn' has tried to address this dilemma but appears suspicious of reproducing a liberal/local binary and thus reifying difference. In this workshop, the participants looked at ways in which difference is enacted in peacebuilding practices and offered new insights for thinking about the difference dilemma. Overall, the contributions offered a diversity of views about the challenge of difference in peacebuilding and international interventions. If difference is inescapable, then, the ways we think about it cannot be reduced to ignorance through universalism or essentialisation and reification.

Venue: Käte Hamburger Kolleg/Centre for Global Cooperation Research, Schifferstr. 44, Duisburg