The necessary Ethnographic Turn in Peacebuilding: forecast or dream?

#WR2050 4 / August 2020

Author: Albert Caramés, Lecturer at Blanquerna-Ramon Llull University

In International Relations, peace (and peacebuilding) is thought and deployed through several dynamics and characteristics: always aspired to provide a point of reference; as an achievable goal through universal norms, where the most thinking is predicated into conflict prevention. During the last 2-3 decades, Peace and Conflict studies have traditionally adopted a liberal perspective on its implementation and, in consequence, in on the question of its agency (applicable in many other IR fields).

This perspective has tended to assume the primacy of the ‘internationals’ over the ‘locals’ in their interaction on peacebuilding processes. Digging on the critiques (based on the opposition to the “one-size fits all”), we realise the Eurocentric frame to build up the original conceptualisations. Issues like the methodological exclusion of targeted people, the lack of neither empathic nor emancipatory understanding of culturally appropriate forms of politics, or the lack of alternate vision that goes beyond Western models, are clear examples on that.

Afterwards, alternative models called for the hybridity that allows the recognition of hegemony of the external liberal model alongside the contextual, combined with heterogeneous specificities of the local. This approach remains undertheorized, failing to reveal power dynamics, and being inadequate for handling different territorialities and levels of analysis.

Due to an implicit assumption of a dichotomous relationship between conflict and peace, and unable to appreciate the challenges posed by complex global conflict systems, peacebuilding scholarship has not responded adequately to criticisms of peacebuilding practice. Either if it is a personal dream or a rigorous forecast, it is well understood the necessity shows the necessity on a new research agenda for peacebuilding that will be consolidated (and hopefully criticised) in, again, 2-3 decades (by 2050). The objective should therefore not be to focus on discovering who the local is or what alternative it can offer, but rather to reveal the ways it came to be taken as different. It has also been at the core of colonial and imperial rule, characterized by discourses on conflict that portrayed difference as a potential source of violence, and as a threat to stability and peace

The ‘turn towards anthropology and culture’ critical peacebuilding would inquire how categories such as ‘local’ or ‘indigenous’ are produced, normalized, and used to justify orientalising and racializing social hierarchies. Difference (and not power) should become the question to be investigated and engagement with difference can readily be a positive development that resonates with growing efforts to “decolonize” and “feminize” academic disciplines through its intersectional perspective. It would allow to study the extent to which actors label themselves as local or international (or even both), assuming that agency identities are in a mutual frictional relationship. Through this under this ethnographic turn, dealing with difference is not only a key concern for the International Relations from now on. It is time to bring this new perspective, either as a forecast or a necessary dream.