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Project: Positive Peace Beyond Post-Liberalism

This research project develops a critique of the ontology of violence that conceals the possibility of positive peace. It locates the philosophical shackles that stifle peace research in the radical immanence that underpins much peace research.

Project information

Project manager
Ludwig Gelot
Subject
Peace and Development Studies (Department of Social Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences)

More about the project

Peace research has abandoned the pursuit of positive peace because of an ontological commitment to violence. By assuming that the world is shaped by arbitrary power relations, scholars working on the liberal and post-liberal peace end up focusing their research on negative peace. This research project develops a critique of this ontology of violence that conceals the possibility of positive peace. It locates the philosophical shackles that stifle peace research in the radical immanence that underpins much peace research. The project considers alternatives to the liberal and post-liberal narratives to re-establish positive peace as a legitimate concern in peace research.

In a recent article published in the International Studies Quarterly, Paul Diehl (2016) explains that the scholarly study of peace has been primarily focusing on negative peace as the absence of war. The focus of much research is rarely peace in itself but rather the decrease in battle-related deaths, the absence of conflicts between democracies or the lower risk of violence between capitalist economies. Diehl argues that this one-sided approach leads to blind spots and absurd categorisations. But more importantly, since peace is not simply the absence of war, the study of the concept remains incomplete. Many scholars lament this reductive focus on negative peace and call for new research on positive peace. Some like Diehl point to the need for a normative agenda to move beyond negative peace. Others like John-Paul Lederach (2005) point to the need for an alternative moral imagination to capture the 'soul' of peace.

This research project attempts to demonstrate that these insights are essentially correct and that without a deep reconsideration of some of the core assumptions taken for granted in much contemporary research on peace and conflict, we will not be able to see 'peace-as-more-than-not-war'. Peace research remains focused on the study of violence because the approaches and theories that are widely used assume an ontology of violence that depicts the world as intrinsically shaped by violent power relations. If reality is the work of arbitrary power relations vying for dominance, peace can only be conceived as the temporary management of power. This ontology of violence is not only the foundation of Realist approaches to world politics but also pervades Liberal and 'Critical' approaches alike. Despite their wish to work towards peace, many scholars in fact perpetuate partial assumptions that make positive peace unthinkable. However, by reconsidering the grounds upon which this ontology of violence is founded we may begin to develop an alternative ontology of peace, and with it, revive research on positive peace.

The current debate over the liberal/post-liberal peace will be our starting point because it encapsulates the main approaches to peace currently discussed. The liberal peace is widely considered to be the only game in town when it comes to ending wars. And yet post-liberal alternatives are being put forward in response to its limited track record and to its inability to conceptualise peace beyond the absence of war. The liberal/post-liberal peace debate will be used to illustrate how the alternatives they present are essentially established on an ontology of violence that by definition prevents the emergence of positive peace. The research project outlines the contours of this ontology in order to sketch a new direction for research on positive peace. Going beyond Diehl and Lederach's insights, a case is made to recover transcendence as a necessary dimension of an ontology of peace.