Reflections from Summer Field Research by AC4 Fellow, Gretchen Baldwin
I am uncomfortable with any logic that centers itself around the word ‘peace.’ I believe that to fall back on capital ‘p’ Peace causes us to depoliticize its purported opposite, conflict, in ways that relegate those involved and affected to identity checkmarks. Women are cast as peacemakers, men as antagonists, non-state armed actors become either villains or victims without the luxury of complex motivations or agency, and the state, if not wholly cast as innocent, remains the limited (and limiting) focal point to which all discussion of negotiation, mediation, restructuring, or alleviation of suffering must ultimately return.
Of course, any project dealing with questions of conflict will necessarily have to respond to a question of peace. But to center on peace seems too idealistic, unnecessarily optimistic and, again, depoliticizing. Peace, in a highly-flawed human world, is admittedly a positive extreme. But at what cost is it pursued? And if international programming naively clings to Peace—the word, the category—above all else, then what is lost? For starters, an essential understanding of what Carolyn Nordstrom refers to as times of “not-war-not-peace” (Shadows of War, 166), which simply acknowledges that no situation of war moves directly into a situation of peace. And yet, as Nordstrom points out, there is a powerful global population whose individual careers hinge on achieving an image of the capital ‘p’ Peace.
It is in a sort of extended understanding of not-war-not-peace that I have chosen to write about Rwanda as I analyze the data collected this summer and across five previous trips. Through AC4’s Graduate Fellowship, I carried out summer fieldwork for my ongoing research exploring the effect of commemoration on post-conflict political consciousness and identity. I would like to encourage a framework for how we—privileged, often Western researchers—talk about states like Rwanda—a framework that does not rush to claim Peace because to be peaceful in the international rhetoric is to be complete and to no longer be the problem of the peacebuilders. A research framework, or even simply a researcher perspective, that more critically acknowledges the times of “not-war-not-peace” should be centralized, even when such acknowledgement might come at the expense of a regime’s credibility or of a neat and easy narrative of post-conflict development or completion of peace processes.
Author: Gretchen Baldwin is a second year student at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), in the Masters of International Affairs Program in the International Security Policy track, with dual specializations in International Conflict Resolution & Gender and Public Policy. As an AC4 Fellow, she travelled to Rwanda and conducted participant observation and informal interviews to collect qualitative data on the state-led master narrative in post-conflict Rwanda, specifically its relation to the annual practice of Kwibuka memorial months. Her research project draws on theories of historical memory, identity in political violence, collective consciousness, and post-conflict state-building, aiming to provide insight into small, traumatized states’ methods of sustaining—or losing hold of—political peace.
Photos: All taken and provided by author.