For policy makers, civil society, and local communities around the world, specifying and achieving “sustainable peace” has too often proven to be elusive. This is in part due to challenges comprehending peace in complex societies as well as to a fragmented understanding about the conditions and processes conducive to sustainable peace. Research about peace has primarily studied the pathologies of war, violence, aggression and conflict – and peace in the context of those processes. Few efforts have been devoted to studying peace directly as a positive state. In addition, research and practice relevant to peace are typically rooted in specific disciplines while interdisciplinary approaches are limited. As a result, the complexity, multidimensionality, dynamism, and sustainability of peace are not well understood, contributing to a lack of coherent, measurable, and implementable policy agendas that effectively sustain peace.
Our Sustainable Peace Project, grounded in dynamical systems theory and informed by historical and anthropological evidence indicating that humans are fundamentally cooperative beings, seeks to:
- Advance conversations about peace with academic experts, policy makers, and local stakeholders;
- Bridge the gap between the academic understanding and practical applications of sustainable peace by providing policy-relevant tools; and
- Advocate for a more comprehensive and fundamental understanding of sustainable peace.
The absence of a stable peace in many areas across the globe leads to perceptions that violence and conflict are legitimate and accepted methods for problem solving and that peace cannot be sustained. Contributing to these perceptions, there remains little scientific understanding and agreement about the core dynamics and processes which contribute to sustainable peace at the intergroup level, where more stable patterns of peace and conflict are typically observed within a society.
To address this challenge, we are convening an interdisciplinary team and employing complexity science to uncover and visualize the core dynamics of sustainable peace at the intergroup level and to generate a comprehensive, evidence-based understanding of such dynamics. Through literature reviews, empirical validation, community dialogues, and quantitative assessment, the project is testing several hypotheses to create a Visualization of Sustainable Peace which will communicate the key dynamics that contribute to sustainable peace and may ultimately serve as a generalizable tool for policy and decision-making.
Key research topics include:
- Synthesizing the science and empirical verification – Evidence from the literature on intergroup relationships as well as an expert survey on peace is being synthesized to inform, refine, and validate the Visualization of Sustainable Peace. The project has convened academic experts from multiple disciplines to discuss the current scientific understanding of sustainable peace. In addition, the Visualization of Sustainable Peace is informed by 24 hypotheses that speak to the connections between the variables on the model. To test those linkages, the project team is systematically searching for the variables in the literature across multiple disciplines and reviewing empirical studies which speak to the connections between the variables.
- Understanding Peace Systems – Peace systems are clusters of neighboring societies that do not make war with each other and sometimes not with outsiders either, and certain features have been hypothesized to be important in the development and maintenance of peace systems (see Fry, 2012, Life Without War, Science 336, 879-884). This research area focuses on assessing which features recur across a sample of peace systems and considers the ways in which these recurring features contribute to sustainable peace within the peace systems. For the project’s purposes, a peace system must have persisted without war for a minimum of 100 years. The overall goal is to isolate key variables that contribute to the maintenance of sustainable peace by drawing upon data on historical, ethnographic, and politically described peace systems, and to test the identified variables and recurring features against assumptions in the Visualization of Sustainable Peace.
- Learning from local communities through ground-truthing – Ground-truthing is a term derived from work with remote sensing data, and the project defines it as a novel method of qualitative data collection and dialogue facilitation that a) relies on direct observation and engagement with community stakeholders to verify, refine, or challenge models derived by inference; and b) employs evidence-based scientific models to structure community discourse on issues of concern to communities. The purpose of the project’s ground-truthing method is to test and refine academic understanding and assumptions against stakeholders’ lived experiences of peace in their communities, and then to incorporate the insights gleaned from this process into the Visualization of Sustainable Peace to ensure its relevance and applicability in multiple contexts. Participants in recent ground-truthing workshops include stakeholders from the public, private, and civil society sectors.
- The project has conducted ground-truthing fieldwork in the Basque Country and Kabul, Afghanistan.
- Mathematical Modeling – A mathematical model can help reveal properties about the dynamics of a system that may be difficult to discern in a qualitative model by showing how the variables depend on each other and evolve over time. By quantifying the values of the variables in the Visualization of Sustainable Peace and the strengths of the connections between them, the project is building a rigorous mathematical model. A mathematical model of the Visualization of Sustainable Peace is being created in order to assess the most consequential variables and systemic properties of the model.
Douglas P. Fry
Fry, D.P. (2006). The Human Potential for Peace: An Anthropological Challenge to Assumptions about War and Violence. New York: Oxford University Press.
Mazzaro, K., Coleman, P.T., Fisher-Yoshida, B., Fisher, J., Fry, D.P., Liebovitch, L., et al. (2015). Realizing Sustainable Peace: Expert Survey Report, October 2015. New York: The Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict, and Complexity.
The Sustainable Peace Project invites collaboration and conversation in realizing its vision. To this end, we convene project teams from multiple disciplines and institutions and have partnered with allies at field sites. For more information on getting involved, please email Jaclyn Donahue at email@example.com.