Understanding peace through social science

Avinash Kumar

In this essay I will try and answer two questions: How can social science teaching serve the cause of peace? And what sort of peace should it seek to promote? As the answer to the first question depends partly on the answer for the second, I will begin by briefly describing the main dimensions and types of peace; and by attempting to demonstrate why one type of peace may arguably be better than the other. I will then present some illustrative approaches through which the teaching of history and social sciences can be used to serve the cause of peace (education).

The dimensions of peace
Peace can be conceptualized as having two different dimensions – in the first we have war, violence, and strife on the one hand, and on the other we have settlements and agreements which end or prevent hostilities or violence. In this dimension, thus, peace is assumed to exist if there are no wars or open and violent hostilities (Johnson & Johnson, 2006).

In the second dimension of peace we have “discordant, hostile interaction aimed at dominance and differential benefit and characterized by social injustice, at one end; and mutually beneficial, harmonious interaction aimed at achieving mutual goals and characterized by social justice, at the other end” (ibid). In this dimension, peace is said to exist only if the relationship is characterized by positive relationships, mutual benefit, and justice.

hands Though it may be desirable to have peace which is not marked by conflicts in any form, in reality, peace may not be characterized by a complete cessation or absence of conflict, but rather by the management of conflicts in a constructive manner. Thus, it becomes important to think about the different ways in which peace is sought to be achieved and maintained (i.e., imposed peace and consensual peace), and if one of them could be said to be preferable over the other.

Imposed peace, as the name suggests, is peace which has been forced upon the party/parties concerned; and is supported by power and domination. Typically, groups in power use their military might and/or economic power to coerce less powerful groups to end wars or hostilities and accept peace by signing treaties. As Johnson & Johnson (n.d.) remark, “The long-term result often tends to be structural oppression, the establishment of social institutions (such as education, religion, and mass media) that create the social, economic, and political conditions (i.e., systematic inequality, injustice, violence, or lack of access to social services) that result in the repression, poor health, or death of certain individuals or groups in a society.” Imposed peace, thus, may help in supressing conflicts; however since the fundamental causes and grievances often remain ignored or unaddressed there is little chance of such peace leading to long-term improvement in relationships between the two parties. Such peace may be described as ‘negative peace’.

Consensual peace, on the other hand, is based on the concerned parties coming to an agreement, which not just ends violence and hostilities but which all of them also believe to be legitimate, just, and beneficial. “It establishes a relationship based on harmonious interaction aimed at achieving mutual goals, justly distributing mutual benefits and being mutually dependent” (ibid). Consensual peace, furthermore, can be said to have two levels: peace-making, in which the parties involved reach an initial agreement and a framework for resolving future conflicts; and peace building “in which the economic, political, and educational institutions are used to create long-term peace.” This type of peace may be described as ‘positive peace’.

The author works at Wipro where he manages an initiative called Wipro Applying Thought in Schools (WATIS), which partners with a network of civil society organizations to build capacities for school education reform in India. He can be reached at avinash.kumar@apu.edu.in.

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