Perspective in Conflict Studies

Recently, I visited Cambridge University to help me decide whether to pursue a PhD there or attend law school in the United States next year. On the train there from London King’s Cross, I read a book, Between Ourselves: Exploring Interculturalism Through Intercommunity Creative Practice. The book, in short, discusses the role of community creative arts in Northern Ireland as a method of peacebuilding adopted by many local community organizations. The book discusses the theoretical approach to creative arts as a way to develop intercultural communities (and discusses how this differs from multicultural communities) as well as the practical implications of these creative arts programs through a mix of academic chapters and evaluative chapters on specific local programs.

While I read, I found myself diving into the specific cultural environment of present-day Northern Ireland. The nuances of this environment are vitally relevant for the subject matter of this book (and for the subject matter of my dissertation on women’s roles as perpetrators and victims of sexual violence during the conflict), and it was all too easy for me to become mired in these details.

But as I was on the train, I began to think about how, even though Belfast and Northern Ireland are so relatively close to Cambridge, the impact of conflict and the cultural nuances about which I was reading are probably irrelevant and distant to most living in Cambridge. Indeed, while the conflict and its political, cultural, physical, and emotional impacts on the Northern Irish community are ongoing, ever-present, and even all-important to many there, it is probable that few in Cambridge or any other English city feel the impact whatsoever.

This was by no means a revolutionary thought, but one that brought perspective.

It is easy for researchers and those directly involved in peacebuilding and community engagement programs in Northern Ireland to lose perspective, even if they are careful to avoid doing so (as I thought I had been). But when one is in classes about the conflict or tangentially related to it, is reading about the conflict, and is writing book reviews about the conflict, it is easy to center on the conflict here and to lose sight of co-occurring events and places.

As vital as it is for researchers and students to understand the nuances of a conflict before writing or publishing research about it, it is equally vital to understand the bigger picture and the relationships between the conflict at hand and other similar conflicts, and how the conflict is situated within the global environment. I am not sure why this realization was strongest while traveling along in England whilst reading a book about peacebuilding and developing intercultural societies through creative arts in Northern Ireland. For the remainder of my course, I look forward to deepening my understanding of the conflict and environment here in Belfast and broadening my understanding of outside perspectives, comparable conflicts, and the global environment.


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