North-South Peace Studies

By Roberta Holanda Maschietto*

One of the features of Peace Studies is that it is a field of study that has been developed and consolidated mostly in Europe and North America. This characteristic has led many to criticise what is perceived as a Eurocentric view of peace and conflict. In fact, even critical scholars – who acknowledge this bias and try to change it – are still criticised for not being able to completely shift away from their ‘Eurocentric’ background, especially in terms of methodology. In this context, cooperation between scholars of the global ‘North’ and global ‘South’ is extremely important.
Before diving into why this is so, a caveat is needed. What do we mean by global ‘North’ and global ‘South’? I am certainly not considering a specific geographic scope here, as it would be at least very imprecise. As someone originally from the ‘South’ (Brazil) who has studied many years in the ‘North’, I also do not feel very comfortable being placed into any of these categories. Yet, I cannot deny that this division is so widely used that it should not be ignored. It relates, in fact, to other equally imprecise dichotomies, such as developed/developing world, the ‘West’ and the ‘rest’, and so forth.

Regardless of the imprecisions related to these dichotomies, it is important to capture what they in fact seem to stress: the fact that knowledge, and in this case specifically ‘scientific’ knowledge, is still centred in the hands of a minority. While these dichotomies stress the global distribution of knowledge, I think it is also important to stress that an enormous knowledge gap exists within each of these ‘regions’, specifically between the rich/middle class and the poorest sections of each society. So while I – a ‘southerner’ – have the privilege to be able to navigate among the circles of knowledge production both in the ‘South’ as well as in the ‘North’, I am still part of a minority that, even if in a very small scale (at least in my case!), can judge and determine what ‘proper’/’valid’ knowledge is.

That said, let me go back to my previous statement and problematise it a bit: cooperation between scholars of the global ‘North’ and global ‘South’ is extremely important. But what do I mean by cooperation? One of the problems that I have observed and experienced myself is that often we from the ‘South’ actually believe that we have some kind of academic handicap – a view often nurtured by some academics from the ‘North’. We go to the ‘North’ because we want to learn and acquire the skills that we think we lack (and we often do). There is no doubt that each academic environment has something unique to offer and wherever we go, North or South, we may acquire new knowledge and abilities that may improve our academic skills. The problem is that there are specific kinds of skills that seem to be considered more important than others and why this is the case seems actually arbitrary. This is the case, for instance, for methodology and the epistemological umbrella that lies behind what is considered scientific and valid knowledge. These instruments have been overall modelled following European history and philosophy and are often inadequate to capture what takes place in the ‘South’ – although I would add that they are often inadequate to capture what goes on even in the ‘North’.

So thinking about cooperation between the ‘North’ and the ‘South’ should entail moving beyond this idea of ‘handicap’ and towards the idea of mutual learning, as well as going beyond the constant search for the homogenisation of science. Sure, it is important to have a common standard of dialogue – and certainly methodology and epistemology are key aspects to allow this dialogue to take place; nevertheless, too much homogenisation means less space for novelty and creativity. Embracing diversity is therefore key to promoting horizontality in the domain of cooperation in academia. Unsurprisingly, this is easier said than done, but as long as we academics keep trying and holding a reflexive posture I believe academia, and especially Peace Studies, will only gain from this. Pushing ourselves towards more reflexive research includes, moreover, moving beyond a strict understanding of North and South and asking ourselves the key question ‘how much do I know about the ‘South’ in my own country’ and ‘how do I related to social exclusion in my own field of research?’

* Roberta Holanda Maschietto is currently a visiting researcher at the Rotary Peace Centre at the University of Bradford and a post-doctoral researcher at the Centre for Social Studies, University of Coimbra. Her new book ‘Beyond Peacebuilding. The Challenges of Empowerment Promotion in Mozambique’ is currently being published in the Palgrave Macmillan collection Rethinking Peace and Conflict Studies. She is a blogger at https://peacereflections.wordpress.com/ and member of the Brazilian Network of Peace, Conflict and Critical Security Studies (http://pcecs.blogspot.com.br).