Building a peaceful, secure and inclusive world
Ahead of the launch of the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice on Friday 24 June, we met with its Director, Professor Hastings Donnan, to find out about the new Global Research Institute.
Tell a bit about the significance of the new Global Research Institute.
The Mitchell Institute is a focus for cross-disciplinary research and facilitates new ways of collaborative working, not only for staff but also for Masters and Doctoral students. Uniquely, it emphasises the importance of cultural and social processes for healing in society alongside reform of state institutions. It offers a neutral space for civic conversations around issues that continue to trouble post-conflict transition and provides a forum for public engagement in which high profile speakers can present their positions.
What will be your role in the GRI?
My job is to ensure that the Mitchell Institute delivers effectively on challenging questions about how to build a safe, secure, peaceful and inclusive world by working across disciplines and alongside a very broad range of practitioners in civic society. The aim is to enhance the quality of our research while simultaneously empowering those who are struggling to rebuild their lives in the wake of violent conflict.
What is your main area of research?
My research has been in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as in Ireland, focusing principally on the study of state borders that have experienced conflict and violence as well as on related issues of trauma, memory and displacement. I spent many years in Pakistan, learning the language and living in remote areas documenting the life experiences, beliefs and values of a very broad range of people whose lives are shaped by proximity to contested borders.
How does your research impact on the lives of people in Northern Ireland?
The Mitchell Institute works in many parts of the globe that have experienced conflict, including Northern Ireland. The insights into peacebuilding which this internationally comparative perspective generates flow in both directions, as Northern Ireland learns from other places and as other places learn from Northern Ireland. Eighteen years after the political settlement here much remains to be done, and our comparative research sheds light on the challenges of the ‘process’ that follows the ‘peace’.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I like to be busy and challenged. The Mitchell Institute has enabled me to work with ‘can do’ colleagues, who know how to get things done and who do them. This has been immensely rewarding and satisfying.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can't you live without?
I am not a gadget person. I could live happily without any gadget. As everyone who has been in my office knows, give me a pen, paper and books every time!
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Spare time is in short supply. What spare time there is I try to spend at home with my wife and daughters plus dogs, cats and horses. Were there more spare time, it would be spent on Ireland’s many islands.
Outside of your research interests, what fascinates you?
I am lucky. Because what fascinates me are people and I have been able to make this my profession: observing them, talking to them, reading about their lives, and tracing their footsteps through artistic, architectural, literary, social, political and physical landscapes.