Advanced Introduction to the Sociology of Peace Processes
Professor John D. Brewer
The war in Ukraine is a vivid reminder of how war has changed in late modernity. While ‘new wars’, as Mary Kaldor calls them, have more enduring continuities with former conflicts than the term suggests, it is incontrovertible that war has transformed. This is highlighted so tragically in Ukraine. There is no longer a set battlefield between clearly identifiable combatants, marked off from the rest of society; innocent citizens are targets, social and domestic infrastructure gets indiscriminately bombed, and human bodies become battle sites, with degradations inflicted on women, children and the elderly. Weaponry is sophisticated and makes no distinction in whom it injures and kills, but de-technological weapons have also re-appeared in the 21st century, in the form of swords, machetes and the human bomb (whether in cars or strapped to the perpetrator).
The Ukrainian war discloses a second truth about the changing nature of warfare in late modernity. It evokes a profoundly moral response. The injuries are also moral ones; not in the sense that they offend the moral code of the perpetrator, but by provoking moral outrage in victims and those looking on as bystanders. War crimes are legal entities because they offend morality. The moral landscape of war has shifted in line with cultural changes in how we respond generally to suffering. We should not overstate this. Late modernity is full of moral contradictions. The rise of authoritarian populism, xenophobia, and anti-migrant racism exists alongside empathy to what Luc Boltanski calls the distant stranger. Philanthropic and charitable giving is at its height whilst migrant babies drown on British seashores. Distant strangers evoke moral empathy, it seems, only so long as they remain distant. People are clearly making moral judgements about victims. We see this in the contrast between the moral response toward Ukrainian war refugees and Syrian or Afghan migrants. We open our homes to the former, but keep the latter at longer distance.
In my new book An Advanced Introduction to the Sociology of Peace Processes, the changing nature of warfare and its moral landscape form part of several structural and material conditions that have shaped our growing moral interest in peace. Others include the extremely violent form of global capitalism that exacerbates competition and conflict, between nation states and in internal conflicts over the control of the nation state, and the intensified economic inequalities and wealth disparities between the Global North and South, and within the Global North amongst those left behind by the social and economic policies of neo-liberalism. We have at the same time an increase in moral sensibility to suffering and harm and increased moral enervation and moral degradation of our enemies. We are both sensitive to the suffering of others and fearful of them. We show greater levels of emotional empathy to people just like ourselves, but draw ever more rigid moral boundaries to exclude those who are different.
These material and structural conditions have had a profound effect on social science treatments of war and peace, leading to what I call the re-enchantment of the social sciences. Moral sensibility is again in vogue, both as a topic of study by social scientists and as an ethical commitment that we are encouraged to bring to our work as social scientists. Thus, we have studies now of vulnerability, risk, emotion, anger, love, compromise, suffering and the like, and give voice to social science as a public good and as having public value, permitting us to make moral judgements as social scientists; and not just about war and peace.
Significantly, the re-enchantment of the social sciences in late modernity has opened up an intellectual space for the emergence of the sociology of peace processes. Violence and war have always interested sociology more but the political economy lying behind the re-enchantment of the social sciences has given peace a chance, sociologically.
This re-enchantment should shape, however, sociology’s understanding of peace. Peace has to be more than the vague notion of reconciliation and run deeper than technical practices of transitional justice. The sociological definition of peace developed in my book sees it as the restoration of moral sensibility. Moral sensibility involves a sense of social solidarity after conflict, a sense of social togetherness, which is embedded in the restoration of sociability, the capacity of living together in tolerance despite difference. Sensibility, solidarity and sociability are mediated, however, by social justice. Continued social injustice stymies moral sensibility and its alliterations. This requires us to rethink what peace means sociologically. It is more than the ending of violence; it requires social transformation. Conflict transformation without social transformation will not deliver peace.
The realisation of this sort of peace is not easy, and the book outlines a typology of peace processes aimed to deliver it, all of which face huge difficulties in doing so. The compromise type of peace process, delivered through a second preference negotiated settlement in which parties give up on their first preference for a mutually agreed deal, which is the most valued form, is perhaps the most difficult of all. In part it is the most difficult because it is assumed to be a simple matter for political resolution by political elites. It ignores what I call the social peace process. Statebuilding reforms the institutions of governance, while peacebuilding in the social peace process prioritises societal healing, the restoration of broken relationships and rebuilding social trust. The problem with treating peace processes as essentially political processes is that this excludes civil society, and fails to see that the real problem is essentially a moral one.
The book discusses new concepts which the sociology of peace processes illuminates, like the sociology of compromise, post-conflict emotions that furnish us with sociologies of anger, forgiveness, mercy, hope and social trust, the sociology of everyday life peacebuilding, and the sociology of personal trauma.
Throughout these discussions, however, peace is seen as essentially a moral issue not best left to politicians, whose discourse is adversarial and inimical to moral debates. A shared future is a moral idea, not a political one. The single conclusion of the sociology of peace processes is that learning to live together after conflict should be understood as a moral duty, garnering moral sensibility toward erstwhile enemies.
Advanced Introduction to the Sociology of Peace Processes. Edward Elgar Publications. Published March 2022. ISBN 9781839107405. Accessed at the following link:
Advanced Introduction to the Sociology of Peace Processes (e-elgar.com)
Image credit: Alexei Scutari, Unsplash.
Professor John D. Brewer
A Professor of Post-Conflict Studies, John is a Member of the Royal Irish Academy, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences.