New publication I like (03): Berghof Handbook for Conflict Transformation’s second volume

Berghof Conflict Research in Berlin has just released the second volume of its well-known Berghof Handbook for Conflict Transformation online with twenty new and revised articles:
The Handbook brings together practitioners and scholars in conflict and peace studies, as well as related fields (development, human rights, etc.). It assembles in one place theory-driven debate (e.g. on concepts like social change, systemic thinking, civil society and state-building), method-orientated practice pieces (e.g. on nonviolent action, on mediation) and practitioners’ experience and reflection (on training, on evaluation). It builds from concrete experience in specific cases (Sri Lanka, Nepal, the region of former Yugoslavia, the Asia-Pacific region and many more) and reflects on current trends and issues. It draws attention to established practices and concepts, as well as to thorny issues, dilemmas and challenges (Introduction, p.9).
The Handbook is undoubtedly a fantastic resource to get an overview over conflict transformation and peacebuilding and both the topics and authors reads like a 'what-is-what' and 'who-is-who' list of contemporary conflict/peace research, conceptual challenges and insights from 'the field'. It is also fantastic that despite an expensive book publication, Berghof continues to make the Handbook easily and globally accessible. But despite these praises, especially the willingness to be critcal and self-reflective about the chances and limitations of conflict transformation, I did find some of the contributions sobering in the sense that some ideas have been be sticking around ever since Boutros-Ghali introduced 'peacebuilding' as a mainstream political concept after the end of the Cold War in 1991-which was twenty years ago.

Diana Francis calls for a 'movement of movements' to bring nonviolent people power into the political mainstream which on the one hand seems a bit old-fashioned, but on the other hand seems very timely-especially with the current 'Occupy' movement around the globe. But does any movement have the power to challenge the structural forces of militarism? And what role for international peacebuilding? Francis does not appear to be overly optimistic:
I believe that while the structures and culture of global militarism (which constitute the context for all violent conflict) remain unchanged, attempts to address specific conflicts directly, while still necessary, will be unlikely to succeed to a degree that matches peacebuilders’ aspirations (New thoughts on power, p.510).
 I also read through Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church's chapter 'Evaluating peacebuilding':
Finally, despite evaluation having been firmly on the peacebuilding agenda for a decade, the average peacebuilding team and agency lacks the knowledge and skills necessary to establish and manage quality evaluation processes (Evaluating peacebuilding. p.477).
Unfortunately, there are not more reflections on the shortcomings of capacity-building, training or workshop rituals or other factors that help to explain why after more than 10-15 years of peacebuilding evaluation capacity has not been built. She mentions a key point later on, but I am still not entirely satisfied:
Underpinning this general lack of adherence to quality standards is a more fundamental issue: the distortion of the purpose of evaluation away from learning and accountability and towards fundraising, public relations and programme justification. The way this plays out in practice is a direct challenge to the espoused peacebuilding values of honesty and of the ends never justifying the means (Evaluating peacebuilding. p.480).
Ultimately, the positivistic, rational evalution discourse can hardly be applied to peacebuilding as it rarely produces 'impact' and 'results' that can be measured. Peacebuilding has not been able to change powerful discourses - the randomised control trial debate has not taken 10 or more years to be taken up by mainstream development organisations!

Another aspect that I would like to read more in the future is the debate around volunteering and peacebuilding work as part of the development industry and lifestyle. Peacebuilding is firmly embedded as a professional practice in a many organisations and more research needs to shed light on how it has been absorbed into discourses and why is has not transformed organisations or projects.

But as a starting point to learn more about key concepts of conflict transformation the Berghof Handbook will remain an important first resource to go to.   


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