Human Nature and the Potential for Peace

What can Modern History and Social Anthropology teach each other – and us – about past and present peace building?

Peace is a concept that many feel familiar with – and yet clear-cut definitions are hard to pin down. Our research has shown that peace gets visualised and studied in very different ways both within and across different disciplines. As a result, the complexities and contradictions of the notion are rarely addressed, resulting in lack of clarity and understanding. The University of St Andrews ‘Visualising Peace’ project is working to challenge and stretch traditional habits of visualising and idealising peace. Dr. Alice König, Postgraduate Research Mentor Jenny Oberholtzer and a team of twelve students from a variety of year groups and academic departments have been investigating how peace is studied and represented within their respective disciplines, and how these discussions translate into wider peace-building efforts.

The team’s first major publication was an online bibliographic resource, gathering together over 175 different articles, books and other publications which represent different trends in peace studies. Between us, we conducted an extensive literature review on this material, comparing different disciplinary approaches to constructing and studying peace. We identified significant gaps in existing scholarship, and discussed suggestions and solutions for future studies, to enhance the inclusiveness both of academic and of real-world peace-building strategies. 

This presentation by third-year student Claire Percival describes her selection for our online bibliographic resource, particularly focusing on the subjects of Modern History and Social Anthropology. Within the presentation, Claire underlines the importance of de-centring heavily theory-based, ‘standard’ Western narratives of peace, as simply the opposite of conflict. She  also problematises tendencies in some anthropological scholarship that promote indigenous people and belief systems as ‘models’ of peace/peaceful practices which Western initiatives can simply adopt/utilise. Taking case studies from both Modern History and Social Anthropology, Claire identifies some common threads that connect both disciplines; but she also reflects on what more they can learn from each other and the challenges they both face in deepening our wider understanding of peace itself and of the various ideologies that different communities attach to it.