The great gift of Peaceland is that it positively disrupts the predominant paradigm in peacemaking.

The great gift of Peaceland is that it positively disrupts the predominant paradigm in peacemaking.

A Review by Dr. Samuel Mahaffy of Peaceland:  Conflict Resolution and the Everyday Politics of International Intervention. In a conflict-ridden world there is a compelling need to understand how peacemaking efforts might be more effective. Effectiveness research has been lacking an insightful, scholarly and broad-based portrait and analysis of the universe of interveners in countries where violence and poverty are the norm. Peaceland fills precisely this void. It is essential reading for anyone who has a compelling interest in why peacemaking, humanitarian and development interventions are so often ineffective.

Autesserre correctly identifies that we desperately need “a new lens with which to approach the study of international peacebuilding” (p. 249). Her work provides that essential new lens. It challenges “international peacebuilders to think of themselves in new ways” (p. 255). But, her work speaks to more than those who are practitioners. It is a globally significant work that does nothing short of presenting a theoretical and practical basis for a paradigm shift in peacebuilding.

Sέverine Autesserre’s compelling case for how the world of interveners must change to be more effective is carefully constructed through rigorous research and interdisciplinary incisiveness. Peaceland is inspiring simply for the careful construction of this reflective analysis.

Sέverine Autesserre places the global community of peacemakers under a carefully constructed ethnographic scrutiny studying the “practices, habits, and narratives” (p. 29) of peacemakers. But, this work freely crosses the boundaries of the human sciences. It wraps around a tremendous body of literature in political science, anthropology and other disciplines. While grounded in the first-hand experience of a life lived in the world of interveners–named as Peaceland–this work meets the highest standards of research scholarship.

At one level, this work is a scathing indictment of how the western world has intervened in African and other countries where conflict, poverty and violence have prevailed. At the core of this analysis is the reality that the “dominant practices and narratives” of the peacemaking community and their separation from local communities create disparities and foster inequalities. The ‘bunkerization’ of peacemakers and interveners in their own “expatriate bubble” in other countries, prevents the relationship building that is essential since peace is ultimately constructed in local communities.

Additional critiques of the existing culture and practices of peacemakers grow out of this inequality and lack of local relationship building. To a large extent, interveners lack accountability to the people, cultures and leadership of the countries in which they work. Intervener’s initiatives “favor short term and quantifiable results” (p. 215). Obsession with numbers instead of relationships tend to reinforce superiority of interveners over those they serve and perpetuate inequalities.

The notion of inequalities is central to Autesserre’s work. It is often inequalities that are a core cause of the violence and poverty that compel the need for development, humanitarian, and peacebuilding interventions. Ironically, it is the inequalities in the practices, habits and culture of the interveners themselves that may render these very interventions ineffective.

Peaceland goes to an intriguing philosophical and even spiritual depth beyond an analysis of the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of intervener’s practices. It calls into question the core belief that “….to be neutral is something very holy” (p. 237). I find intriguing Autesserre’s suggestion that the visibilization of assistance provided by interveners is, in fact, a ritual in Peaceland that flies in the face of the core teachings of the major religions of the world that acts of charity “should remain hidden” (p. 231). “The Bible, the Mishneh Torah, and the Quran all explain that the way to dole out charity is to do so ‘in secret'” (p. 231).

At the core of my own Ph.D. research, writing and public speaking has been the finding that when we value agendas above relationships, the agendas are more likely than not to fail. Tragically, peace interveners “come in with an agenda” (p. 100) or as conquerors failing to step into the “anchoring practice” (p. 31) of relationship building.

The great gift of Peaceland is that it positively disrupts the predominant paradigm in peacemaking. It brings forward a clarion call for a new way of the Western world to be in relationship with its non-western neighbors. I recommend it as a great addition to the list of essential reading for the rapidly expanding undergraduate and graduate programs in conflict transformation.

But, the significance of Sέverine Auteserre’s work extends far beyond the communities of practice of interveners. If we are to create a sustainable future through a global community that collaborates and engages in dialogue instead of being in perpetual conflict, we must return to the core question: “Who is our neighbor and how are we to be in just relationships with our neighbors?” Autesserre brings important dimensional answers to those core questions. She suggests that we must give voice to the voiceless, that legitimacy comes only in relationship (p. 50), and that dominant simplistic and hegemonic narratives will never address the complexities of relationships we face in the global community today.

Sέverine Autesserre’s work is challenging but ultimately hope-filled.  The rigor and insight of this work surely contributes to the effort to make Peaceland a reality in real communities around the world.


Peaceland:  Conflict Resolution and the Everyday Politics of International Intervention is published by Cambridge University Press (2014).