Organic versus strategic approaches to peacebuilding

Authored by: Sherrill Stroschein

Routledge Handbook of Peacebuilding

Print publication date:  January  2013
Online publication date:  February  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415690195
eBook ISBN: 9780203068175
Adobe ISBN: 9781135082130

10.4324/9780203068175.ch21

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Abstract

Many approaches to peacebuilding and assistance, or international ‘helping’, are grounded in an individualist perspective of social life. In this perspective, individual actors calculate their options and make strategic choices according to their individual goals. This calculation can produce conflict, as in the case of perceived ‘security dilemmas’ (Posen 1993; Fearon 1994) or it might provide a means for sustainable peace (Fearon and Laitin 1996), or for international actors to broker and preserve a peace (Walter 2002), by providing sanctions and incentives to influence preferred behavior. In the area of charitable assistance, the provision of resources to a group is understood to help them achieve their goals; only one group needs to be the focus of aid. While these individualist insights make some valuable contributions to the area of helping, they overlook the fact that social life is an inherently relational phenomenon. Communities at which intervention is aimed are comprised of relations between individuals (Petersen 2001; Varshney 2001), and it is a disruption of this web of relations that is constitutive of conflict. In addition, the provision of resources to one group can destabilize ongoing interactions between groups. In this relational, organic view, peacebuilding consists of reconstructing the mechanisms that facilitate sustained and peaceable interactions. Assistance to groups should reflect these dynamics. These interactions and mechanisms are often blind spots for those with an individualist view on these settings. In addition, efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to one group may disrupt the balance of this interaction, nullifying their potential contributions and increasing tensions between groups, unbeknownst to those trying to help.

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