Peace Scholar Post: “Thank you, Galtung” by Esme Marie

Thank You, Galtung

My nearly eighteen years of formal education have been marked by the paradoxical experience of realizing that the more I delve into any given issue, the more I become aware of how little I actually know. My experience here in Norway is certainly no exception – especially in regards to precisely that which I came here to augment: my understanding of peace.

At the outset of our introductory course concerning the study of peace and human rights here in Norway, a country largely known for its peace-building efforts and generous commitments to developmental aid, I largely adhered to a fundamentally myopic and limiting definition of peace – namely peace as the absence of violence, the same way in which the concept of health, as Galtung so concisely points out in Twenty-Five Years of Peace Research: Ten Challenges and Some Responses, can be interpreted as the absence of disease, ascribing to its approach an inherently negative element. And it was at this point in my reading that I was hit by just how limited my previously held beliefs really were. Don’t get me wrong, the absence of direct violence continues to dominate the field peace research for good reason, but thinking of peace simply in those terms allows us to attribute it to states of affairs that aren’t inherently peaceful.

It is true that I’d been grappling with concepts of both abstract and concrete harm, and was, through my interest in forced migration, aware of the crucial role of reconciliation efforts beyond both the physical removal from a conflict or the official termination thereof, but that was about the extent of my knowledge; I had not yet managed to create for myself a working definition of the field I’m so keen on contributing to.

Another way of thinking about peace, to continue with Galtung’s medical science analogy, is to define it in both negative and positive terms. Positive peace, as I’ve understood, can be compared to the way in which health measures also necessarily encompass nurturing a body to enhance its inherent ability to resist disease. A positive approach to peacemaking encompasses the notions of harmony, cooperation, and integration, and implies a more holistic approach. While the ways in which I’ve presented these nuances of peace are both oversimplified and reductionist (for the purposes of this blog post), I think they shed light on the importance of expanding our ideas of peace from the absence of direct and intended violence (eg. physical attack, massacre) to encompass the need to eradicate structural violence (which is seen as unintended harm done to human beings, eg. hunger, economic exploitation) as well as addressing more spiritual and non-material concerns, and taking into consideration the needs of the our natural environment.

Though my definition of peace is far from complete, and this abbreviated post is far from doing Galtung’s work justice, I now have something more complex but also more positive to share and work with on my journey forward –please feel free to add to it.

PS. I’d strongly recommend reading the article I largely based this post on– put forth by the godfather of peace research.


Galtung, Johan. “Twenty-Five Years of Peace Research: Ten Challenges and Some Responses.” Journal of Peace Research. 22.2 (1985): 141-158. Print.


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