17 May 2018: A call for peacebuilding organisations to participate in research on how "small things" matter in "big conflicts"

I am a professor at Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), where I focus on peace building in international conflicts. I am currently writing my doctoral dissertation in the sociology department at the New School for Social Research. My research focuses on how and why "small things matter in big conflicts". I am interested in the political power of small-scale and micro-interactions that people engage in across deeply polarized lines of social and political conflict. In intractable conflicts, people meet and engage in all kinds of unique and provocative ways across conflict lines, and I argue that under certain conditions these interactions have major implications.

I call these interactions "the Intimacy of Enemies". My thesis is that understanding and supporting such interactions is a neglected path that can lead towards meaningful shifts in intractable conflicts. I note that the emphasis on broad-based, national and macro structural and cultural transformation ("Peace Writ Large") found in the current discourse in the field tends to ignore these politically meaningful micro-interactions.

I believe that the important efforts in the last few years to refocus on "local peace building" will be made more real and relevant if we fully really understand and support the micro-interactions that constitute "the local". Without this analysis, I fear the current focus on the "local" will remain rhetorical. 

My view is that the peacebuilding organisations featured on Peace Insight are excellent practitioners in the realm of micro-interactions and the Intimacy of Enemies. I want to understand if you have a view on and perhaps examples of this level of peace building and how it influences or emerges from your work (or not).

Therefore, I am reaching out here to invite any local peacebuilding organisation on this site or mailing list to contact me to participate in this research effort. For those who participate, I will set up a time to interview you at your convenience (most will be via phone, skype or WhatsApp). Interviews typically last 60-90 minutes.

I also want to make certain that any partner who speaks with me finds some value for their own work. Here are the ways I have thought of to help partners derive value from participation:

1) DETAILED IN THE DISSERTATION: Each partner and their work will be described and analysed in my dissertation (to the degree that they wish to be public - I am happy to keep identities anonymous if that is preferred). When it is complete, I will provide the partners with copies of the dissertation, with the hope that the written analyses of their work can be useful as they reflect on their own programming and theories of change, and perhaps could be of use as they reach out to other partners, funders and counterparts. 

2) DISCUSSED IN PUBLICATIONS: As select chapters of my dissertation are published in peace-related journals, books and publications, this will provide a way for research participants’ work to reach wider international audiences who have an interest in supporting peace building efforts. My hope is that this could also be useful in discussions with stakeholders, supporters and funders.

3) EVENTS IN NEW YORK: In my role at Columbia, the New School and NYU, I frequently set up events featuring peace building organizations. If a partner is in New York, I would be more than happy to work with them to create a public event for them to discuss their work with interested and relevant audiences.

4) COPY OF INTERVIEW: I digitally record my interviews and would be happy to share the digital file of the interview with partners who participate. I have found that many interviewees get joy and useful reflections when listening to their own interviews. Sometimes the reflection can lead to new thinking as they reflect on their own words.

If you are interested in participating in this research (or if you have any questions), please contact Zachary Metz at zm34@columbia.edu.


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