What is Peacemaking? - Definition & Theory

Instructor: Benjamin Truitt
Peacemaking is a varied approach to resolving conflicts, ending injustice, and preventing violence. This lesson explores four theories of peacemaking to build a definition of peacemaking.

Peace and Non-Violence

In my opinion, non-violence is not passivity in any shape or form. Non-violence, as I understand it, is the most active force in the world - Mahatma Gandhi

If you sit back and think about it, can you imagine what war looks like? Art, film, news, music, and photography have all worked to capture our sense of war. There are even dozens of video games you can buy that let you simulate the experience of battle.

Now, what do you imagine when you think of peace? The vivid imagery that you associate with war seems to have no equal in our idea of what peace is. War-making is a long discussed and concrete idea and subject, but peacemaking is one that receives less media hype. As we will see, peacemaking is not a passive act. In fact, there are many theories on how to achieve peace.

Theories of Peacemaking

Peacemaking is difficult to define because it is not just the absence of war and violence. The Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union was not one where violence was constant, but it certainly was not a peaceful time. The leading figures in peace studies give us insight into what it means to actually make peace. We will look at Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Desmond Tutu, and the Dalai Lama's theories on peace and, from their theories, we will find a definition of 'peacemaking'.

One defining aspect of violence is that it takes two parties to perpetuate it. Violence is a tactic and oftentimes, it is also the counter-tactic to violence. Violence is a way of getting what one wants or of achieving a goal.

Think about a bully in school: their violence allows them to get things they want from others without giving anything back. For those bullied, the way to deal with bullies seems to be either to give in or fight back. So how can one use non-violence instead? To answer, we will first go to segregated America.

Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King Jr
Martin Luther King Jr

Martin Luther King was placed in prison for his work to secure civil rights in America. From there, he wrote his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail that explores the question of why those seeking justice should choose peaceful tactics. While King's writings do not discuss the steps to ending a conflict, he lays out a case for non-violence as an active means of resolving conflict and seeking justice.

King's theory of peacemaking is that non-violent civil disobedience is a path of actively seeking to end injustice, without justifying violent responses. King used public displays of peaceful violation of segregationist laws to draw attention to the justice of his cause.

Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi's struggle for Indian independence from the British was based on ensuring that violence was met with non-violent resistance. Gandhi emphasized that non-violence could not just be a tactic, but had to be embraced as a life philosophy.

Whereas King discussed the need to use non-violence as a means to an end, Gandhi speaks of non-violence and peace as a principle that should be embraced as a way of life in order to be effective. Gandhi argued that peace was only meaningful if it was consistently and universally applied.

Desmond Tutu

King and Gandhi both led movements to seek peace for powerless and oppressed groups, but peacemaking extends beyond the struggle from oppression. Desmond Tutu was a deeply influential figure at the end of apartheid in South Africa. After decades of oppression, social changes made the conditions ripe for revenge on those in power who had oppressed and terrorized the black population.

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