Chapter 1: Understanding conflict resolution

On the concept of peace

A starting point for modern thinking of ‘peace’ is ‘An Editorial’, Journal of Peace Research, 1 (1): 1–4. This text made the dichotomy of negative and positive peace well known to the research community. Although not signed, it is commonly agreed that it was written by Johan Galtung, the founder and first editor of the Journal.

An additional work is by the same author: Galtung, J. 1969. ‘Violence, Peace and Peace Research’, Journal of Peace Research, 6 (3): 167–91. In this article, Galtung elaborates on the meaning of positive peace by introducing a new concept, ‘structural violence’, largely in response to a critique of peace research as being too focused on ‘direct violence’, i.e., wars, conflicts and violence. The concept of structural violence has since then been used in peace research but also in other disciplines.

K. Höglund and M. Söderberg Kovacs 2010. ‘Beyond the Absence of War: The Diversity of Peace in Post-Settlement Societies’, Review of International Studies, 36 (2): 367–90. The authors return to the issue of positive peace by elaborating on a set of other possible notions of peace. It was part of a renewed discussion on ‘peace’, in particular in relation to the conditions after a protracted war. What kind of peace is to be built?

P.M. Regan 2014. ‘Bringing Peace Back in: Presidential Address to the Peace Science Society’, 2013. Conflict Management and Peace Science, 31 (4): 345–56. In the continued discussion on positive peace, Regan, as president of the Peace Science Society, challenges the research community to put ‘peace’ in the forefront of research, thus making scholarly sense of ‘positive peace’. He also demonstrates that the dichotomy of negative and positive peace was used already in the 1950s, thus giving it a history.

This has been pursued in the development of the concept of quality peace, largely done at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame. The first volume is Peter Wallensteen 2015. Quality Peace. Peacebuilding, Victory and World Order. Oxford University Press. It introduces a systematic attempt at comparing two different endings of war: victory and negotiated settlement.

Peace and peace research

Wallensteen, P. 2011a. ‘The Origins of Contemporary Peace Research’, in Kristine Höglund and Magnus Öberg (eds.), Understanding Peace Research. London: Routledge. pp. 14–32.

Wallensteen, P. 2011b. Peace Research: Theory and Practice. London: Routledge. pp. 4–20.

These two publications elaborate on the effect the choice of peace concept has on the forming of a research agenda. The first one shows how ‘traumas’ and ‘hopes’ have formed the present agenda. The second one shows that ‘peace’ is researchable, gives the arguments for its pursuit within universities as an autonomous activity, and discusses ethical aspects of research results.

The philosophical underpinnings of peace research

Organized peace research is, of course, not the originator of a discussion on ‘peace’. Through time, this has been an important concern for many writers. Three important texts are the following:

Immanuel Kant 1795. Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch. The renowned philosopher outlines his approach to a lasting international peace arrangement emphasizing matters such as republican rule, international federations and arms control. These visionary ideas were widely read during the 1800s. It influenced the formation of international organizations in the 1900s and sparked a modern research approach, referred to as the Kantian Peace.

Niccolò Machiavelli 1532. The Prince. This text from the sixteenth century was published after the death of Machiavelli. It gives advice to the political leader who wants to retain power in turbulent times. It is a classical reading for a ‘realist’ approach emphasizing the importance of power. It has also sparked an ongoing discussion on moral and power.

Thomas More 1516. Utopia. The work on Utopia is contemporary to Machiavelli and can be seen as a critique of the power struggles that went on in Europe at the time. It does so by outlining a vision of a different society, ‘Utopia’. The concept is firmly entrenched in European thinking, and has also led to new derivations, such as ‘dystopia’ as a vision of a negative future society.

For philosophical discussions on these and other writers of relevance for peace, security, justice and development, go to the Philosophy Tea website on: where thinkers like Bertrand Russell, Ibn Khaldun, Dag Hammarskjöld, Baruch Spinoza, Hanna Arendt and Voltaire are covered, as well as lesser-known but equally impressive personalities such as Bertha von Suttner, Karin Boye, William Wilberforce and Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Causes of conflict

The notions of Idealpolitik and Kapitalpolitik parallel to Geopolitik and Realpolitik are introduced in Peter Wallensteen 1981. ‘Incompatibility, Confrontation and War: Four Models and Three Historical Systems, 1816–1976’, Journal of Peace Research, 18 (1): 57–90. These concepts serve as a framework for organizing different dimensions that could help explain the emergence and handling of conflict and war. They remind the analysts and commentators that every situation may have more to it than first strikes the reader.

The two volumes by Sara McLaughlin Mitchell and John A. Vasquez (ed.) 2021. What Do We Know About War? (3rd edition). Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield and T. David Mason and Sara McLaughlin Mitchell (eds.) 2023. What Do We Know About Civil Wars (2nd edition). Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield provide good overviews over findings on the origins of war, largely based on quantitative analysis.