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Social Justice in 20th Century Europe (Balliol College, Oxford)


  • Balliol College Oxford (map)

I’ll be speaking at an interdisciplinary conference organised by Martin Conway (Oxford), Luiza Bialasiewicz (Amsterdam) and Camilo Erlichman (Leiden) on the history of positive peace:

Re-imagining peace through Social Justice in mid-late 20th century Europe

Efforts to define and pursue a vision of “peace” in Europe have both a political and intellectual history and have long been central to the socio-economic and geopolitical development of the continent (Stråth, 2016). In mid-late twentieth century, however, Scandinavian advocates for peace merged their pacifism with the sociological imaginary of the time to reimagine peace in a globalising present. Peace was now to be understood not simply as the absence of conflict (‘negative peace’) but as a form of social justice (‘positive peace’) writ large (Galtung, 1964;1969). Over the course of two and a half decades, between approximately the late 1950s and the early 1980s, visions of positive peace provided a key vocabulary and arena of public and political deliberation within which ideas about social justice played out in relation to the law, to new forms of socialisation, and even to such considerations as the morality of economic sanctions (Wiberg, 1981). Situated very much within, but also against, the prevailing Cold War intellectual landscape, the attempt to define and mobilise a vision of positive peace during these middle decades saw positive peace variously institutionalised and elaborated across the continent: through the founding of peace “institutes”, such as PRIO (1959) in Norway and SIPRI (1966) in Sweden; through the publication and reception across the continent of peace journals; through the development of social networks (laying a foundation for later European peace movements, such as END); and through the dissemination of new popular philosophies regarding culture and the environment and (non-Western) ‘cosmologies’. Through each of these channels, positive peace mingled with emergent notions and understandings of society. In particular, ideas about positive peace were influenced by a new discourse of structural violence and, in key respects, they took shape within the social and political parameters of Scandinavian social democracy. Equally they took shape at the increasingly fluid intersection of national and international politics, such that there was a scalar as well as an intellectual politics at work here: the more radical (if not utopian) visions that resulted, not only demonstrating an openness to ideas coming from the global South, but frequently providing willing conduits for it (Bonisch, 1981; cf. Moyn, 2010).

Earlier Event: June 1
Hay Festival
Later Event: September 29
Wigtown Book Festival