The Conflict to Peace Lab at the Mershon Center for International Security Studies is pleased to host this virtual workshop-style conference, taking place April 29 from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., to bring together an interdisciplinary group of scholars to study the lasting impact of conflict on communities around the world.
With political violence impacting communities every day and contributing to the displacement of 26.3 million refugees as of mid-2020, this theme considers the implications for transitional justice, reintegrating displaced communities, and the politics of movement and belonging as critically important to studies of post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding. This conference provides an interdisciplinary space to understand the challenges that violent conflict poses to community integration and social cohesion, and how international movements towards justice and en masse migration create (or disrupt) local networks of peace. Panelists include Dr. Kate Cronin-Furman on the challenges of seeking justice after violence, Dr. Kelebogile Zvobgo on memory production via memorialization projects, and Dr. Sophia Seng on the Cambodian diasporic community building in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge genocide, and others.
Apply to be a Graduate Conference Scholar
We invite Ohio State graduate students to apply as a conference scholar. A great opportunity to network and learn directly from faculty in the peace and conflict space from other universities and create community with other graduate students at Ohio State working in the field. Conference scholars will be expected to attend the entire day-long workshop and write a short reflection connecting conference presentations with policy implications for communities recovering from conflict and violence to be published on the Mershon Center’s website. For their participation and eventual blog post, conference scholars will receive $150. Payment is contingent on approval from the scholars’ home department and graduate school prior to the event.
To join us as a conference scholar, please email a CV and short statement of interest (~250 words) to email@example.com. In your statement of interest, please note how your research interests align with the conference theme noted above. In the subject of your application, please write JUSTICE, MIGRATION, and BELONGING. The application deadline is April 22 at 5 p.m.
This event is being recorded and may be posted to our YouTube channel. If you choose to participate in discussion, you are presumed to consent to the use of your comments and potentially your image in these recordings. If you do not wish to be recorded, please contact Kelly Whitaker (firstname.lastname@example.org).
If you require an accommodation such as live captioning or interpretation to participate in this event, please contact Kyle McCray, email@example.com. Requests made two weeks before the event will generally allow us to provide seamless access, but the university will make every effort to meet requests made after this date.
9:45 a.m. -10:00 a.m. | Welcome and Introduction
10:00 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. | Panel 1
- Dr. Kelebogile Zvobgo, "Producing Truth: Public Memory Projects in Post-Violence Societies."
- Dr. Kate Cronin-Furman, “Hypocrisy & Human Rights: Resisting Accountability for Mass Atrocities”
11:30 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. | Break
12:15 p.m. - 2:15 p.m. | Panel 2
- Dr. Sophea Seng, “Cambodian diasporic community building in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge genocide”
- Elena Lesley, “Testimony as Transformation: The Role of Spiritually-Adapted Mental Health Care Treatment in Cambodia's Transitional Justice and Peacebuilding Efforts”
- Dr. Adriana Rudling, “Shifting Gears: A Critical Genealogy of Transitional Justice in Colombia”
2:15 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. | Break
2:30 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. | Closing Discussion and Remarks
Blog Posts: Reflections from Conference
By Adrian Calmettes
A common thread in the conference presentations was the importance of intergenerational dialogue for building communities after violence. In fact, the presenters taught us that transitional justice hinges upon what Dr. Zvobgo called “the politics of memorialization” – i.e. the struggle over what to remember, how, and why. She also showed that “memory production is often a tangible result.”
In this blogpost I want to reflect on the role of technology – understood in the general sense as the design process of embedding knowledge and meaning in artifacts (be they statues, clothes, or smartphones) – for transitional justice (Steigler 1998). In fact, although the point was not made explicitly, each story involved different forms of and roles for technology in memorialization practices. Dr. Zvobgo for instance taught us that the medium of the memorialization project is very important: permanent objects (statues) present a long-lasting, “fixed” memory and are thus more likely to trigger confrontation than less permanent projects (exhibition, museums, archives). That is, different technologies embed different kinds of knowledge and produce different effects.
Dr. Seng’s presentation asked how the Cambodian diaspora in California commemorates – or to put it differently, reactivates and re-embeds the Cambodian culture and history. She showed that, because many Cambodian musicians were killed during the Khmer Rouge regime, recording music was a form of digitizing – and in a sense saving – memory and culture. The Cambodian diaspora commemorates by building archives of a culture that has been endangered.
Dr. Seng showed us a video of a celebration of the Khmer new year in which the music and the clothes play a central role in the commemoration. In the video, the family’s daughter even gets criticized by her mother because of her clothes. Her mother’s sisters then comfort the daughter by recalling how her mother used to dance and have fun back in the good old days. The music and the clothes thus represent focal points to remember stories, compare epochs, and connect generations with one another.
In Dr. Lesley’s presentation, however, technology – understood as “modern technology” – seems to do the exact opposite. Dr. Lesley is interested in the role of spiritually-adapted mental health care treatment of Cambodian communities in the country’s peacebuilding efforts. One outcome that such mental health care processes achieved is that children took their parents’ stories more seriously. In fact, one Cambodian woman interviewed by Dr. Lesley suggested that she was not heard by her children in the past. She says: “They live in the modern era (samai tumneup), the ‘computer era’ (samai computer) and it was hard for them to understand.” That is, according to the interviewee, technology is what prevented intergenerational dialogue and the transmission of memory and culture to new generations. Unlike in Dr. Seng’s story, technology in Dr. Lesley’s work seems to be a negative rather than a positive focal point.
In sum, in Dr. Seng’s story, technology (as CD, as stereo, as clothes) is binding generations together, whereas in Dr. Lesley’s story, technology (as smartphones, as computers) seems to split generations apart. The questions that should thus drive policy are the following: How can technologies promote peacebuilding efforts and intergenerational dialogue rather than violence and colonization? Arguably, defining technology as embedded knowledge, memory, or culture provides potential answers. Namely, the role of policy is to make sure that technology fosters rather than hinders local needs. But because the extent to which knowledge and meaning can be embedded in the US and then diffused to Cambodia may be limited, policy should pay attention to the cultural aspects of the technologies it diffuses and promote the local production of knowledge and know-how.
By José O. Pérez
I thoroughly enjoyed the panel presentations at the “Justice, Migration, and Belonging: Building Communities After Violence” conference hosted by the Mershon Center for International Security Studies. One of the things that most stood out to me was the wide-ranging and eclectic group of research methods employed by the presenters across their various research projects. From counting and analyzing different historical monuments, to following Cambodian diaspora bands and their musical contributions around the United States, to participant observations in traditional healing rituals, to semi-structured interviews, all the presenting scholars employed creative methodological approaches to tap into new sources of data and uncover previously overlooked theoretical insights. This is important because this same approach can be applied by other scholars and policymakers studying post-conflict and transitional justice settings to better refine policy recommendations for rebuilding these communities in the wake of political violence. Specifically, by focusing our methods on individuals and the micro-level to closely analyze how traditional practices, forms of resistance, and collective memory efforts can contribute to long-term peace developments, we can improve the lives of countless individuals around the world.
I was also struck by one of the questions raised by one of the presenters: “Why do people still turn to the state?” Considering the tenuous position that states around the world have as perpetrators of violence and as bureaucratic institutions, with difficulty in responding to the unique needs of individuals who fall outside the “median” conceptualization of the citizen or resident, this question stood out to me as it invites us to revisit some of our assumptions. In particular, states are just one of the many actors that participate in and impact post-conflict spaces: from international observers, to non-governmental organizations, to civil society organizations and community networks, to private individuals and scholars, and so forth. Thus, individuals, as the ensuing discussion during the conference well highlighted, still turn to the state because of its potential for providing safety and security, in spite of historic and ongoing failures to do so. Collective activism and efforts from all of the parties listed above, in conjunction with the state, can lead towards a cessation of violence even in situations where peace seems unattainable.
Overall, the conference provided an illuminating cross-pollination of ideas due to the presenters’ varied research profiles across different academic disciplines, sub-disciplines, and approaches to the study of community construction and reconstruction in the face of violence. The geographic diversity and scope of the panel presentations: from post-Stroessner Paraguay, to post-conflict Timor-Leste, to peace process Colombia, to diasporic Cambodian communities, and so forth, also showcased how each of us, despite working in small part of the world, is still contributing towards greater peacebuilding and security-development practices. Moreover, the conference’s resulting dialogue was fruitful vis-à-vis illustrating how concepts and ideas can travel across spatial boundaries. It is also worth noting how each presentation still outlined potentially useful policy recommendations that could impact entire regions and the world, regardless of its micro-foundation or country-specific origin. For instance, the structure of truth and reconciliation tribunals, the on-the-ground impacts of peace accords implementations, and legal practices surrounding human rights, are each subject to local tensions and nuances, but these can nevertheless be applied and employed in other settings to further security and justice-oriented goals.
By Karis Neufeld
The recent conference Justice, Migration, and Belonging organized by the Mershon Center hosted five scholars studying post-conflict transitions and transitional justice work. The conference offered an opportunity to dig into the opportunities and challenges for societies experiencing transition.
One theme present throughout the day was the challenge for researchers and practitioners in differentiating between political will and political capacity to accomplish justice work. In the first panel, Dr. Kelebogile Zvobgo discussed an upcoming paper with co-authors Alexandra Byrne and Bilen Zerie theorizing about how governments decide what kinds of memorialization projects to implement and where to locate those projects. This work emphasizes that project recommendation and implementation are both strategic tools for justice commissions and governments. Infeasible projects may be proposed by commissions to send a signal and governments may pursue expensive projects that avoid political costs.
In the same panel, Dr. Kate Cronin-Furman presented work from her book project examining the way autocratic regimes initiate sham justice processes in order to lessen international scrutiny and buy time to double down on government control. The disconnect between institutions and victim communities can sometimes be shockingly stark, as Dr. Cronin-Furman explained using the case of Sri Lanka. She noted that at some information gathering events during the justice process, officials had not even posted bathroom signs in Tamil, the language of the affected communities and intended beneficiaries. Her work highlights the ongoing challenge for international observers of recognizing when political accountability is being treated as window-dressing for repressive regimes.
The second panel further complicated the picture of transitional justice by recognizing that survivor-victim communities are not a monolith, even as justice and memory-making are often collective projects. Dr. Sophea Seng discussed her work in Long Beach, California studying how older generations of the Cambodian diaspora actively process memories of their experiences under the Khmer Rouge with later generations through music and community-sourced archives. Dr. Elena Lesley followed with a presentation of her work in Cambodia with survivor-victims healing from state repression and US bombings by crafting and presenting written narratives of their experiences through testimonial therapy. Dr. Adriana Rudling closed out the conference by discussing her work in Colombia highlighting institutional efforts supporting democracy and justice in the 1980s and 1990s, prior to formal acknowledgement of transitional justice by the state in 2005.
The body of work represented in this conference approached transitional justice through the experiences of multiple different subjects, including the individual, the community, and the state. The question of who is being centered in transitional justice work remained open ended. Dr. Rudling provided an alternative framing: “are we rehabilitating the state or rehabilitating the people?” The answer is not altogether clear. Complete prosecutions of perpetrators can threaten community peace. Furthermore, justice is a collective project but healing is often individualized. Memory-making can be powerful for collective action and community strength, as Dr. Seng’s work illustrates. But, individual narratives about historical violence can often be contradictory, even as they are a powerful tool for healing, as Dr. Lesley found.
The number and diversity of stakeholders in transitional justice work can create challenges for balance, peace, and security. The processes are messy and goals may not always align. The conference discussion distilled three key questions for those interested in transitional justice work. Who is centered within each justice project? Is there political will combined with political capacity? How will this effort achieve a balance of peace and justice? These three questions can guide both researchers and policy-makers in more fully articulating the dynamics of justice work in post-conflict settings.
By Dominic Pfister
As a PhD student with research focused on the intersection between health and security, I am often most attenuated to the role of the state and the actions it takes in response to perceived threats. The presentations at the Justice, Migration, and Belonging: Building Communities After Violence conference made me think more about the people who are affected by what states do and do not do, through several thoughtful and engaging papers and presentations. The speakers brought unique methodological, disciplinary, and focus perspectives to bear on the topic
The work that resonated most directly with the work I am doing in my dissertation is Dr. Elena Lesley’s presentation “Testimony as Transformation,” an account of narrative therapy practices among survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. Dr. Lesley’s presentation examined the “effectiveness” of culturally and spiritually adapted narrative therapy practices in responding to the complex and specific needs of survivors of genocide in Cambodia. The presentation highlighted the reality that Western mental health practices are not well adapted to work for people in non-Western contexts: in particular, Dr. Lesley highlighted how in a predominantly Buddhist country like Cambodia, the kind of reflection in other forms of narrative therapy can be viewed as “thinking too much” about trauma.
TPO, the mental health NGO whose practices Dr. Lesely observed, sought to situate narrative in a Buddhist framing by utilizing Picharana, a Buddhist self-reflection practice to produce useful lessons about the past. By reading the lessons of the therapy in a Buddhist blessing ritual, survivors of the genocide were able to integrate their experiences into their lives. The therapy also helped give survivors of the genocide some authority through their connections to a prestigious NGO and the culturally relevant knowledge they produced through the process of narrative therapy. By putting therapy practices taken from outside Cambodia and adapting them to the specific needs of the survivors of the genocide there, TPO was able to empower them not only individually through the therapy, but also by creating a social benefit that echoed through the lives of the survivors.
The conference presentations touched on my own research in indirect but important ways. I study the ways that states use medical practices to create senses of self-identity. The ability and willingness of states to construct their identities in and through public health practices is dependent on what kind of public health is considered useful or acceptable in each society. As Dr. Lesley’s presentation convincingly outlined, implementing health programs without attention to cultural contexts can have backlash effects that further alienate and isolate people in need of health care. As I go forward with my research, I plan to pay attention to the disconnect between how state health and medical practices, especially in the space of mental health, can be disconnected from the needs of the people receiving care, in ways that are important to consider and integrate into my research.
By Barbara Roth
“Wars begin in peace and there is peace in war.” – Swati Parashar
Postwar societies facing reconstruction are left with unimaginably difficult problems relating to what comes after, and solving these problems generally requires collaboration that may seem unthinkable in the aftermath of war. They must face all of this while the country is often unstable and impoverished, the social fabric is in tatters, an unwilling wartime elite is often in power, and the wider population is exhausted, mistrustful, and traumatized.
Thus, as we more closely examine the blur between war and “after,” we see that war does not quite end, and in many ways, neither can the peacebuilding efforts that must take these factors into account. Scholars at the Mershon Center for International Security’s Justice, Migration, and Belonging: Building Communities After Violence conference are tackling difficult questions relating to post conflict processes head on, with a long-term perspective and cutting-edge research that explores the challenges of peacebuilding and a variety of effects of both active policy interventions and more decentralized, bottom-up processes.
Clear policy implications are often difficult to directly draw out of scholarly work, because the research volume needed to make even tentative conclusions is often massive, consensus is reached slowly, incrementally, and nonlinearly if at all, and war and peace as they are practiced in the world are themselves always in flux. However, major takeaways from the research presented suggest the importance for policymakers and practitioners of peacebuilding to consider a very wide scope when it comes to their efforts and the anticipated effects of them. Specifically, the research suggests strong benefits to considering downstream effects of policies and how they may affect individuals somewhat or even very removed from the conflict, the necessity of widening the temporal scope under consideration, and the need for ongoing research and discussion on how peacebuilders can define success and what success means and looks like locally.
With regards to downstream effects of policies, the research presented at the conference suggested the importance of considering actors that are somewhat or even very far removed from the original conflict. Per Dr. Kate Cronin-Furman in her forthcoming book, Hypocrisy & Human Rights: Resisting Accountability for Mass Atrocities, even when outside pressure results in institutions of transitional justice of questionable quality or sincerity, a wider, and at times, unseen, audience of political actors can be watching the pressure applied and carefully weighing their next moves. With regards to documentation, memorialization, and commemoration, research on Cambodian diasporic community building and memory by Dr. Sophea Seng and on spiritually-adapted mental health care by Dr. Elena Lesley, both highlighted the power and importance to many conflict survivors of sharing stories with the next generation.
The research presented also suggests that the temporal scope needed is wider than it may seem at first blush. Dr. Adriana Rudling’s research on the decades-long evolution of transitional justice processes in Colombia demonstrates the value of understanding justice implementation as a complex, multiphase process. Other research highlighted what the international community may miss when attention moves on too quickly. Celebration of apparent successes, such as truth commissions agreeing upon and providing recommendations for memorialization projects, must be tempered with knowledge of the high frequency with which these measures are never implemented, per research by Dr. Kelebogile Zvobgo.
Finally, the research taken together demonstrates that tidy success metrics may always be elusive, and it is wise to face the complexity in these scenarios head on. As practitioners know already, the problems are often even more complicated and challenging than they seem and there are no easy answers. The issue goes beyond complexity as well. Peacebuilding efforts must also weigh difficult tradeoffs, for example the time and care needed to prepare an effective justice mechanism, versus the timeliness of justice. Far more research is needed to understand these problems better, but for now, the findings that were presented at this conference helped highlight the benefits of a widened analytic lens and showcased that there is a generation of rising scholars very much up to the task.
By S. Ra’phael Davis
How do societies deal with the memory of violence? And when are these attempts to ‘remember’ implemented? Dr. Zvobgo presented her team’s work on a typology of memorialization in transitional justice, arguing that while the complexity of remembrance is case-specific, we can better theorize about the phenomenon in its individual parts. The type of memory project might elicit different political responses from citizens and their governments. There are projects with the intent of creating new memory as well as those vying for removal of the old. There are projects to deal with specific incidents and others to deal with overall patterns. Additionally, location of the memory project and the medium through which it is established may matter. They find support for the hypothesis that recommendations for memorializing individuals are less likely to be carried out than for memorializing groups.
There are a few implications to take from this research. First is understanding that attempts to publicly remember violence underpin the work of transitional justice, human rights, and democratic consolidation. Additionally, is understanding that these attempts may contribute to social cohesion and bolster democratic institutions in the long run if done well. These implications should be a primary concern of government officials and policymakers trying to figure out how to deal with issues of public memory and human rights. Rather than look at memory as a policy area with little to no relevance for mainstream politics or governance, memorialization should be taken seriously.
This research is particularly relevant for the United States where contestation of memorialization has continued well into the 21st century with confederate monuments being erected and others being torn down. The politics of memorialization may provide the opportunity the U.S. needs to confront issues of race-based violence, gender-based violence, and a range of other issues in a way that heals the nation’s deep divisions. This research also implicitly raises questions about whether memorials should be removed, where they might go once removed, and the factors that predict the timing of removal.
The main finding — that implementation is more likely for memorializing groups — is relevant for civil society organizations and human rights activists. This information can help activists organize around key issues and move within the bounds of what is likely to be implemented at first steps of transitional justice in the U.S.