The Spatial Turn in Peace & Conflict Studies: Interview with Annika Björkdahl, PhD
Have you ever wondered: Where does peace take place? If so, you are not alone and Prof. Björkdahl’s work is here to answer your question. In this brief interview you will learn about: the role and contributions of spatial analysis to peace and conflict research, how spatial features may be understood as “manifestations of peace and war,” that learning about the spatial approaches employed by “geographers of peace” is a useful undertaking for political scientists, and that under some circumstances, international actors may change spaces of conflict into places of peace. The article concludes with Dr. Björkdahl’s hopes for the future of the field she’s working in and some words of wisdom for junior scholars interested in the same line of work.
Interview by Sorina I. Crisan, PhD
Dr. Annika Björkdahl is a Professor of Political Science, Peace and Conflict Studies, at Lund University, in Sweden, and the Editor in Chief of Cooperation and Conflict, an international peer reviewed academic journal.
What are the major reasons for conducting research on what you, and other scholars, call: "The Spatial Turn in Peace and Conflict Studies"? And, what do you intend to achieve with this research trajectory?
I have long been intrigued by questions about peace, such as: What is peace and how can it be built? Peace for whom and who’s peace? How can we measure the quality of peace? Recently, my interest has turned to the question: Where does peace take place? This question draws attention to the spatial features of war and peace and probes how space and place effect conflict dynamics as well as peace processes. War zones, border disputes, fights over land and territory, out-of-area missions, inter- or intrastate conflict, besieged cities, peace gardens and war memorials, and many other phenomena make reference to spatial features and are spatial manifestations of peace and war. This points to the fact that the conduct of violence and the maintenance of peace always have a spatial element to them; they would not occur without space.
Thus, the aim of this spatial turn is to demonstrate that the spatial analysis is useful to peace and conflict research and it helps question the very dichotomy between war and peace as well as make sense of how warscapes can be transformed into peacescapes.
When did you become interested in researching the relationship that exists between space and peace/conflict studies, along with peacebuilding and spatial transformation, and why?
I started to engage with geographers of peace and was struck by the usefulness of their spatial approaches also to political scientists like myself and to the broad field of peace and conflict research. The relationship between space and place on the one hand and war and peace on the other is complex and still under-researched, particularly the part about where peace is emplaced.
Who/what are the main subjects of analysis in your current research on space, peace, and conflict, and what methodological approach(es) do you undertake to analyze your research question(s)?
For a few years now, I and my colleagues Susanne Buckley-Zistel, Stefanie Kappler and Johanna Mannergren Selimovic have taken an interest in local and international peacebuilding actors and we have tried to map the various strategies they use to transform space of conflict into places of peace. These actors can be official governmental representatives, diplomats, political leaders, NGOs, community-based organizations, civil society organizations, urban planners, ex-combatants, artists, etc.
Often, I rely on ethnographic work of “being in place” and semi-structured interviews. In addition, I find it fruitful to allow various diagnostic sites to speak to each other, and compare them in a reflexive manner. In doing so, it is possible to see how various theoretical concepts can travel between context and, through similar theoretical concepts and frameworks the diagnostic sites are put in conversation with each other, and more general lessons and principal understandings can be gained.
Where do you see the intersection between the fields of space and peace/conflict studies headed within the upcoming years? And/Or, what are some of your hopes and expectations for the future of the field?
I do think that the question of “Where does peace take place?” is of interest to a variety of disciplines including anthropology, geography, political science, international relations, just to mention a few, and it has the best potential to be answered, I think, by brining various theoretical and methodological approaches together drawing on the various disciplines with an interest in the question.
Would you like to share any remarks and/or suggestions for young scholars interested in following a similar line of research?
I am not the one to make suggestions for how to study space and place in relation to peace and conflict, but in general I think it is a good advice in research that you should try to follow your passion. Be bold and be curious, be original, and do not be afraid to think outside established theories and methodologies, and most importantly, try to find your own place in peace and conflict research.
Thank you for reading.
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Professor of Political Science
Department of Political Science
Editor in Chief
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Consult Dr. Björkdahl's publications on Google Scholar.
For a quick view, here are Dr. Björkdahl's latest publications:
"Friction in Transitional Justice Processes: The Colombian Judicial System and the ICC", in The International Journal of Transitional Justice (2021) with Louise Warvsten.
Peacebuilding, Structural Violence and Spatial Reparations in Post-Colonial South Africa, (2021) with Stefanie Kappler & Susan Forde, in Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding
Feminist Methodologies for Peace Research in The Routledge handbook of Feminist Peace Research, (2021) with Johanna Mannergren Selimovic, London: Routledge, https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429024160
Urban Peacebuilding in The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Peace and Conflict Studies (2020) https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-11795-5_7-1
Peacebuilding and Spatial Transformation in The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Peace and Conflict Studies (2020) with Stefanie Kappler https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-11795-5_23-1
Illustrations by: The main article photo is by Tony Liao, downloaded from Unsplash, courtesy of Wix.com photo gallery. The profile photo used on this page is made available on Dr. Björkdahl's Lund University webpage.
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