IG’s Peace Blog

Peace and its many aspects

What perhaps should have come first

I probably should have started with what peace is (and isn’t).  Most people think they know, since they use the word all the time.  Journalists certainly must think they know, since they frequently report on the state of this or that “peace process” (another interesting subject we will hopefully get to in time).  But what most people say when asked what they mean by peace (and I’ve asked a few, believe me) is something like “the absence of war”.  Well, if you are in the middle of bombs, bullets and destruction this would probably seem like a pretty good definition.  However, it is far from adequate.   Again, there has been a lot written on this, but to sum up, “the absence of war” is, at best, a definition of what is often called “negative peace”.  It only tells us what we don’t want, which is war/violence.  It doesn’t tell us what to do to get a society or a world. where war and other kinds of violence don’t happen (or, at least, are greatly minimized).  Seen from this perspective, “peace” would be a bi-product of a way of organizing societies and international affairs that permitted us to deal with problems of diversity and social justice (among others) in ways that are creative and pacific.  Or, in other words, peace is an outcome of a successful civilization.  The sum of all the values and institutions incorporated in that model of civilization that make it work in a positive rather than a destructive way would be what we might call “positive peace”–a condition we want to realize, rather than one we want to avoid.

So what do you think of these definitions?


July 16, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , ,


  1. I like the blog. I think it would be silly to define peace as the ‘absence of war’ but I can see why one would normally associate war with the extreme opposite of peace.
    As a negative definition I would much rather prefer peace as the absence of violence or better, as non-violence.
    I am relatively uncomfortable with “positive peace” definitions for a number or reasons, mostly because the word takes on the power asymmetries and configurations affiliated with its spoken/written sources (governments officials, international agencies, scholars/academic disciplines, policy settings etc.)and contexts (relations between governments, insertion in the global economy, position on the international scene etc). Can peace be a term that allows for one common global model, without being heavily biased on the side of asymmetries, if clearly defined in the positive? And does an authentic discourse and identity in relation to peace start at the level of the international institutions, or at the micro-level of every-day life?

    Despite my misgivings I am interested in models of civilization reflecting “positive peace” notions. But I am wondering: is there no other way except having the two options of negative and positive peace?

    Comment by filip | July 20, 2008 | Reply

  2. […] Peace Processes Early on in the life of this blog, I said I was going to get back to peace processes.  Well here we go.  We hear this term frequently:  it […]

    Pingback by On Peace Processes « IG’s Peace Blog | December 9, 2008 | Reply

  3. I would never have thought of defining peace as the absence of war, perhaps because I live in Canada where a war has not been fought on our soil in centuries.

    War is such an extreme stage of non-peace. Because war involves armies and countries, when we talk in terms of ‘war and peace’ people tend to not look at how peace begins with them. Non-peace begins as soon as I put my wants and desires before the needs of ‘the other.’ Peace can therefore only exist when I consider ‘the other’ before I consider me.

    Comment by flandrumhill | December 27, 2008 | Reply

    • Exactly…in fact, we are all literally “one”: created from the same cosmic star dust.

      Comment by igbarb19 | December 27, 2008 | Reply

  4. […] brings me back to the idea of positive peace and human rights.   I can’t see how there could be generalized human happiness unless the […]

    Pingback by the fourth on the fifth « IG’s Peace Blog | July 5, 2009 | Reply

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