Welcome to my blog! Every week, I will post at least one article on something involving wicked problems either in peacebuilding or comparative politics. I define those fields very broadly, so you’ll probably be surprised by some of the topics I end up covering.
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The Commons Four years ago, I went to the first Build Peace conference at MIT’s Media Lab. I knew next to nothing about the team of young people from Build UP^ who organized the event, but I’ll go to almost anything that involves peace and technology. The conference and the group of now 30-somethings that put it on changed my life. I have been to all four of their conferences (Cyprus, Zurich, and Bogota in addition to MIT) and plan to be at the next one in Belfast in October. Not only have I learned a lot about peace, technology, and the arts, but I’ve made a few friends for life. So, when they asked me to help assess their newest project, The Commons, I immediately booked my flight and hotel, although we did not end up at the amazing Media Lab this time. As they put it, The Commons has been a pilot program for addressing polarization in the United States on line, which was led by Build Up’s managing director, Helena Puig Larrauri. Like many of us, my friend at Build Up^ are worried about the ways life in the United States and Europe has become polarized into what Amy Chua and others call political tribes. As good techies, the Build Up^ team decided to see if they could use ICT tools to reduce the polarization. This was, of course, ironic. The first time we met, the discussion focused on how we could use the new [...]
I've reached the point in writing From Conflict Resolution to Peacebuilding at which I have to talk about conflict mapping is a necessary tool in either understanding how conflicts unfold or effectively working to resolve them. The need for that was driven home in a course I'm sitting in on when it became clear that few of the students had had much experience in mapping conflicts. So, along with my friend Liz Hume, we began to bring them up to speed with one of two kinds of tools peacebuilders rely on. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and to some degree one needs to use both. First we showed them how USAID's Conflict Assessment Framework could be used to analyze the current tensions in the United States. Like most major development agencies, USAID developed a tool to help its officer do their work in conflict torn countries. As you can see, the CAF (as it is known) asks its officers to focus on the the dynamics and trajectories a conflict takes. To understand the way a conflict unfolds, it has analysts start with the grievances found in a given society and the forces that "mobilize" around those grievances. Those grievances, of course, do not exist in isolation and need to be understood as an outgrowth of the ways its institutions (not just the government) perform, identity differences over race, religion, language and the like, and broader social structures. In short, the CAF and similar tools give the people implementing USAID's policies [...]
A Visit to the Holocaust Museum As part of a course on applying what is known about mass atrocity prevention to the United States, I accompanied Doug Irvin-Erickson and some of his students to the U.S. Holocaust Museum on Friday. Because of the course, I focused on the top floor of the permanent exhibit which deals with the Nazis rise to power and what happened in the first years after Hitler took office. In past visits, I’d thought more about what happened later to the millions of victims (which undoubtedly included a goodly number of my relatives) and why the Allies had not done something sooner to stop the killings. This time, I had the key lessons from Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s How Democracies Die fresh in my head. The brilliance (and scary nature) of this book lies in their focus on four factors that they have seen in the “deaths” of many democracies and not just Weimar Germany: Rejection or weak commitment to democratic rules of the game Denial of the legitimacy of political opponents Toleration and even the encouragement of violence Readiness to curtain civil liberties. All four of those dangers were on display in those first exhibits we saw, and we all found ourselves worrying just how much each of those is present in the United States and Western Europe today. After all, that is the concern that led the two Harvard political scientists to write the book in the first place. I [...]
An Architecture for Conflict Prevention in the US I am sitting in on—and occasionally helping teach—a graduate seminar on the ways theories of atrocity prevention could be used to address pressing issues in the United States. The instructor, Doug Irvin-Erickson, is using the course to help create what is known as an “architecture” for preventing such acts that we will gradually build after the semester is over, starting with a small workshop in May. We do not start with the assumption that the United States is in danger of any kind of genocide or that any such tragedy that were to happen here would resemble anything the world has seen before. However, as anyone who has read Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s How Democracies Die Yascha Mounk’s article in the current Atlantic will realize, American democracy is showing signs of trouble. We are not suggesting that American democracy is in imminent danger. However, we are convinced that peacebuilders in general and atrocity prevention specialists’ notion of architecture for prevention have something important to add to the discussions sparked by the likes of those Harvard political scientists. Architectures for prevention have been created by governments and other members of the elites in a number of African countries that have been through genocide or other forms of mass atrocity and want to keep them from happening again. We also understand that no American government—let alone the current one—is going to create such an institution here. Instead, we are looking [...]
Shared Mobility Principles During the course of my career, I’ve met and worked with some amazing people. None of them holds a candle to Robin Chase. I use the term force of nature in describing her to other people. If anything, that’s an understatement. She cofounded ZipCar and Veniam, has been on the boards of a number of environmental organizations, and gives some of the most inspirational talks I've ever heard. Now, she has combined a lot of those interests involving cities, transportation, the environment, and socioeconomic equality. You can get a glimpse of what Robin's all about in general by thinking about the statement from her that accompanies the photo to the right. A few weeks ago, Robin and her colleagues introduced a movement around what they call Shared Mobility Principles. Building off of her work on using technology platforms as jumping off point for building large scale social change, Robin has put together a formidable coalition of partners who have committed themselves to ten principles for developing transportation systems in the cities of the future. We will have to do so, because the promise of driverless cars, new residency patterns, shared work, and more will force us to redesign urban areas not just in the United States but around the world. Rather than listing all ten of them which, of course, you can read with just one mouse click here, let me focus on the ones that are most germane for my work. Prioritizing people over [...]
Rethinking Power It’s about time for us to rethink what power means. I’ve felt that way for some time especially when I’ve had to think about the ways in which my work as a peacebuilder and as a political scientist do not mesh. It took reading Dacher Keltner’s The Power Paradox to have the pieces begin to fall into place. Keltner is a social psychologist who understands the traditional definition of power we political scientists have used at least since the time of Machiavelli. As Robert Dahl put it in the 1950s: A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do. In other words, power implies at least the threat of force. That force need not be violent. It could be economic or psychological, but if I’m B, why would I do what you (A) want me to do otherwise? Keltner understands that the world has changed to the point that the social center have gravity has shifted toward networks in what professors at the Army War College started calling a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) world in the late 1990s. In that kind of a world, the kind of power Machiavelli and Dahl (and most political experts in between) talk about tends to be counterproductive in the long run. Because everything I do affects you and vice versa, what I do “today” comes back and affects me “tomorrow.” What goes around literally [...]