This is one of the ten presentations delivered at the first SCID Symposium, which are being individually uploaded here (where you can comment upon and discuss issues related to a particular presentation) and uploaded on to the Symposium page of this Blog, for ease of reference. I look forward to further discussion of some of the critical issues raised within these presentations on the subject of building security and justice after conflict.
In this presentation, Whit Mason advocates for a social reconstruction approach to building security and justice after conflict. Whit suggests that much thinking about efforts to build security and justice after conflict is very narrowly focussed, and rarely draws – for example – from the work of the great jurists and political philosophers, or the experience of places which have become stable and where security and justice prevails. Whit argues that one of the main problems of this field is that it understands itself and its domain very narrowly, and that the corpus of thinking from which it draws is very limited. For instance, the work of the sociologist Norbert Elias, who investigated, among other things, the connection between centralised authority and people developing the habits of restraint that are common to civilised societies, is generally ignored because his work is not seen as part of the corpus of thinking relevant to this field. This is one of the reasons why deep and meaningful lessons and insights are hard to find when reflecting upon how best to resolve conflict and build peace. Consequently, Whit argues that we should enlarge the scope of what we think we are doing when we aim to rebuild security and justice. Also, it is argued that we need to think more about what we think we are doing, how societies operate and the principles upon which they are based, and how interventions intersect with the organic operations of society – if peacebuilding efforts are to be more successful. Whit concludes that we need to be more honest and clear about the reasons why we intervene; think more deeply about the reasons for conflict and why people engage in armed conflict, for instance, notably why people perceive there to be no better viable alternative; and what can outsiders do, if anything, to help people change these perceptions.
Whit Mason has worked as a journalist, political analyst and strategist, UN speechwriter, USAID outreach director, NGO Chief of Party, academic researcher, and think tank fellow, in many societies, including those affected by conflict. He has written extensively on the political aspects of development and conflict, including co-authoring a critically acclaimed book, Peace at Any Price: How the World Failed Kosovo and Zealous Democrats: Islamists and Democracy and editing The Rule of Law in Afghanistan: Missing in Inaction. He is an expert in strategic communications and is also a Research Associate at Oxford University’s Centre for International Studies.