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This man does not even know the meaning of peace: conflicting understandings of peace and legitimate violence in Gulu, northern Uganda

2nd November 2015

CGHR Research Group Seminar

‘This man does not even know the meaning of peace': conflicting understandings of peace and legitimate violence in Gulu, northern Uganda

Partha Moman (University of Cambridge)

Discussant: Dr Adam Branch (POLIS)

Current thinking concerning transitions to peace after war tends either to reduce peace to the crude absence of violence or render it as a holistic phenomenon that it is blurred with normative understandings of wider socio-political struggle and transformation. Instead, through analysis of conversations on peace and violence in contemporary northern Uganda, this paper claims that what defines a transition from war to peace is the extent to which a society shares an understanding of what constitutes legitimate violence. It demonstrates the stark discord amongst the inhabitants of Gulu on the extent and ‘meaning’ of peace, and argues that if peace is constructed and imagined across society, then this marked discrepancy is analogous to the absence of peace itself, despite the silence of the guns. By breaking down this conversation over peace, it becomes possible to reveal the substance of these disagreements as conflicting understandings of what constitutes legitimate violence, such as differing stances on wartime violence, rather than debates over the entire social and political order. As such it may be possible to salvage a distinct non-normative understanding of transitions between war and peace where they are defined by shifts between dissensus and consensus on what constitutes legitimate violence.