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No peace without justice

Agonistic Peace

Can peacebuilding institutions contribute to the establishment of sustainable peace while they elude or exclude people and population groups who resist the signature of a peace accord or seek to subvert its implementation? Words like deviance, incivility or abnormality might come to the mind of people seeking to understand how to deal with those who resist to engage in a peacebuilding process or who actively undermine efforts to establish peacebuilding settlements (Jones and Adou Djané 2018). However, studies have shown that not all those who resist a peace process actually seek to destroy it but rather try to shape the terms of the agreement.

The idea that antagonism towards peace is mostly mobilized by actors whose material and symbolic interests are put in jeopardy by peace processes fits into this scenario. And the same logic applies to the assumption that, insofar as peace agreements involve transformative measures that tackle structural inequalities affecting minorities and non-hegemonic groups, the probability of emergence of resistance to peace increases. In fact, these dynamics are not mutually exclusive. Rather, oftentimes so-called peace spoilers are able to articulate their particular interest into popular demands constructing collective subject positions with which broader population groups identify.

Despite such risks, the adoption of transformative peacebuilding approaches that address the root causes of armed conflicts has been seen as emancipatory advancements that reflect the voices of victims’ movements. Meanwhile, the use of connotative terms such as abnormality and aberrance to designate those who oppose a peace agreement persists. Implicit in this development is a liberal notion of peace as a universal value and the idea that conflict and dissensus should be suppressed or excluded if societies are meant to achieve conflict resolution. However, in recent years, an interest in studying antagonism to peace process has been prompted by the concern that, in excluding dissensus, peacemakers might cause the crystallization of opposition and its transformation into actual violence.

This move in peace studies (Jones & Bernath 2017) has found its inspiration in the work of Chantal Mouffe and her reflections on Agonistic Politics (2005). Mouffe’s political theory has challenged the existing consensus colonizing politics and public space (2008). In societies experiencing democratic transition to peace, well-intentioned consensus might allow to portray those who openly express non-hegemonic political subjectivities as archaic or recalcitrant. And in parallel, post-conflict citizens might be driven to forget that peace accords are unfolded in political terrains. But indeed, the absence of dissensus in peacebuilding spaces might well be symptomatic of political and social intolerance, or a certain inability to deal with difference.
The weak legitimacy of contested peace agreements is not likely to dilute over time but rather jeopardizes the very success of their implementation. What then are the possibilities of peace builders in ongoing peace agreements to expand the space of reconciliation and include otherness and difference throughout the implementation process?
The IPAP research, from which this blog is drawn, embraces the notion of agonistic peace, and in particular its recognition of conflict and resistance as inherent elements of the construction of peace. Adopting this lens allows us to see peacebuilding as the result of political negotiations and peace institutions as sites of agonistic political dialogue. “Neither a war that kills us nor a peace that oppresses us”, so goes a rallying cry of Colombian feminist movements. Instead of a desire to be aseptic places, peace institutions might mirror this feminist hope, and become sites from where to foster deliberative peace and the condition of possibility for political difference.