Art and Reconciliation: Conflict, Culture and Community

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: War Studies


Although billions of pounds internationally have been invested in post-conflict reconciliation projects, primarily involving aspects of justice and the creative arts, there has been no study of this phenomenon as such. To date, only isolated studies of particular places and projects have been undertaken - a lack noted by UNDP (Western Balkans), one of the largest funders of such work, which seeks a 'codified body of knowledge pertaining to reconciliation.' This interdisciplinary project will therefore innovatively investigate post-conflict reconciliation to produce the first overarching study to address this major (practitioner and academic) gap. It will do so by combining history, conflict resolution methodologies, art and creative practice, and both qualitative and quantitative social sciences in three strands: 1. The first historical investigation of the idea and practice of reconciliation through time, involving examples, such as the English Civil War or post-1945 Europe, and also an integrated study of thought (including religious and philosophical) and practice on reconciliation. 2. Interrogation of both the past use of art and related media in reconciliation initiatives and the potential of artistic practices and artefacts to play a role in inter-communal conflict resolution, remembrance, forgetting and forgiving. This will include critical evaluation of data generated by a series of initiatives using visual media to stimulate inter-ethnic dialogue and reconciliation, particularly with youth groups, run by the Post Conflict Research Centre (PCRC) in Bosnia and Hercegovina. 3. Comparative empirical research between institutional domains, across countries and over time of debates on reconciliation, applying innovative computer-assisted quantitative and qualitative analysis to multi-language large text data from the Balkans. This will include a dedicated analysis of RECOM, a unique, locally-driven NGO initiative for reconciliation involving 5,000 civil society members from all countries and ethnic groups in the region, generating large data in various languages that remains both to be analysed and also its potential to inform understanding of reconciliation developed. The three strands will be integrated by: project workshops; a co-authored synthetic book integrating the research and offering an overarching framework of understanding reconciliation; and a common and comprehensive thread, drawing on the particular experience and past research of the applicants. The integrated research will provide a critical body of knowledge pertaining to reconciliation and a framework document for critical evaluation of reconciliation activity co-produced with the FCO.
This novel and pioneering research builds on findings from previous funded research projects: ESRC- and AHRC-funded projects on visual material, conflict and war crimes (Gow; Gow and Kerr); USIP- and Leverhulme-funded projects on transitional justice (Kerr; Gow); and Leverhulme-funded research on the RECOM initiative (Kostovicova).
The research has been developed and discussed with practitioners, including UNDP (Western Balkans) where the absence of an overarching framework for understanding reconciliation was identified and who have been involved in designing the project, the Humanitarian Law Center, Belgrade and the Humanitarian Law Center (Pristina), the PCRC (Sarajevo), and the FCO (the Policy Unit, Research Analysts and the UK UN Mission), all of whom are committed to the project in terms of design, facilitation and evaluation. The project is also supported by the EU DG-Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations, who would benefit by benefit by being better able to assess EU-funded projects and by the Deputy Assistant Secretary General, NATO who would support and facilitate the research and provide channels for possible impact. The research should also be of benefit to post-conflict communities subject to, or involved in, reconciliation processes.

Planned Impact

This research will be of benefit to broad constituencies of interest, both academic and practitioner, in both public and private spheres.
1. Academic: the research will be of vital interest to all engaged in research on the history of ideas and practices relating to war and peace, as well as the history of conflict and peace processes and transitional justice; it will also be of great interest to those interested in fine art and memorialisation, both as practice and as application in social contexts
2. Practitioner: the research will be of vital interest to practitioners engaged at all levels in post-conflict reconciliation initiatives - one impetus for the proposed research was an enquiry from UNDP (the United Nations Development Programme) Western Balkans seeking a 'codified body of knowledge pertaining to reconciliation' and the understanding, lacking at the global and regional levels, of how to understand and evaluate critically the variety of activities, including, notably, visual arts, funded under the umbrella of reconciliation in the Western Balkans. The proposal has been developed in discussion with Dr Ivan Zverzhanovski, UNDP Western Balkans, who initially contacted Gow about this issue and who will facilitate access and who will chair the project advisory group.
3. The research will clearly be of benefit to those in other international organisations, as well as relevant government departments. In this context, the project design has been discussed with and informed by Research Analysts, the Policy Unit and the UK Mission to the UN. Matthew Rycroft, UK Ambassador to the UN judges the proposal to be 'exciting and essential' and will facilitate access to the UN system in and via New York, both in conducting research and in following pathways to impact. Similarly, Paul Bentall (FCO) has expressed support and will work with the project both to 'ensure that policy briefs are useful' and, in principle, to develop with us a 'framework document,' in addition to facilitating other pathways to impact, as will the EU DG Enlargement and NATO.
4. The research will benefit NGOs/the third sector working on reconciliation. In particular, parts of the research design have been developed with two NGO initiatives in the Western Balkans, each of which has also generated substantial bodies of data that have remained un-interrogated and to which they will provide access for the project. The Post Conflict Research Centre (PCRC) has run a series of activities using visual media in an attempt to stimulate inter-ethnic dialogue and reconciliation in Bosnia and Hercegovina. It has agreed both to facilitate access to the body of data its work has generated and also to collaborate in methodological innovations working with post-conflict communities in that country (and, we anticipate, elsewhere) with a view to enhancing the role of visual and artistic interventions in post-conflict societies. The Humanitarian Law Center, Belgrade was one of the initiators of RECOM, the ground-up, region-wide attempt to foster dialogue and reconciliation across the Western Balkans, an an initiative that involved 5000 participants and generated 4 million words of 'discourse', which has remained uninterrogated. RECOM will grant access to this material and both the Center and the RECOM initiative will work with the project, benefiting from the methodological innovation and critical evaluation of the material generated by the project, and facilitating pathways to impact.


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