Performing Violence, Engendering Change: Developing Arts-Based Approaches to Peacebuilding

Lead Research Organisation: Brunel University
Department Name: Arts and Humanities


'Performing Violence, Engendering Change: Developing Arts-Based Approaches to Peacebuilding' connects artists and researchers from ODA recipient countries across Africa, the Middle East and South Asia working with peacebuilding practices rooted in the arts. It does so by bringing together GCRF and British Academy projects on the impact of the Lebanese civil war on infrastructure; gender and resistance to violent extremism in Kenya; the relationship between transitional justice and development in conflict-affected societies; and gender justice and gendered insecurities. The Cluster will enhance participants' roles as stakeholders in peacebuilding by providing opportunities for research collaboration and knowledge exchange during three week-long workshops held in Kenya, Lebanon and Sri Lanka.

In recent years, scholars, policy makers and practitioners have begun to acknowledge the benefits of using arts-based methods for violence prevention and peacebuilding. Evidence suggests that arts-based methods hold significant potential for improving human security and relations between groups in areas affected by violence and conflict. Arts-based methods, especially when combined with community-centred participatory methodologies, can act at once as analytical tools and dissemination media, whilst creating spaces for practical interventions in difficult contexts.

Despite the growing awareness of the positive impact of arts-based methods, there are scarce opportunities for communities of practice and research to learn from each other, co-create research and establish networks. Spatial and existential isolation can result from living with extremist violence and conflict, with debilitating but different consequences for women, men, youth and other social groups. The silence and seclusion, secrecy and loneliness that conflict zones engender have been linked with the presence of PTSD and other mental health conditions.

Whilst violence and conflict disrupt and often devastate communities, the shared experiences they generate can also be used to connect people. The Cluster aims to break isolation and achieve impact by connecting communities in Kenya, Lebanon and Sri Lanka affected by conflict and extreme violence, who are working to build positive peace. The grant will be invested almost exclusively in bringing together community activists, practitioners, artists, academics (including early career researchers and PhD students) and policy makers in three workshops that will focus on network- and capacity building through intensive research production, knowledge exchange and training sessions on the use of filmmaking, theatre, performance and visual arts as tools to confront violence and promote positive peace. Workshops will include substantial focus on the ways that arts-based approaches can enhance gender approaches to conflict research and peacebuilding.

The Cluster is designed to accelerate the impact of the contributor projects by building deep and lasting links between researchers, partners, policy makers, civil society actors and communities affected by violence, with a view to the network expanding to include other participants and cases in future research. In addition to traditional academic outputs, the Cluster will produce short documentary films on arts-based peacebuilding practices and an open-ended interactive Online Archive providing wide access to the Cluster's research via a dedicated website. The website will be the main portal for public engagement, featuring videos, podcasts and case studies, as well as serving as a resource beyond the end of the award. These activities and outputs are geared towards achieving three specific and measurable impacts on the practices of violence prevention, the prevention of violent extremism and peacebuilding: the creation and transfer of knowledge on arts-based approaches to these challenges; context-driven learning and capacity building; and fostering gender and social inclusion.

Planned Impact

The Cluster will create impact through workshops and the production of a series of documentary films as well as accelerating the impact from the contributor projects. The Cluster will benefit academics, policymakers, international NGOs, civil society organisations, and members of local communities. As academic beneficiaries are discussed separately, this section deals solely with non-academic stakeholders.

Workshop participants: one of the main challenges identified by the Cluster is the lack of opportunities for practitioners working with arts-based methods in violence prevention and peacebuilding to do collaborative work across different cases. This lack of opportunities undermines the creation of best practices and the sharing of effective solutions, thus limiting the impact that arts-based methods can have and limiting their integration into policy and programming. Spatial and existential isolation also limits the capacity of local organisations to respond to new challenges by tapping into solutions that have proven effective elsewhere. The Cluster will enable organisations within contributor projects, such as Art2Be (Nairobi), ICES (Colombo), Laban (Beirut), Amani (Gulu) and All-Stories (Islamabad), to work together. Through the workshops, researchers and practitioners will learn about using arts-based methods as research tools and share their experiences with others. The workshops will also enable members of NGOs to connect with other organisations and learn about different experiences from other contexts. By devising 3 workshops that bring together practitioners and researchers who wouldn't otherwise have this opportunity, the Cluster will create unique opportunities for knowledge sharing, networking and mutual learning. The participants will benefit from the ability to share their experiences, be trained in different methods, and compare solutions adopted by communities similarly affected by violence. They will be able to utilise this learning in their work which will lead to benefit to broader communities.

Policymakers: the Cluster will target policymakers in Lebanon, Kenya, Sri Lanka and internationally. In the Cluster's contributor projects, we have engaged with policymakers at specially organised events, by inviting them to advisory boards and through personal contact and policy focused publications. We already have a strong network of policymakers in each of the three focus countries. These relationships will be strengthened further through the activities of the Cluster. We will invite policymakers to take part in the workshops activities and the networking dinner. For instance, in Kenya, we will invite representatives from the National Commission on Community Cohesion and the Centre for CounterTerrorism. We will also invite representatives from DFID local offices and USAID and to attend the conference days of the workshops. In addition we will invite representatives of international agencies present in each country for instance UNDP, UN Women, UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, and the UN Peacebuilding Commission. Our project policy report and films will provide national and international level policymakers with policy recommendations and information on best practices.

International NGOs: We will also target International NGOs: such as the Rift Valley Institute, the Life and Peace Institute, ForumZFD, the International Centre for Transitional Justice and The Sexual Violence Research Initiative. International NGOs have the ability to transfer art-based practices across contexts through their projects on the ground. The workshops will enable members of local and international NGOs to network with policymakers, donors and other NGOs in a way that is conducive to developing future collaboration. International NGOs will be able to use the research and its outputs to understand the effectiveness of arts-based methods in preventing violence and to use these methods in their own initiatives.


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