Comparative Peacebuilding in Asia: Liberal and Illiberal Transitions from Ethnic Conflict and Authoritarianism

Lead Research Organisation: London School of Economics & Pol Sci
Department Name: Department of International Development


This project seeks to build a new academic-policy bridging network to promote high quality comparative scholarship and knowledge transfer on conflict resolution and peacebuilding in South and Southeast Asia. We focus on Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Indonesia, Cambodia, Nepal, Northeast India, Timor-Leste and Thailand, all of which are at the cusp of a historic transformation, but where the pathway to peace is contested, fragile, and frequently illiberal.

Our network has three objectives: (i) to promote and network academic research on comparative peacebuilding in Asia; (ii) to enable knowledge sharing and policy advocacy among scholars, practitioners, and policy makers; (iii) to advance rigorous scholarship through collaborative publications and research proposals.

The primary activities, outputs, and expected outcomes of this network will be threefold: (i) three workshops in Asia and the UK that bring academics and policy-makers together between June 2017 and May 2018; (ii) establishing a new website to promote research and knowledge exchange that is rigorous, evidence based, but also accessible; and (iii) developing collaborative research projects on comparative peacebuilding in Asia, to form the basis for joint publications and future large research grants.

The PI and co-investigators piloted a 'workshop-field visit' format in 2015, with internal seed funding from LSE, York and ANU, and held a very successful two-day event for scholars, practitioners, media and policy-makers at the University of Yangon, followed by a three-day field visit. With this proposal we seek to scale up that successful pilot experience and intensify dialogue with multiple stakeholders in the region. We plan two workshops with a field visit component, in Sri Lanka (June 2017), and Indonesia (December 2017); with a final workshop in London (May 2018). These events will include distinct components for academic research presentation, policy dialogue, stakeholder conversations, and knowledge-exchange.

The intellectual content of our network events is structured around two key policy themes that make peacebuilding in South and Southeast Asia particularly significant and challenging:

(1) These 'post' conflict countries are going through political, social and economic transformations that are not linear and liberal, but often troubled, inconsistent and illiberal.

(2) Peacebuilding is in most cases happening amidst a parallel transition from authoritarian rule that can be counter-productive to ethnic conflict resolution.

Our network draws on an international consortium scholars working on conflict and peacebuilding across area studies, anthropology, criminology, development studies, political science, sociology and law. Since we initiated our dialogue, we have developed close links with our collaborators who will help us expand country, sectoral and topical expertise, and who bring significant institutional depth to our work.

Existing members of our network, who participated in the earlier pilot in Myanmar, include Professor Alex de Waal (Tufts), a seminal author on peacebuilding and dialogue in Africa, Professor Jayadeva Uyangoda (Colombo), the pre-eminent political scientist on the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict, Professor Caroline Hughes (Bradford) on peacebuilding in Cambodia and Timor-Leste, Dr Rachael Diprose (Melbourne) on ethno-religious conflict and inequalities in Indonesia, Professor Chaw Chaw Sein (Yangon) on the dynamics of authoritarian transition in Myanmar, Dr Terence Lee (NUS) on the role of the military in authoritarian transitions in Asia, Dr Stefano Ruzza (Milan) on counterinsurgency, criminology and peacebuilding, Professor Duncan McCargo (Leeds/Columbia) on the ethno-nationalist dimensions of conflict in Southern Thailand, Dr Lars Waldorf (York) on the comparative legal aspects of peacebuilding in Asia and Africa, and Professor Sanjib Baruah (Bard), on peacebuilding and politics in Northeast India.

Planned Impact

1. Our expected beneficiaries

The core end-users of the network are policy makers, national and local peacebuilding organisations working on the challenges of conflict resolution, peacebuilding, democratisation and development in South and Southeast Asia. We will connect directly to them via our developing country collaborators: the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at Gadja Mada University, Indonesia and the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR), Sri Lanka. Our two collaborators have close working relationships with key policy makers and wider civil society organisations in their respective countries.

A second tier of end-users are major international peacebuilding NGOs, UN agencies and relevant donor aid agencies. These include UNDP, the World Bank, DFID/FCO, USAID, DFAT, The Asia Foundation, and Conciliation Resources, who focus on peacebuilding in Asia.

As peacebuilding and democratisation remain the core challenges and an important precondition for achieving development goals, this research proposal and its ultimate beneficiaries are much broader. That is, they directly to the achievement of the new SDGs on poverty and well-being, and directly to SDG16 (Peace, Justice, Strong Institutions).

2. How our expected beneficiaries will benefit

Knowledge exchange with non-academic beneficiaries is hard-wired into the project design via three mechanisms:

(i) Direct working relationships with end-users
End-user organisations (e.g. ministries and peacebuilding NGOs) will be closely involved in the workshops, and the wider sharing of our core findings. The network acts as a platform to engage NGOs and government agencies across the region. We plan to continue building relationships with our end-users via collaborative research proposals incubated via the network. These proposals will lead to the co-production of knowledge along our core themes. Via the web platform, end-users will also access expertise from within our academic network outside the workshop format.

(ii) Collaborative policy analysis via our workshops
Our workshops are designed to facilitate policy-academic exchange. We will convene keynote sessions from leading experts, panel sessions on the core themes of that specific workshop (e.g. on managing authoritarian transitions and ethnic conflict resolution simultaneously), and smaller breakout groups for in-depth discussions. From the workshops, we will identify the potential for longer-term impacts around peacebuilding. This may take place via joint research projects, or via government, parliament or NGOs bringing in particular scholars into their future advisory boards.

(iii) Interactive field visits
We will host field visits following the workshops in Sri Lanka and Indonesia, in order that network scholars interact directly with local peacebuilding stakeholders, on the ground. These stakeholders include local parliamentarians, military, and activists. This approach piloted successfully in Yangon in 2015: the positive feedback from national stakeholders and our scholarly partners encouraged us to scale up in two further Asian countries. This is important because local peacebuilding organisations and parliamentarians tend not have the opportunity for this interaction with international scholars, and vice versa, thus deepening knowledge sharing at multiple levels.

3. Contribution to developmental goals
Through interaction, knowledge exchange and policy sharing that we aim for the project to contribute to improved and more inclusive peacebuilding, and therefore development and improved welfare of citizens, in the recipient countries. As we engage in research capacity-building with local and national scholars, they may then serve as key experts in the future. Our network aims to directly influence policy making, nationally and internationally, in order to develop more effective policy measures to deal with peacebuilding in contested states.
Description This project sought to build an academic-policy bridging network to promote high quality comparative scholarship and knowledge transfer on conflict resolution and peacebuilding in South and Southeast Asia. In order to do this, we have firstly held two large workshops in Sri Lanka (June 2017) and Indonesia (December 2017) bringing academics and policy-makers together. A final workshop is scheduled to be held in London on 25 June 2018. Secondly, we have established a new website to support the promotion of research and knowledge exchange. Thirdly, we are in the process of developing publications to disseminate the research and are developing a collaborative research projects in pursuit of a future large research grant.
Exploitation Route The main outputs of our grant that we expect will be taken forward are (i) building an academic network of researchers working on peace and conflict resolution in Asia; (ii) the knowledge exchange and links between policy-makers and researchers. We have already put significant effort into building the academic network, and expect this to outlast the grant itself, and to have its future impact in terms of research collaborations, knowledge transfer, and better informed research.
Sectors Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy

Description Civil Society Travel Fund Support
Amount $10,000 (USD)
Organisation The Asia Foundation 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country Thailand
Start 06/2017 
End 08/2017
Description Comparative Peacebuilding in Asia workshop - Colombo Sri Lanka 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact As one of our primary research outputs, we held a workshop in Sri Lanka on peacebuilding in June 2017. It involved two days of knowledge exchange and academic research. The panelists and audience were senior government officials and policy-makers from Sri Lanka and around Asia, civil society activists, academics, and post-graduates. Over 200 people attended the event, which was hosted for us by our counter-part at a leading institute of international studies in Sri Lanka.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Comparative Peacebuilding in Asia workshop - Jogjakarta, Indonesia 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact As part of our core project outputs, we held a workshop on peacebuilding in Indonesia. It involved leading figures in the government, peacebuilding activists and practitioners, policy-makers, academics, students, and media. The three day event featured high level discussions from a range of policy-makers with expertise in peacebuilding from around Asia, and also a day of academic paper presentations on the subject matter.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017