Building peace in complex contexts of psychosocial trauma: an integrated framework

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This chapter addresses the challenges and issues of integrating psychosocial trauma and related support structures into peacebuilding processes. It discusses a comprehensive peacebuilding framework as a means of linking psychosocial support to a comprehensive peace plan. The framework is clear about the need for psychosocial support in the trauma awareness and recovery process of individuals and groups - after their experiences of complex violence and related ongoing circumstances. I present a model for building peace in the Peacebuilding Wheel (Figure 4.1). Peacebuilding as understood in this model requires many actors and skill sets working together to allow the wheel to move forward. The integration of these elements and operationalization of this theoretical model has its roots in peacebuilding and humanitarian and development work that has been put in place over the past several decades (Lederach 1997; Schirch 2004; Wessells 2008; Zelizer 2013); it is suggested here that there is a need for imaginative thinking to revitalize and further develop this integrative process.

Of course, such an approach to change requires the willingness of numerous actors and organizations, as well as donors, to work out the means toward a more comprehensive and dynamic peace process. When this is done in regard to postwar and other complex violent conflicts, improved mental health and individual and collective resilience and well-being can be more fully realized.

It is therefore important to first engage in a discussion about what peacebuilding is, its evolution, current status and what it is moving toward. Within this larger discussion, this chapter focuses on psychosocial change processes and their relationship to peacebuilding now and possibilities for the future. I present several examples specific to Bosnia and Herzegovina that reflect this relationship, ones that demonstrate the high relevance of psychosocial trauma awareness, recovery and well-being as part of the larger process of building peace with justice.


According to Johan Gaining, a founder of the field of peace studies, peacebuilding, "focuses on transforming relationships and structures in society to decrease

The Peacebuilding Wheel (Hart 2008. ix)

Figure 4.1 The Peacebuilding Wheel (Hart 2008. ix)

the likelihood of future conflicts” (Zelizer 2013,7). Other scholars also emphasize the necessity of both relationships and structures, and the need to engage all levels of society in building peace after war and other major acts of violence (Lederach 2003; Scliirch 2004).

Lisa Schirch notes that peacebuilding has two broad meanings, which refer "to the direct work that intentionally focuses on the factors driving and mitigating conflict. . . [and] to the efforts to coordinate or set up channels for communication to develop a comprehensive multilevel, multi-sectoral strategy" (2013, 7). These include, but are not limited to governance, justice, education, psychosocial trauma awareness and recovery processes, education, and humanitarian assistance and development. Peacebuilding is therefore "an overarching concept useful for describing a range of interrelated efforts" (Ibid., 8).

For the purposes of this chapter, the focus will be on strategic peacebuilding that involves the following characteristics:

  • • Works at all levels of society and is rooted in different cultures around the world.
  • • Dependent on deep and sensitive analysis of conflict, determining the causes and trajectory of the violence.
  • • Promotes just and sustainable social, economic and political structures and relationships, with attention paid to culture, race, gender, religion, ability and environmental factors.
  • • Concerned about short-term responses to complex and violent conflicts and long-term responses to build the capacity of societies and not allow them to drift back into similar violent situations (conflict prevention).
  • • Uses conflict analysis and transformation, mediation, negotiation, dialogue and psychosocial trauma and well-being theory and practice, promoting the integration of these processes for transformative purposes.
  • • Not limited to postwar or post-violent situations. Peacebuilding processes have an important role to play during war in order to stop it, and are used to strengthen societies after war.

Moreover, strategic peacebuilding is sensitive to and engages both tangible and intangible issues (Hart 2008). The tangible issues are objectively measurable, such as a cease-fire or peace accord, the rebuilding of community or state infrastructure after war and the restructuring of political, economic and judicial structures related to power sharing, legal frameworks such as "rule of law” and equitable resource distribution. The other part of the peacebuilding equation refers to the intangible factors that are hard to objectively measure but nevertheless are real to those who have experienced the devastating impact of large-scale violence and war. They include identity and worldview - how people view their worlds under new and difficult postwar/post-violence circumstances; self/group identity and dignity issues, as well as issues of trust, hope and moral and spiritual injury.

The "moral and spiritual worlds" of individuals and groups of people have been fractured by the violence of war and need to be restored.1

It should also be noted that the transforming of conflict through a peacebuilding process is, as Kevin Clements notes, “as much about unmasking the powerful, and equalizing relationships as it is about solving problems. . . [since] it puts the emphasis on justice and fairness rather than on preserving harmony and political order" (cited by Schirch 2005, 6). Yet it is also about political harmony and order (contextually constructed and practiced) that provides the space and means to meet the needs of all members of society. Therefore, the positive power of peacebuilding, in contrast to the use of negative power that disrupts, abuses, alienates, manipulates and destroys, helps transform relationships and allows for the construction of political and social systems and structures that support these relationships.

To effectively aid this process of change, peacebuilding uses conflict-sensitive and systems analysis that allow for the development of context-specific theories of change. These theories of change explain how transformation can take place and become the link to a holistic and strategically focused intervention plan. In this regard, the theories address the importance of reducing violence, allowing for healthy intragroup and intergroup relationships; and speak clearly to the need for "stable/reliable social institutions that guarantee democracy, equity, justice, and fair allocations of resources" (Woodrow and Chigas cited by Burgess 2016). Ongoing monitoring and evaluation mechanisms provide additional means for these intervention strategies to remain dynamic in order for a peacefill, just and stable society to emerge out of a complex and violent conflict.

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