Since the end of World War II, the concept of “peace” has become a wider topic of discussion outside of theology and various spiritual practices from East to West, with attempts being made to better understand how to achieve peace in the world.  In a 1996 article on creating a global and local culture of peace, Linda Groff and Paul Smoker provide a brief history of the evolution of the concept to encompass six versions of peace, building upon each other. In brief, these concepts are peace as the absence of war implicating “negative peace” as in any situation where physical violence has stopped; peace as balance of forces in the international system proposed by Quincy Wright, which built on the notion of absence of war to imply that war takes place when the balance of political, social, cultural and technological factors break down and thereby, peace can be achieved when that balance is maintained; peace as negative peace (no war) and positive peace (no structural violence), which builds on Johan Galtung’s concept of structural violence, implying that peace is the absence of not only physical violence but also the violence that takes place from the way that economic, social and political structures are organized in any given context; feminist peace, which “expanded the concept of structural violence to include personal, micro- and macro-level structures that harm or discriminate against particular individuals or groups¹ stressing the “holistic, non-hierarchical interactions between human beings” as components of positive peace; peace with the environment (holistic peace), which places high value on the relationship that humans have with the bioenvironmental systems on the planet we inhabit; and finally inner peace, which implies a deeper connection to self as a spiritual element, from which peacefulness can emanate onto others and the environment for the attainment of outer peace. 

The research team of this report defines peace as a participatory, non-violent process that seeks to address all forms of violence and creates conditions for inner, socio-political, economic and environmental well-being. 

¹ Creating Global-Local Culture of Peace; Linda Groff and Paul Smoker; http://www.gmu.edu/programs/icar/pcs/smoker.htm

The main function of peacekeeping is to facilitate the transition from a state of violence to a state of peace through the provision of peacekeepers, often from UN member states’ national armies and interstate organizations, to post-conflict zones. The concept rests on three main principles, the first being that the peacekeeping mission must maintain the consent of the host state(s) and immediate parties to the dispute; the peacekeeping mission must act impartially and; behave in a non-violent and non-threatening manner.¹

¹  United Nations Peacekeeping Operations: Principles and Guidelines; http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/documents/capstone_eng.pdf

Peacemaking refers to the process of supporting conflicting parties to forge a settlement through what is often called track one diplomacy, which refers to efforts made at resolving a conflict at an elite political level. The terms negotiation and mediation often refer to the peacemaking element of ending and/or resolving a conflict, where negotiations often take place between the different conflicting actors with the support of a third-party mediator. The role of a mediator in this case is to “assist with process and communication problems, and help the parties work effectively together to draft a workable peace accord”.¹

¹ International Online Training Program on Intractable Conflict, Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA; https://www.colorado.edu/conflict/peace/treatment/peacemkg.htm

It is generally accepted that peacebuilding is a wider and longer process encompassing a range of recovery, rehabilitation, justice, democracy and trust-building activities in a post-conflict society. As such, peacebuilding aims to address structural causes of violence in society, ensuring that sustainable peace can be achieved by transforming violent structures regardless of what stage a peace process is in. Thereby, addressing the root causes of violence such as poverty, political and social inequality, corruption, discrimination, lack of access to education, medical care, shelter and other basic needs are integral to peacebuilding as a method to achieve sustainable peace. As the concept of peacebuilding has developed, it has also become understood that transformation of violent structures within society are not only a means to end and transform conflict, but also a means to prevent conflict from occurring at all. In societies with strong existing divides among its members, peacebuilding also aims to support “individuals, communities and societies transform the way they perceive and manage conflicts”¹ in order to rebuild trust and transform broken relations. 

¹ International Association for Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research; Peace Building Initiative; http://www.peacebuildinginitiative.org/index34ac.html

The concept of nonviolence was popularized by well-known nonviolence philosopher and practitioner, Mahatma Ghandi, who was guided by a spiritual philosophy of nonviolence and who was the “first person to take ideas of nonviolence and apply them to a mass movement for social and political change”¹. The main philosophy behind nonviolence is that the means are ends in the making, which basically implies that rejecting violence as a means to achieve a goal will ensure that whatever is achieved through nonviolence will also reject violence as a method to maintain itself. The concept relies on respect for oneself and for others, which implies that “in a nonviolent struggle, one has the goal of not dehumanizing one’s own opponent”² as dehumanization is the process by which violence toward another becomes justified. Overall, nonviolence is positioned as an active, rather than a passive, struggle against unjust laws and policies, which aims to include constructive alternatives to violence in order to create new models for organizing structures within society based on the principles of respect, nonviolence and non-hierarchical relations between peoples.

¹ Smoker, Paul and Groff, Linda (1996) “Creating Global-Local Cultures of Peace,” Peace and Conflict Studies: Vol. 3: No. 1 , Article 3.  Available at: http://nsuworks.nova.edu/pcs/vol3/iss1/3

² Ibid

Peace Education is aimed at building the culture of peace by using non-formal methodology. It is the process of acquiring knowledge and developing skills and attitudes, build inner, social and environmental peace, thus to be in harmony with oneself, with others and with the environment. 

Conflict is defined as a disagreement in which the parties involved perceive a threat to their needs, interests or concerns. Conflict arises when the parties to conflict believe that their goals cannot be achieved simultaneously or when they perceive that their values are not compatible. Conflict is mistakenly assumed as inherently violent. However, conflict is a naturally occurring phenomenon that has both constructive and destructive potential, depending on how it is managed. Engaging in conflict tends to generate anxiety in many people who associate it with negative or violent outcomes, which leads to fight or flight responses. In fact, conflict can provide an opportunity to learn about ourselves and others, motivate necessary changes in the status quo, challenge obsolete ways of thinking and relating to others and ourselves. Conflict often occurs as a catalyst for change in relations, structures or systems that are not working. Some want change, while others oppose it. It is the way that conflict is managed that will determine whether the conflict has a positive or negative impact on our lives. It is when conflict is not managed properly that it becomes violent. In other words, conflicts are inevitable, violence is not. If disagreement and conflict are addressed peacefully and creatively, the process can be positive. Positive conflict can build relationships, create coalitions, foster communication, strengthen institutions, and create new ideas, rules and laws.

Conflict management is defined as a process that aims at reducing the negative aspect of the conflict and increasing the positive aspect of it. There are five conflict management strategies: competing, avoiding, accommodating, compromising and collaborating. 

Conflict resolution is defined as a process to achieve a negative peace through a mutually acceptable agreement with the help of third party mediation and facilitation. Although initially conflict resolution has mainly “focused on stopping violence… [in contemporary times] it has broadened greatly to incorporate building the conditions for peace, including post-violence reconciliation, enhancing justice, establishing conflict management systems, and many other issues”.¹ As such it incorporates some conflict transformation and peacebuilding elements, but the main focus is to end violence as a result of a conflict through mediation, negotiation and dialogue between conflicting parties.

¹ The Evolution of Conflict Resolution; Louis Kriesberg; Bercovitch, Jacob, Victor Kremenyuk and I. William Zartman (Eds.) 2009. The Sage Handbook of Conflict Resolution. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Building on conflict resolution and management theories, conflict transformation aims to address root causes of conflict by “engaging with and transforming the relationships, interests, discourses and, if necessary, the very constitution of society that supports the continuation of violent conflict”¹. As such, theorists and practitioners of conflict transformation perceive conflict as an opportunity for a shift to take place in structures and relations within a given society through active involvement of its people and resources, as opposed to intervention from a third-party. According to John Paul Lederach, “a sustainable transformative approach [to conflict] suggests that the key lies in the relationships of the involved parties, with all that the term encompasses at the psychological, spiritual, social, economic, political and military levels”². In a sense, conflict transformation shares many elements with peacebuilding as a “dynamic social construct”³, which can contribute to more peaceful, just and healthy societies.

¹ Conflict Transformation: A Multi-Dimensional Task; Hugh Miall; http://edoc.vifapol.de/opus/volltexte/2013/4682/pdf/miall_handbook.pdf

² Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies; John Paul Lederach; Washington, D.C.: U.S. Institute of Peace Press, 1997; 20, 75, 84-85. 

³ Ibid

Humanitarian, development or peacebuilding initiatives have different and sometimes unintended negative side effects. Therefore, the context for operation and the interaction between conflicting parties as well as between the intervention and the context must be carefully analysed and taken into consideration. Conflict sensitivity indicates that the capacity to maximize positive impact of the intervention and avoid harmful effects should be strengthened and promoted. DO NO HARM is one of the core principles of conflict sensitivity, which affirms an ethical and conscious approach to intervention in order to avoid any unintended, harmful impact on the situation or the targeted groups. ¹

¹ Conflict Sensitive Approaches to Humanitarian Assistance and Peacebuilding Resources: Introduction to the Resource Pack

Violence is a behavior that involves intentional use of physical force or power to harm, hurt, damage, threaten oneself, individuals, groups or any physical and biological beings. According to Johan Galtung’s triangle, core typology of violence is direct, structural and cultural. ¹Direct violence represents acts of physiological, physical harm, abuse or neglect that aims to kill, manipulate, assault and/or cause damage. Structural violence is when systems or structures legitimize and institutionalize social injustice, present unequal opportunities, in addition to preventing or threatening the existence of living beings. Cultural violence refers to the social norms, value systems that justify structural or direct violence. While direct violence is visible, structural and cultural violence are more invisible and less addressed.

¹ Galtung, Johan. “Violence, Peace, and Peace Research” Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 6, No. 3 (1969)


Culture of violence is the values, norms and behaviours that promote, legitimize, or perpetrate all forms of violence, often causing distrust, suspicion, intolerance and hatred.¹ Culture of violence affirms predominant norms of supporting cultural and structural violence, which causes economic, social, political and environmental injustices. Some examples of how this plays out include the increasing gap between rich and poor, using power over marginalized groups, exploitation of human and other living beings for the purpose of economic profit, militarization and the promotion of war.

¹ UNESCO From A Culture of Violence to A Culture of Peace 1996


Culture of Peace

What other experts are saying about the culture of peace

In resolution 52/13 of the United Nations General Assembly, “Culture of Peace” regards “a set of actions taken by individuals, groups and institutions, which aim to transform values, attitudes, modes of behaviour and ways of life that reject violence and offer an alternative to the culture of war and violence by advancing human rights, democracy, tolerance, promotion of development, education for peace, the free flow of information, and the wider participation of women”¹. Since the end of the 20th century, the concept has been taken up by academics and practitioners aiming to advance the culture of peace agenda to develop it further for policy and practice in the field of international relations and civil society. As defined by Elise Boulding, “the main point about the culture of peace is that it deals creatively with difference and conflict, and it is a listening culture[…]by creating more and more spaces for problem-solving”². Taking into account Galtung’s perspective of conflict as “a social system of actors with incompatibility [perceived or real] between their goal-states”³, the culture of peace would imply acting upon conflict attitudes and behaviours in a nonviolent manner so as to provide space for transformation of attitudes, which will in turn translate to nonviolent modes of addressing a conflict.  In order to shift unjust and hierarchical relations between people, within structures and institutions, a mentality of “the strong dominate the weak” must be rejected and instead societies must be structured “so that positions of power and status in hierarchies are based on caring for others rather than dominating them”. ⁴

The concept of human security can be incorporated within the culture of peace paradigm based on prioritization of economic, social and environmental wellbeing of the individuals and communities negatively affected by structural violence.⁵ In this sense, the foundations of the culture of peace do not solely rest on the shoulders of individuals to shift values, attitudes and behaviours but also upon transnational multinational corporations, which have globalized unequal distribution of power and resources resulting in “manifestations of structural violence, namely poverty, starvation and preventable disease.” ⁶ In some feminist perspectives, attainment of the culture of peace must also regard the domain of daily lived experience, implying that “structures” are more “circular patterns as opposed to the complex, hierarchical notions associated with Galtungian definitions of structural violence”.⁷ The emphasis here is on how people relate to themselves, to one another, to structures and institutions based on power dynamics in a given context and situation. According to Michel Foucault, “the exercise of power is not simply a relationship between “partners,” individual or collective; it is a way in which some act on others”⁸ This implies that power forms in relation and “exists only as exercised by on others, only when it is put into action, even though, of course, it is inscribed in a field of sparsely available possibilities underpinned by permanent structures”. ⁹ As such, moving toward the culture of peace implies a continuous process to shift societal values aimed at the transformation of hierarchical power dynamics among and between individuals, groups, structures and global institutions.   

What the research respondents are saying about culture of peace

The most common conceptualization of the term “culture of peace” for all respondents interviewed in the three contexts included first and furthermore a rejection of violence and an environment free from violence. Further analysis found that respondents conceive culture of peace as relations between and among people based on listening and understanding, non-discrimination and mutual respect, which would enable them to solve conflicts, problems and disagreements through nonviolent communication and dialogue. Respondents also mentioned the significance of compromise, tolerance and respect for human rights, including the right to peace as important components of creating the culture of peace. 

According to respondents, the culture element of creating an environment of peace was based on a value system starting at the individual level with inner peace, an attitude of willingness to take risks, and active participation in creating democratic structures, which allow for acceptance of differences, accessible well-being and equal opportunities for all. On an organizational level, respondents also emphasized the importance of strengthening democratic values, culture of equality and justice, community participation and positive integration of minorities as crucial elements of practicing the culture of peace. 

Upon closer look, it is evident that our respondents’ values associated with the culture of peace are in line with the values expressed by experts studying and practicing the culture of peace. These include rejection of violence, nonviolent modes of solving conflicts, respect of human rights, tolerance, democracy, education, and equality. In order to not leave the conceptualization of culture of peace at an abstract level of mere values, the following section will attempt to operationalize the concept into practical parts with relevant indicators that can aid the process of integrating these values into the daily work of project planning, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation. 

The researchers’ definition of the culture of peace

The researchers of this report have discussed the concept of culture of peace in depth among each other and agreed upon a definition: culture of peace is a set of values, beliefs, norms and modes of behaviour that acknowledge and affirm a nonviolent approach to transforming destructive conflicts by promoting education for peace and justice, respecting diversity and human rights, ensuring gender equity, accessible participation and transformation of harmful economic, socio-political and environmental structures.

A brief explanation of the motivation with regards to this conceptualization of culture of peace starts with an agreement the researchers had about the “culture” element of the term, which implies values, beliefs, norms and modes of behaviour. This means that the importance of both attitudes within a given society as well as the behaviours that result from those attitudes as building blocks of a “culture” are taken into account. Then the researchers aimed to provide a positive approach to how such a culture can be built through acknowledgment and affirmation of values they see as imperative for the practice of the culture of peace. These values include nonviolence and rejection of violence when dealing with conflict, education focusing on peace and justice, respecting differences among people and human rights, working toward gender equality and ensuring that participation is effective and accessible to all, and finally working toward economic and social sustainability. The values underlying this conceptualization of culture of peace can be summarized as the following keywords. 

¹ INSTITUTIONAL ISSUES INVOLVING ETHICS AND JUSTICE – Vol.III – Culture of Peace – Federico Mayor; http://www.eolss.net/sample-chapters/c14/e1-37-05-15.pdf

² Building a Culture of Peace: Some Priorities; Elise Boulding; 2001, NWSA Journal; Vol 13, No 2; http://web.pdx.edu/~abyron/peace_ed/Wk4/culture2.pdf

³ Theories of Conflict: Definitions, Dimensions, Negations, Formations; Johan Galtung; Colombia University, 1958.

⁴  Maslow, Abraham H., 1977. The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. New York: Penguin.

⁵ Assessing the Basis for a Culture of Peace in Contemporary Societies; Joseph De Rivera


⁶ Ibid

⁷ Ibid

⁸ Michel Foucault; The Subject and the Power; http://www.michel-foucault.com/dulwich/subject.pdf

⁹ Ibid


Underlying Values of Culture of Peace



Transformation of conflict

Non-hierarchial relations



Deep listening



Economic and social sustainability

Mutual understanding