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Viet Thanh Nguyen and Ronald Stade Interview

Viet Thanh Nguyen and Ronald Stade of Malmo University in Sweden describe their institutions’ contributions to peace and reconciliation research. They also offer their own perspectives on peace research with interviewer Jonathan Lewis and his colleague Satoshi Nakano. This interview was recorded at the Center for the Study of Peace and Reconciliation of Hitotsubashi University in  Tokyo, Japan.

Click here to listen to the interview. Or read the full transcript below.

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Jonathan Lewis: Welcome to the center for the study of peace and reconciliation at Hitotsubashi University. I’m Jonathan Lewis and today we have had the first of what should be many lectures and other events here- and whenever we have an events her at the cspr we want to do very short interviews with the speakers to get their perspectives on research on peace and rec. Today we have two gentlemen here. One of whom has just given us his lecture. Another who’s about to give his lecture. I was wondering if you could both introduce yourselves and tell us a little about your background and what you’ve been talking about or what you will talk about today. So Dr. Nguyen

Viet Thanh Nguyen: My name is Viet Thanh Nguyen. I am an associate professor at the University of Southern California in English and American Studies and Ethnicity. Born in Vietnam, grew up in the United States and my current work is on the Vietnam War, locating it in international comparative and multicultural contexts. So really trying to work against American centric explorations of the Vietnam war which have been voluminous but also quite limited. And so my talk today is about speaking for the dead: the United States, Vietnam, and memorialization… looking at how several different populations across Vietnam and the US have tried to deal with the memory of the war in art, museums, memorials.

Ronald Stade: And my name is Ronald Stade. I’m Swedish.. I’m the director of peace and conflict studies at Malmo University in Sweden, and I’m an associate professor of social anthropology as well. My research has been, first of all, on certain key political concepts like global governance, good governance, used extensively in the aid and development industry, but also in the political sphere and more recently I’ve looked more deeply I guess into the concept of cosmopolitanism. I also am just now starting out a study on the situation Northern Cyprus and is very interesting—it connects to my previous research in field work in Guam which is an American island in Micronesia. I’m interested in places that don’t fit into the international order because they’re not sovereign states they’re not really anything, nobody acknowledges their political existence. So that’s what I’ve been doing …

JL: Could you tell us about both your institutions and what roll they play in peace and conflict research or peace and reconciliation research?

VTN: One of my departments is American Studies in Ethnicity, which was not created in response to the Los Angeles riots of 1992, but received a huge boost in funding and hiring after that. So it’s not an international peace and conflict program but it’s definitely one in which we’re more specifically mandated, I think, to address local issues in peace and conflict around race and class.

RS: Well we in started in 2000 a program in peace and conflict studies, and we tried to really position ourselves in a landscape one can say of peace and conflict studies which is both global and regional. In terms of the region and national landscapes, they are inhabited by people who are very interested in the international system and international conflict and also look at so called civil conflicts, or domestic conflicts, in trials of international conflicts. So there is a strong bias towards international studies and peace and conflict studies and we approach the topic somewhat differently and try to look at first of all how people actually live their lives in conflict zones – how people try to develop routines but also maintain a sense of normality in the midst violence and chaos and so we try to first get at the grassroots level of war of peace as well and reconciliation and then so to speak work out way upwards towards the international level. So we look over all kind of conflicts that is violent conflicts and they can be local they can regional they can be global like what now a days is the research as terrorism for instance. And we realized there are certain complications. First of all: its very difficult to delimit conflicts what we talk about when we talk about terrorism these days is a very good example because it can seemingly occur in very many places where almost say it can be in any place—it definitely can’t be limited to one conflict zone– it is global on that sense. If you look at other conflicts, violent conflicts, you’ll soon realize that actually the same is true for these conflicts because there are shadow economies, there’s weapons trading, smuggling… media flows. Also flows of people. It’s very diff to restrict analysis in terms of space so really probably global space is the primary space of analysis these days and these are some of the issues were trying to incorporate in our peace and conflict studies. Which I guess makes it at least somewhat different than other somewhat similar programs and research centers.

JL: Right. I’m also joined by my college Satoshi Nakano. I think you have a question for our guests?

Satoshi Nakano: We’re going to ask the same question to all the presenters over this series of lectures and you are the very first ones to answer. Let ask you: what do you think is the key for the study of peace and reconciliation?

VTN: I guess I’ll go first. Key words right? For the study of peace and reconciliation. I’ll suggest two phrases that come from my own work. One is the need for an ethics of empathy when it comes to working on peace and reconciliation. That I think is a crucial concept we’re talking about how to negotiate with people within conflict and so with empathy. But the ability to look at one’s self as an other and the ability to look at the other as one’s self. The other concept that I’ve been thinking about since I came to Japan is the power of peace. I partially mean that in the sentimental fashion, that peace is powerful and we should have it and so on, but also I think that the power of peace brings up the issue that negotiations around peace and conflict are not symmetrical. They involve power. So even in moments where we’re doing some kind of work to promote peace we should be aware of the fact that the people come to the table oftentimes come with different institutional power, financial power, cultural power and that these issues of power need to be brought out in order for us to understand how things like memorials and shrines get built. And that it’s not always an innocent humanist kind of construction but oftentimes hidden relationships of power are embedded in these gestures of peace.

RS: Keywords in the study of peace and reconciliation—I think on key word would be normality actually. Because it always depends on one’s perspective, what one takes to be normal and not normal now sitting here around the table with four microphones we probably take peace in particular, this situation, to be the normal thing. Where as people right now living somewhere else in the world have a completely different sense of normality. What is normal to them differs very much from what is normal to us right now here. And of course one of the interesting aspects of this study of peace and reconciliation is exactly why is peace desirable at all? So unless we make sense of what peace is we don’t really get to understand why we need peace. I can think of an example. Johan Galtung made an important distinction between positive peace and negative peace. Positive peace or rather negative peace is the absence of violence so there is just no violence. There is maybe no social justice there is also maybe no equity and so forth. So is it enough to have just an absence of violence? Probably not because this is why there was conflict in the first place because people were dissatisfied. Maybe they were revolting against insufferable conditions. So is peace in that sit always the desirable thing? Probably not. So we need to make sense of what we mean by peace if we mean by peace as in positive peace which is not only the absence of violence but the presence of social justice for instance, well, then we have already gone one step further in our analysis and our understanding. And again it boils down to what we consider to be the normal state of affairs. A sense of normality. Throughout the ages we can observe this that when people get dissatisfied enough and think that this should not be normal then they will do something about things. So normality wouldn’t be the key words but rather the key word.

JL: Thank you both very much for your thoughts. And just a reminder you can find other interesting audio contents about peace and reconciliation studies on our website at Thank you.



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