The Nature of Peace Conference: streaming option

We are happy to announce that large parts of the conference held this week will be streamed for those unable to attend physically.

If you’re interested in attending the conference through streaming, please send an email with subject “Streaming NoP” to lina.eklund[at] and we’ll provide you with the link and the password.




Want to attend our Nature of Peace conference in Lund?

You can now register to attend the Nature of Peace conference on 26-27th of April 2018.

This conference is organized by the interdisciplinary research group ‘The Nature of Peace’ at the Pufendorf Institute for Advanced Studies at Lund University, Sweden. The research group scrutinizes the role of the natural environment in post-conflict societies, posing questions such as: What role does nature have in peace building? How is the natural environment considered in fragile states that need to develop quickly, during reconstruction period? Does peace always bring sustainable development? How can peace-building activities contribute to sustainable development?

The research group is organizing a two-days final conference to take place in Lund on the 26th and 27th of April 2018. The conference will serve as a platform to engage with professionals working from different disciplinary angles and perspectives.

The conference is structured in seminars:

(1) Natural resources exploitation

(2) Environmental legislation / nature governance

(3) Biodiversity conservation

(4) Monitoring environmental transformation (tools and mechanisms)

(5) Nature, culture and rights

(6) Intersectionality, post-conflict and natural environment

Finally, the conference will be closed with a Panel on Local perspectives and a final plenary session.

Keynote speakers:
Päivi Lujala, Department of Geography, Norwegian University of Science and Technology
Carl Bruch, Environmental Law Institute, Washington DC (US)
Miguel Londoño, Global Green Growth Institute, Colombia

Note that there are only 20 seats available!

Click here to register!

Invitation to conference 26-27 of April 2018

‘The Nature of Peace’: exploring links between the natural environment and peace-building in post-conflict societies

About The Nature of Peace research group

This conference is organized by the interdisciplinary research group ‘The Nature of Peace’ at the Pufendorf Institute of Advance Studies at Lund University, Sweden. The research group scrutinizes the role of the natural environment in post-conflict societies, posing questions such as: What role does nature have in peace building? How is the natural environment considered in fragile states that need to develop quickly, during reconstruction period? Does peace always bring sustainable development? How can peace-building activities contribute to sustainable development?

The research group brings together researchers from five different faculties (Social Sciences, Law, Humanities and Theology, Natural Sciences, and University Specialised Centres) to discuss and work on these issues.

Why the Nature of Peace?

Empirical evidence from around the world has shown that post-conflict reconstruction efforts often focus on the short-term and urgent needs of societies transitioning to peace. These processes, however, often fail to consider the root causes of the conflict (such as control over key natural resources) or to integrate post-conflict dynamics such as those linked to the distribution of environmental “goods” (water, land, forest, etc.) and “bads” (pollution, contamination, enclosures, etc.), the participation and restriction in environmental politics by diverse ethnic/social/gender/age groups, or the recognition and denial of diverse value systems with different understandings of nature and human.

In order to present its research results, the research group is organizing a two-days final conference to take place in Lund on the 26th and 27th of April 2018. We intend that the conference serves as well as a platform to engage with different people working with related issues. Therefore, we would like to invite other scholars and practitioners to participate or present their work.

Final conference

The conference is structured in a series of seminars and a panel. We expect to have few papers in each seminar to allow for in-depth discussion and engagement. We intent that the seminars would give presenters the space to share ideas or hypotheses, elaborate on them and debate about the role of nature in post-conflict societies from diverse perspectives. Presenters will be able to choose the best way to communicate their ideas and engage the audience in discussions using different methods (e.g. from a classical power point presentation to a more interactive one such as using on-line tools). In the panel, participants will have the opportunity to share their views from the ground.

The conference is structured in six seminars and a panel:

  1. Natural resources exploitation
  2. Environmental legislation / nature governance
  3. Biodiversity conservation
  4. Monitoring environmental transformation (tools and mechanisms)
  5. Nature, culture and rights
  6. Intersectionality, post-conflict and natural environment
  7. Panel: Local perspectives

In Seminar 1 “Natural resource exploitation” we welcome papers that address the relevance of focusing in natural resource exploitation in different scales. Natural resources (land included) are target of international investors and corporations and national states take advantage of them to promote economic development and foster state reconstruction. However, natural resources are key for local livelihoods and income generation. Disputes over the access and use of natural resources (such as diamonds or forests) can create new conflicts or bring back old ones, attempting against stability and peace in the long run.

In Seminar 2 “Environmental legislation / nature governance” we invite papers that address, for instance, the following questions: Which major governance processes relating to the natural environment (agenda-setting, rule- and decision-making, implementation, enforcement, evaluation) have taken place in post-conflict situations, which ones are missing? What are the major outputs (laws, strategies, guidelines, incentive mechanisms, etc.) and how effective are they? Which actors have been involved in these processes or benefited from them (international or domestic actors; governmental, civil society, private sector, military, scientists, vulnerable groups, other stakeholders), which ones have been absent or marginalized? At which levels have these processes predominantly taken place (national, regional, local)? What is the degree of legitimacy and accountability of post-conflict environmental governance and legislation? And how can we explain or understand the observed types of governance, inclusiveness, effectiveness or legitimacy in a theory-guided manner, e.g. through constellations of power and interests, knowledge claims and gaps, or the contestation of norms and discourses?

In Seminar 3 “Biodiversity conservation” we invite papers that inquire to what extent peacebuilding can potentially bridge developmental objectives with biodiversity conservation. A transition towards post-conflict opens an opportunity to retake control over protected areas, forest ecosystems and biodiversity. Yet, biodiversity conservation is not very high on the peacebuilding agenda and with political stability and security comes development of infrastructure and certain economic sectors that further drive the loss of biodiversity. New roads provide easier access to remote areas and lead to an increase in hunting, degradation of ecosystems and the loss of habitat, affecting biodiversity negatively. Counteracting this negative trend with serious long-term implications for the health of people and ecosystems is fundamental and post-conflict transitions provide a window of opportunity towards a more sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity.

In Seminar 4 “Monitoring environmental transformation” we seek to discuss the possibilities to use Earth observations from satellite to monitor natural environments and resources in post-conflict situations. Time series of satellite images analyzed in a geographic information system (GIS) are objective means to access status and changes in environmental parameters e.g. spatial distribution and area of different land use, land use changes, biological production, and natural forest area issues. Earth observation methods, together with contextual information and data collected with other methods, might be able to tell us something about how socio-economic and political changes lead to inequalities among different groups and across socially constructed boundaries, particularly in peacebuilding. This seminar also intends to include debates regarding what we can and cannot say about nature in post-conflict situations using satellite images.

In Seminar 5 “Nature, culture and rights”, we invite presentations focusing on how cultural beliefs and practices, especially the relationship between human beings and the non-human world, can be of relevance for post-conflict peace-building. Culture can be defined as a body of beliefs and practices in terms of which a group of people understand themselves and the world and organize their individual and collective lives. These beliefs, practices and value systems might be shaped by religion, but also by Enlightenment ideas about rationality, secularism and progress, and be a reflection of power dynamics within or between societies. Both theoretical discussions from fields such as philosophy, religious studies and human rights studies, as well as case studies from local contexts, are invited.

In Seminar 6 “Intersectionality, post-conflict and natural environment” we particularly welcome papers interested in addressing gender aspects that relate to nature in post-conflict and peacebuilding. However, we have a broad understanding of intersectionality, referring to overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination, oppression, and disadvantage according to social categorizations not only gender but also ethnicity, social class, age, sexuality, etc.

The panel “Local perspectives” invites practitioners (including activists, politicians, lawyers, NGO staff working on the ground) working with local communities from different continents in post-conflict situation and/or peace-building to present their views from the ground. With this panel we want to show regional differences in relation to how the natural environment and peacebuilding are interconnected (or not).

Participation and contact

Papers interested in discussing the role of nature in post-conflict societies and/or during peacebuilding are welcome!

If you would like to participate, please send an email to Andrea Nardi ( or Lina Eklund ( If you are interested in presenting a paper, please submit an abstract and the name of the seminar you would like to do so.

Submissions should consist of a text with no more than 500 words and a brief CV containing the author’s name, institutional affiliation and contact information. We should receive the abstract no later than 15 February 2018. All participants will be notified of the final selection by 28 February 2018.

Conversations on nature after war

By Maria Andrea Nardi

November, turned out to be inspiring with interesting debates with diverse scholars on nature after war and/or during peacebuilding. Our conversations dealt with different topics such as the centrality of natural resource exploitation for the recovery of national and regional economies and state reconstruction, the use of environmental law to generate institutional change and political reconfigurations, or environmental peacebuilding.

Our interlocutors came from diverse countries… Denmark, USA, and Philippines.

Nature and justice

We have an informal meeting with Mark Antony Torres who is Director of the Institute for Peace and Development in Mindanao University and Associate Professor of the Department of Biological Sciences, College of Science and Mathematics. We discuss among other issues, the importance of cultural understanding of nature and the many and diverse judicial systems a society might have, drawing on the case of Philippines.

Mark (left) and Alejandro (right)

This, I argue, is relevant when setting policy and research priorities in post-conflict situations and reconstruction processes: whose justice system will be recognized? How would different systems be considered? Which different understandings of nature are embodied in these diverse jurisdictional systems?

These are central questions for an environmental justice that recognized different conceptualizations of nature and is opened for the participation of different social / ethnic groups. A sustainable peace and development can only work if accommodates such an environmental justice.


Natural resource exploitation

We had a seminar with Christian Lund who is Professor in Development, Resource Management, and Governance, at the Department of Food and Resource Economics (IFRO) at University of Copenhagen. He very recently published a paper: “Predatory peace. Dispossession at Aceh’s oil palmfrontier” in the Journal of Peasant Studies.

Christian during our meeting

Even though the paper does not address the issue of “justice” in post-conflict Aceh, it is very much about that. Farmers were longing for peace (political stability) in order to access land and put it under production. Instead, palm oil corporation were given priority by the new government to use agricultural land for large scale palm plantation. Whose claims are recognized? Whose authority is legitimate?

The case presented is, sadly, a good empirical example of current trends in many post-conflict societies. It warns us about natural resources (in this case land) and public resources distribution among different sectors of the population and the justice and injustices behind such distribution and accumulation. The complexity of the case is very well explored in the paper.

At the end of the conversation I wonder: who was pushing for peace in Aceh? Which has been the context (e.g. post-tsunami) and role that palm oil corporations had in the peace process and “political stability”, if any?

Environmental peacebuilding

We had a video conference with Teo Ballvé, who is Assistant Professor at the Peace & Conflict Studies Program, Department of Geography, at Colgate University, New York. We discuss among other issues how to study and conduct research on “environmental peacebuilding”, and how to further conceptualize and operationalize this notion.

The geographical and theoretical scale of analysis here shifted from national (central state reconstruction, economic growth, insertion in the global economy) to local communities and their livelihoods (even though this was also discussed in “Predatory Peace”).

Relevant from this approach is how community projects around local natural resources and livelihoods can pave the way to reconciliation and community building helping towards a sustainable peace from the ground.

Environmental law

We have a seminar with Frank Baber to discuss on environmental law. Frank is joining Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law (RWI) as Fulbright Distinguished Chair of Public International Law and will be staying in Lund for the next nine months. He is professor in the Environmental Sciences and Policy Program and the Graduate Center for Public Policy and Administration at California State University, Long Beach.

Environmental legislation which seeks to regulate biodiversity conservation, or the use of natural resources can be used as a political tool to motorize different processes. Focusing on a concrete case, namely Afghanistan, we discuss the relevance of environmental law for institutional change and state reconstruction in a post-conflict situation.

In this case we did not discuss how natural resources are appropriated and exploited/conserved, or the competing cultural understandings of nature, but how “talking about the environment” (or trying to regulate its access and use) is as much relevant as the actual appropriation of it. After all, it defines the future of nature and people.


These conversations have been very inspiring and helpful to start thinking on an environmental justice approach to post-conflict and peacebuilding!

Working towards Paradise; Environmental peacebuilding in practice, part 2

By Joshka Wessels

PART 2: The case of Wadi Fukin, an example of environmental peacebuilding

To illustrate what is meant with environmental peacebuilding in practice and the many challenges that come with this kind of approach, I would like to focus on the human-environment nexus at local level in the Jordan River Basin. This was the topic of my postdoctoral research at Lund University between 2011-2014 and a documentary that I filmed and produced in 2010. With respect to one of the most conflictuous ecosystems in the world, the Jordan River Basin, it sounds maybe strange to look at the natural environment as a motivation for enemies to work together. But interestingly, the overwhelming common denominator in all six basins in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region – the Euphrates, the Tigris, the Jordan, the Nile, the Litani and the Orontes -, is the potential of water body management to foster peace and democratic stability in the region (Amery and Wolf, 2000; Kramer, 2008; Harari and Roseman, 2008; Wessels, 2009; FoEME, 2010).

Looking at environmentalism in religion, we can distinguish common ground of perceiving nature as ”Divine and God-given” (Tucker and Grim, 1999). In a religious framework, God as universal power created nature and therefore our natural environment can be regarded as spiritual, sacred and divine. These principles can be traced back in Islam, Judaism and Christianity, the three main religions in the MENA region that come together in the Jordan River Basin. Some of the holiest places of these three world religions are located in this ecosystem. Environmentalism has certainly been applied as a potential principle of finding common ground in both interfaith peace building efforts and environmental activism in civil society with initiatives by community based NGOs like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME)– ECOPeace (FoEME, 2010; Schoenfeld, 2011).

Indeed, we observe at local level in the Jordan River Basin, that the environment has in some cases joined together foes from different religious backgrounds. In 2009, I started to film in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories for the development of a documentary project about the Jordan River. On one of these occasions, I met with Palestinian villagers in Wadi Fukin working together with Israeli inhabitants of the neighboring village of Tzur Haddasah, inside Israel proper, within the 1967- ceasefire line borders. Wadi Fukin is part of a wider ecological peace building project run by the regional NGO FoEME-ECOPeace called ”Good Water Neighbors” (FoEME, 2010). My filming resulted in a long documentary film called “Valley of Hope and Despair” of which a shortened version was broadcast worldwide at Al Jazeera International in November 2010 (to watch the film, follow the on-line link here).

Figure 1 Israeli Tami Doron (l) and Palestinian Abu Mazen (r) built a friendship based on their love for nature – still of the film “Valleys of Hope and Despair” © Joshka Wessels 2010.

The film tells the story of Abu Mazen, who is a Palestinian farmer of Wadi Fukin in the occupied Palestinian West Bank and his environmental peacebuilding efforts with Tami Doron, who is living in the Israeli village Tzur Hadassah, on the other side of the ceasefire line, the so-called 1967 green line, inside Israel (see figure 1). Abu Mazen’s family has been farming and irrigating the traditional terraces of Wadi Fukin since 600 years. The valley of Wadi Fukin is designated by UNESCO as the best preserved natural heritage in the occupied Palestinian Territory of the West Bank. During the first intifada (1987-1993) the farmers of Wadi Fukin could not reach the markets in nearby Bethlehem. They found ready customers for their biological products, fruits and vegetables, in the nearby Israeli community of Tzur Hadassah. Since that time, a friendly relationship grew between some of the farmers of Wadi Fukin and the Israeli inhabitants of the village of Tzur Hadassah. This relationship sustained until today. Together these two communities have succesfully set up a courtcase to halt the building of a security wall that was planned through the valley, based on environmental arguments (Wessels, 2015). They rally against the expansion of the nearby illegal settlement of Beitar Illit, located in Palestinian territory next to the valley and they have build a so-called neighbours’ path going from Tzur Haddassah to Wadi Fukin. Preserving this unique natural heritage is the main driving force that brings these Israeli and Palestinian activists together. Their ”dreamed-of order” of a well preserved natural heritage of the valley of Wadi Fukin is shared at local level between Israelis and Palestinians across the ceasefire divide. However, this binding love for nature is not reflected at national political level.

Figure 2 The author interviewing the Palestinian Minister of Water, Dr. Shaddad Attili, next to a sewage spill in the valley of Wadi Fukin © Joshka Wessels

On national level and at local level, the mistrust from the Palestinian community towards Israeli’s runs very deep.  The Israeli government does not act in the same manner as the Israeli activists from Tzur Hadassah. Continuous military occupation and settlement expansion are main daily threats to the valley of Wadi Fukin, which lies between the areas B and C in the occupied Palestinian Territory of the West Bank. The illegal settlement of Beitar Illit, next to the valley, is the second largest in the West Bank and rapidly growing (Lazaroff, 2017). In my film, I show a timelapse, filmed between 2009 and 2010, in which the rapid growth of the nearby settlement of Beitar Illit is visually documented. From the original 12 km2 of land, the Israeli authorities confiscated 8,5 km2 for settlement construction since the start of the settlement building in 1985. On Fridays, Israeli army soldiers swim in the Palestinian irrigation ponds in Wadi Fukin and on Saturdays, the settlement of Beitar Illit often lets the sewage water flow from the hills onto the Palestinan fields (see figure 2). Sewage spilling is a common practice of deliberate environmental pollution, together with pollution by Israeli factories in the occupied West bank, avoiding stringent Israeli environmental laws (Dresse et al., 2016). Therefore some Palestinians refuse to work or cooperate with any Israelis, even if they have good intentions for protecting the environment, such as the Israeli activists of Tzur Hadassah.  Despite this animosity, through their environmental activism, the two local peace activist communities have managed to solve some part of the sewage problem but this is just a small victory. Tami from Tzur Hadassah summarizes it poignantly in the film, when she says; ’yes, the sewage problem is solved, but we do not have any faith in the peace process in the Middle-East’.

Figure 3 The author (middle) with the Israeli/Palestinian film crew (l) and Abu Mazen and his wife (r) in their house in Wadi Fukin. © Joshka Wessels


The case of Wadi Fukin indicates that environmental peacebuilding is indeed possible at a local level, in a situation when a ceasefire agreement has led to cessation of  armed conflict and adversaries are working together to protect the environment. The Wadi Fukin case also shows however that despite the shared love for nature and the shared visions of a Geertzian ”dreamed-of order” of an ecological paradise in Wadi Fukin, political developments and power dimensions at a larger scale, at national level, can seriously hamper constructive environmental peacebuilding. For any kind of ecological approach to peace to succeed at a national level, this kind of approach to peacebuilding still has a very long way to go.

On-line links:

The documentary film ”Valleys of Hope and Despair” shortened version broadcast at Al Jazeera International

”Valleys of Hope and Despair, peacebuilding through environmental documentaries” Powerpoint presentation by Joshka Wessels at the 4th International Conference on Peace & Reconciliation: mediating peace: reconciliation through Art, Music and Film, 6-9 November, 2012,  Jerusalem, Israel.


Working towards Paradise; Environmental peacebuilding in practice, part 1

By Joshka Wessels

Our Theme Nature of Peace explores links between the natural environment and peacebuilding in post armed-conflict societies. This is a blogpost in two parts with some reflections on environmental peacebuilding, based on my experience doing postdoctoral research on this topic and a documentary that I produced about environmental cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians in 2010.

PART 1: Theories of Environmental Peacebuilding

Our main question at Nature of Peace, investigates what role the natural environment can play in post-conflict peacebuilding. In each armed conflict on our planet, environmental dimensions, effects and causes can be identified (Homer-Dixon, 1999).  Often these are an integral part of a plethora of political, psychological, cultural and territorial dimensions of armed conflicts. Exploring the linkages between humans and their environment has a long history in both the social and the biophysical sciences but the potential of a shared environment for peace building is a relatively under researched area. The empirical body at local level is actually quite slim. There is not a lot of extensive data on how and if the environment enhances cooperation between adversaries, after an armed conflict. Several interdisciplinary academic fields are working within our main Theme question, such as the upcoming fields of warfare ecology (Machlis et al. , 2011),  environmental politics, political ecology and environmental peacemaking (Waisová 2017; Dresse et al., 2016; Carius, 2007; Conca and Dabelko, 2002), which are all areas and fields of social and physical science research investigating the environmental dimensions to armed and unarmed conflicts.

Nature and the environment are often neglected in peace treaties or regarded as lower priorities in conventional and (neo)liberal peace building efforts. In any case, the environment is not a priority in peace negotiations or ceasefire agreements. Liberal and neoliberal peacebuilding, influenced by rational choice theory and a Western-centric approach to peace, often focuses on the economic and state building benefits, the ”Victor’s peace”, the institutional peace, the constitutional peace and the goal of state building (Richmond 2010, 2008; Rittberger and Fischer, 2008). Conventional approaches to peacebuilding are much less concerned with inclusion of nature or ecosystem services in peacebuilding. Environmental or ecological peacebuilding is also outside of the spotlights of mainstream media covering peace building initiatives. Therefore, in order to include nature in peace, there is a need for a paradigm shift from conventional peacebuilding principles to a more holistic approach. This is where we can find the concept of environmental peacebuilding (Carius, 2007; Conca and Dabelko, 2002).

Initially coined as environmental peacemaking, over the past twenty years, several research projects and inititatives developed an approach that takes the sharing of natural resources and environmental cooperation as a tool for conflict resolution (Waisová 2017; Conca and Dabelko, 2002) The concept of environmental peacebuilding is based on a more holistic approach to peacemaking; for this approach of peace building, there are no “war heroes”, there are “peace heroes” (Wessels, 2009).  Whilst liberal peace building and rational choice tend to ignore biological, psychological, cultural and sociological dimensions of violence and conflict, environmental peace building gives room for holistic and cognitive theories on the relationships between Humanity and Nature in a changing global ecosystem (Wessels, 2016).

Not only conventional peacebuilding needs a paradigm shift, but also conventional approaches towards ecosystems should change, as they fail to account how environmental peacebuilding could work in practice. In the conventional approach to ecosystems, within conservation sciences, places human beings outside of nature and views human activities as ”anthropogenic disturbances”. Human beings are seen as dominating species over other non-human living beings and the flora with an overwhelming negative effect on the natural environment. A less anthropocentric approach includes human beings as integral part of the ecosystem, applying the so-called Human Ecosystem Model to human-natural systems (Dalton, 2011; Wessels, 2008). In the Human Ecosystem approach, activities by human beings can have negative effects (war), also called anthropogenic disturbances on the natural environment, whilst at the same time there is the possibility that their activities can have positive effects (peace) and contribute to a sustainable and balance of the natural environment.

In this regard, it is interesting to look at anthropologist Clifford Geertz’ theories of culture. Geertz defined culture as “a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life” (Geertz, 1973). When local cultures, religions or ideologies of a particular society are heavily influenced by the worship of nature and the “dreamed-of order” of a “human ecological paradise”, there is a suggested tendency of members and religious leaders of that society to work together to reach that ecological paradise. This perceived human ecological paradise could form common ground between environmentalists and farmers sharing an ecosystem. Any destruction to that perceived ecological paradise is considered a threat and unites those opposed to this threat in their struggle to preserve the environment. This is the core principle of environmental and ecological peace building. Thick descriptions of specific case studies of ecological peace building provide then an insight in the human cognitive processes of environmental peace building (Wessels, 2016).

Our shared natural environment can thus form a positive incentive for enemies to cooperate to achieve the dreamed-of order of an ”ecological paradise” whereby human beings have the right to healthy and sustainable environment, of being at peace with nature, which constitutes a process of healing and the achievement of an, almost religious, “inner-peace”. Geertz’ symbolic anthropology, where the role of symbols in constructing culture and public meaning is emphasized, describes the “dreamed-of order” (Geertz, 1973). Ecological peacebuilding is thus like ”working towards paradise” based on the principle that a balanced human ecosystem with fair distribution of natural resources, leads to a societal and balanced  ”dreamed-of order” of peace, democracy and a sustainable natural environment.


Theories of environmental peacebuilding come from a variety of different disciplines within the social and biophysical sciences. I argue that in order to come to a comprehensive theory of environmental peacebuilding, there is a need to two paradigm shifts; 1) one in peace and conflict studies, from the liberal peacebuilding to a more holistic approach and 2) one in conservation sciences, from a conventional anthropocentric ecosystem approach to a Human Ecosystem approach, whereby human beings are integral part of the natural environment, linking the biophysical, terrestrial, physical, cultural and socio-economic components of the environment. The example of Wadi Fukin within the Jordan River Basin was taken as point in case for the potential of environmental peacebuilding. Combined with Geertz’ definition of culture as a ”dreamed-of order”, environmental peacebuilding in practice can be seen as working towards a shared vision of an ”ecological paradise”.

In the next part of this two-part series, I will illustrate how environmental peacebuilding works in practice in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt)


This blogpost is partly based on a bookchapter published earlier last year; Wessels, J.I. (2016) “Valleys of Hope and Despair; peace building through independent environmental documentaries” in Mediating Peace, Reconciliation through Visual Art, Music and Film by Sebastian Kim, Pauline Kollontai & Sue Yore (eds.), Cambridge Scholars Publishing, UK. ISBN (10): 1-4438-8371-9 ISBN (13): 978-1-4438-8371-9.

About “nature” and “peace”


By: Maria Andrea Nardi

Researchers working in this transdisciplinary project have different fields of expertise, ranging from theology to natural science. We have, however, a common interest: we are all interested in nature. We wonder whether nature will be at peace after armed-conflicts have come to a halt.

We have formulated some guiding questions: what happens to nature after a peace agreement? How is the natural environment transformed in post-conflict societies? What happens to natural resources once a country is ready for development?

Another common concern we have is: do we all have a common understanding when we talk about nature, natural environment and natural resources? Are these terms referring to similar things? And what about the notions of ecosystems or the non-human world for instance? What ideas are behind each of these terms?

Here is an attempt to bring this into discussion. We do not intend to answer the question “What is Nature?” We simply want to present some notions related to nature, so that we can start building a common ground for future analytical endeavours.

The idea of nature relates in general to the non-human world. We usually refer to nature when we think of all that is not social/cultural. For many, however, the nature-society is a forced dichotomy (*). After all, humans are biological beings and as such, they are also part of nature. For some, the non-human world also refers to the spiritual and/or cosmological world, which does not necessary refer to nature.

The notion of natural environment refers to the nature that surrounds humans. If humans are in the centre and surrounded by nature, then an obvious question is: who is being surrounded? Are all humans equal? What different “natures” do we have access to and why?

The term natural resources refer to the idea that some “nature” can be valued and become a resource for something. The obvious question here is: which value system and whose values? In current global neoliberal capitalism, is the value given by transnational corporations to nature the same as the value given by communities whose livelihoods depend directly on nature?

It seems then that nature has to do with life, with processes that are conditioned by, but go beyond, human control. Having this in mind then, we can agree that for analytical purposes, we will use the notion of nature to refer to non-human processes (such as biological or geological) in different time and space scales. Even such processes are not governed by human “rationality” they are very much conditioned by political, economical, and social activities. For example, we will focus on nature when we want to know how soil or trees are produced, how land is distributed or put under production, how forest is used or conserved, how oil and minerals are exploited, how water is cleaned or polluted, who benefits from such activities, who has access to environmental political participation, and whose worldviews are recognized in policy making and legislation.

Are humans part of nature, or separate from it? Photo taken in Cameroon by Maria Andrea Nardi.

Therefore, we will in this project focus in human activities controlling and regulating how nature is produced, consumed, distributed, and lived by different group of people during peace-building processes and whether this promotes sustainable peace and environmental justice or not.

In any case, what do you think nature is and how does it matter in post-conflict situations?

Comments are welcome!

(*) Division into two mutually exclusive, opposed, or contradictory groups. dichotomy. Unabridged. Random House, Inc. (accessed: October 9, 2017).


By: Lina Eklund

Most people will probably agree that peace is something we desire. We want the dead to rest in peace, and we also want to live in peace (although that seems like a much tougher goal). But what does peace really mean?

Is peace binary – either there is peace or there is not – or is there a peace scale? Can you have more peace and less peace? 100% peace, or 54% peace?

There are many definitions of peace in the dictionary. Peace can mean a state of quiet and calm. Peace can also mean the absence of conflict, disturbance, or war. However, war or conflict is never defined as the absence of peace. Why is that? Conflict is active but peace is passive?

Iraqi Kurdistan has experienced a relatively peaceful period since 2003, but in recent years the situation has become less stable due to the nearby conflicts in Syria and Iraq. Photo by Lina Eklund.

In our discussions as an interdisciplinary group we have realized that the process towards peace has many different stages. The first step is a ceasefire, which means that the hostilities stops, although the conflict is still not resolved. The next step, a peace agreement or treaty, is a formal agreement between two or more parties in conflict to end the war. This agreement often includes issues like borders, access to resources, refugees and debts. A peace agreement, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that all conflict is gone. We may have a “negative peace” – referring to the absence of armed violence – but the aim is a “positive” peace, i.e. the absence of structural and cultural violence, where basic human rights are respected. In the aftermath of a peace agreement, there’s still a lot of peacebuilding to be made, both on a structural level (normalization) and on a cultural level (reconciliation), which may take a long time.

From our discussions as an interdisciplinary group it has become clear that peace is not a simple term to work with. It means different things to different people, and it has several different definitions and stages that needs to be considered when discussing the effects of peace.

Furthermore, peace is often positively associated with nature. Peaceful moments can be experienced in a forest, on a mountain or by a lake. Yet in this theme we discuss not only the positive effects of peace on nature, but also the negative effects. In this view peace comes with some processes that are not necessarily peaceful from a nature-perspective: economic growth and resource extraction.

We therefore wonder: who is the peace for and who it should benefit to be sustainable?