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Peace Education in a Conflict-affected Society: An Ethnographic Journey

reviewed by Talia Esnard - April 29, 2017

coverTitle: Peace Education in a Conflict-affected Society: An Ethnographic Journey
Author(s): Michalinos Zembylas, Constadina Charalambous, & Panayiota Charalambous
Publisher: Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
ISBN: 1107057450, Pages: 286, Year: 2016
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While peace education remains a growing area of academic research, the lack of interdisciplinary, comparative, and theoretically grounded research continues to be a challenge for this field (McGlynn, 2009). What is clear is that advancing such emerging scholarship on peace education requires the use of eclectic theoretical frameworks and disruptive methodologies that are rooted in contextualized understandings of conflict-affected societies like Cyprus. Peace Education in a Conflict-affected Society: An Ethnographic Journey, written by Michalinos Zembylas, Constadina Charalambous, and Panayiota Charalambous, crosses these academic chasms. Specifically, the authors center the situated narratives, reactions, and experiences of teachers to close the knowledge gap between the practice of peace education and policy design. In this case, these educators are the ones who attempt to cultivate a culture of peaceful co-existence. As a result, the book represents the journey of how the authors confront this policy gap across various empirical cycles including teachers reception, interpretation, and enactment. Their work is captured across four parts.

The first part of the volume frames the theoretical, methodological, and contextual treatment of peace initiatives (at a macro level or as policy) with that of peace education (at a micro level or as practice). As a starting point, Zembylas, Charalambous, and Charalambous take a contextualized and critical approach to peace education initiatives. They draw from anthropological, sociological, political, educational, and policy studies. In doing so, they speak to the complex ways peace education initiatives can be framed as part of a policy cycle or trajectory. As a result, related issues of identity, nationalism, constitutional reform, human rights, equality, social justice, peace culture, education, and diversity (e.g., linguistic, racial, and cultural diversity) feature prominently.

Methodologically, these multiplicities or their situated nature of context, process, and practice are captured through an interesting mixture of sociolinguistics and an ethnographic perspective. In the first instance, Zembylas, Charalambous, and Charalambous use discursive analysis to probe into the intertextual relations and power asymmetries among the policies. Specifically, they are I Dont Forget, Intercultural Education, and Cultivation of Peace Co-existence. In the second instance, using an ethnographic perspective gives an insightful understanding of the processes and contexts that teachers use to interpret and enact peace education initiatives through their practice. Together, these methodological approaches offer a deepened understanding of policy contexts and provide the situated experiences of teachers. Specifically, they include pedagogical approaches to, and narratives of, peace education in schools in Cyprus.

The second part of the text delves into teacher interpretations of peace education policy initiatives. This includes their personal stances on, and emotional reactions to, these initiatives and the inherent difficulties related to policy implementation. By using D/discourses and emotions as two analytical foci, Zembylas, Charalambous, and Charalambous are able to capture the complex ways teacher interpretations are (a) entangled in larger ideological, historical, and political landscapes; (b) embodied in their differentiated positionalities and reactions; (c) introduce related challenges of implementation; and (d) inadvertently influence their enactment of the policy initiatives, or lack thereof, through their pedagogical practices. Politicized texts, memories, interpretations, and enactments present a critical examination of the intricate interplay between policy initiatives and reconciliation standpoints among teachers as the focal point of this book. This line of examination facilitates a necessary appreciation of the differentiated ways teachers see the project of reconciliation and peace as (in)compatible, (un)desirable, or (im)possible. There is no doubt as to the ways these perspectives can profoundly affect the enactment of peace education policy initiatives.

The third part of the book attempts to chart teacher pedagogical practices within these changing contexts. Zembylas, Charalambous, and Charalambous explore the relevance of emotions and memories of related traumas in understanding how these sociopolitical changes or policy changes affect the everyday interactions of teachers and students in classrooms. In these academic spaces, attention is paid to the specificities of classroom talk, discussions, and interactions among students and teachers. Therefore, these examinations of repertoires and interactions capture the ways often taken for granted roles of personal dispositions, emotional expressions, individual motivations, learned beliefs, or collective identities of teachers frame their varied responses to peace education in classrooms. These insights are not only critical to understanding how cultural discourses of difference are reproduced in classrooms, but also the extent that they can further problematize the implementation of peace education initiatives.

In the final part of the volume, Zembylas, Charalambous, and Charalambous provide a useful interrogation of the workshop approach as both a challenge of intervention and a possibility of hope. Therefore, what is shared in this part of the book are the contestations or possibilities of using discomforting pedagogies to promote understanding or tolerance of diversity among teachers as critical agents of the change process. Such a pedagogical alternative problematizes the beliefs or assumptions of race, racism, citizenship, and identity. In addition, these shared narratives or experiences present multiple learning moments for teachers and facilitators who operate as part of the policy implementation process. In many ways, these learning opportunities allow teachers to actively confront their thinking and levels of discomfort around these policies, their understandings of selves in relation to others, and the singularity of their individual accounts of conflict or peace education. It is clear in the volume that the effect of this can be two-fold. Thus, this process can lead to varied forms, levels, and degrees of resistance to, or acceptance of, peace education initiatives. However, the authors also provide instructive ethnographic cases that demonstrate the extent that it can also direct teachers to a critical, yet self-reflective, juncture. At this point, they can begin to de-contextualize and de-essentialize related discourses around intercultural education. The promise of this alternative pedagogy is the provision of a sustained and constructive space that teachers can use to adopt a position of what the authors call critical ambivalence. In this case, the relevance of this positionality is the potential for teachers to move beyond their cultural reservations. As a result, they can move toward building authentic practices that can promote peaceful co-existence in their classrooms.  

Collectively, Peace Education in a Conflict-affected Society by Zembylas, Charalambous, and Charalambous adds to the knowledge on peace education as an academic field, a process, and a situated practice. From an academic perspective, the book presents a more nuanced understanding or theorizing of the complexities and dynamics that shape the intersectionality of context, policy formation, interpretation, and enactment. In many ways, the authors also advance a more systematic, contextualized, and critical process approach to the promotion of peace cultures in conflict-affected societies like Cyprus. Therefore, this text can offer many methodological, theoretical, and practical learning points on peace education policy initiatives and practice.



McGlynn, C. (2009). Introduction. In C. McGlynn, M. Zemblyes, Z. Beckeumen, & T. Gallagher (Eds.), Peace education in conflict and post-conflict societies: Comparative perspectives (pp. 1-3). NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: April 29, 2017
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21953, Date Accessed: 10/24/2021 12:35:03 PM

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About the Author
  • Talia Esnard
    The University of the West Indies
    E-mail Author
    TALIA ESNARD (Ph.D.), is a Sociology Lecturer within the Department of Behavioral Sciences, The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago. She was formerly attached to the Center of Education, University of Trinidad and Tobago. Her research is centered on issues related to women, gender and work. Some of her work is published in the Journal of Educational Administration & History, Journal of Cases in Educational Leadership, Women, Gender & Families of Color, as well as, Caribbean Curriculum.
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