What Does it Look Like to Have Peace? From the Perspective of the “Father of Peace Studies”, Johan Galtung

By: Christina Bein, MSW, LCSW

“Peace is something you make with your adversaries, not with your friends.” This quote is taken from Johan Galtung’s book, “Johan Galtung: Pioneer of Peace Research.” Johan Galtung is a sociologist from Norway who has dedicated his life to peace studies and founded Peace Research Institute Oslo, Journal of Peace Research, TRANSCEND, and the first online peace university. He has put his research and work in sociology into action by helping countries progress into finding agreements and creating peace treaties to end years of war.

I often think about what it would truly look like to have “peace.” What does peace even mean? Especially with the state of the world and the country in the year 2022, is peace even attainable? 

Political parties in the U.S. are at even more extreme odds than I have seen in my lifetime. Gun violence continues to permeate the news headlines, one horrific mass shooting after the next. The law appears to be stripping people of basic human rights that blatantly tells its citizens – your life is in the hands of the few in power, and therefore you are expendable.

There’s been a collective feeling of overwhelm. And yet, is this time any different than the country borderline wars, civil wars, religious wars, human rights wars, depressions and recessions that have dotted the timelines in our history books? 

Johan Galtung built a wealth of research on peace, but first, he had to define violence. He broke down violence into three categories: 

Direct violence, structural violence, and cultural or symbolic violence. 

By understanding these terms, it gives examples to understand the importance of the social connections we all have with one another. Galtung describes peace to be “a relation between two or more parties.” Peace becomes the property relation of two or more parties for which they all work to cultivate and care for.

Johan Galtung describes peace in two ways: 

  1. Negative Peace as being an absence of war and violence. 
  2. Positive Peace as “The integration of human society.” He brings these two forms of peace into consideration when applying his approach to creating an agreement for peace.

Identify the conflict: Communicate with curiosity to explore the goals of each party.

Mapping: Design a project that is conflict sensitive, respecting their legitimate goals. The “project” is a form of a creative solution that is presented as a question for the involved parties to consider engaging in or identifying how it can be incorporated in the agreement of respecting all parties’ goals.

Use empathy, nonviolent communication, and creativity.

Allow for legitimizing to bridge goals that help the involved parties to feel comfortable.

Legitimizing focuses on promoting human rights (ethics and basic needs) as the key to successfully building peace.

Be aware and address if other parties are involved and necessitate inclusion towards communication for peace.

While the “Father of Peace of Studies” has been tapped to help with creating peace on a macro and global level, his approach is also familiar in how we can use nonviolent communication and assertive requests to meet needs when directly communicating with another person or in our smaller communities. 

His approach to creating communication for peace gives us all a tool in how we can problem solve and foster some form of harmony with those around us. The more we can become familiar with the language of communication towards peace, the more practiced we can be in handling conflicts in a productive manner, wherever we go in our world. Link to the description of violence and the violence triangle: