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Introduction to the programme
Leverhulme Trust Compromise after Conflict Research Programme
Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice, Brown Bag Seminar, 31
May 2013
John Brewer
I see this seminar as primarily a ‘getting-to-know-me’ session, rather than the usual data
presentation and argument format, for even those people who recall me from when I was
here before – and there are not many of those in the room – don’t’ really know the new
work I’ve been doing for nearly fifteen years now. I grandiosely call it the sociology of peace
The sociology of peace processes is premised on a distinction I have made in several works
between the political and social dimensions of peace processes. The political peace process
is about negotiated conflict resolution and thus conflict transformation, the social peace
process is about societal healing after political regime-level compromises have been
negotiated and thus is about social transformation.
The sociology of peace processes focuses on the social peace process and addresses all
aspects of societal healing after conflict. This includes the nebulous idea of reconciliation
but extends considerably beyond it to include such things as emotions, truth recovery,
memory work and memorialisation, civil society, transitional justice, victim issues, excombatants, peace education, gender empowerment, deconstructing violent masculinities,
the development of compromise, tolerance, forgiveness, hope, social justice and more
besides. These are, of course, at once both social and personal issues, and the sociology of
peace processes, like the discipline of sociology as a whole, explores the intersection of
individuals and social structure.
Peace processes are normally the domain of International Relations, human rights law and
political science, and the application of the sociological imagination is novel and unusual. I
have criticised this orthodoxy, which I call the good governance approach, at great length
and have tried to champion the insights of sociology.
I see sociology’s contribution as twofold:
a) sociology gives attention to areas of peace processes which good governance
approaches neglect, or examine only inadequately, most notably the process of
societal healing, which is normally ignored in favour of a focus on statebuilding and
institutional reform; and
b) it offers special insights of its own derived from the unique features of the
sociological imagination, which I see, following C Wright Mills, as involving the
intersection of individual biographical experience, history, the social structure and
I have developed this sociological agenda in three ways over the last 10 years or so since I
left Queen’s:
programmatic statements mapping the sociology of peace processes;
attention to religious peacebuilding as a sub-field; and
by empirical studies of aspects of societal healing.
Let me focus on the latter. I am an uncomplicated sociologist – which means I am not a
theoretical one. I have an interest in improving the lives of ordinary people. In my latest
book called The Public Value of the Social Sciences I outline a view of public social science
that renders this interest as the normative purpose of the whole social sciences generally. I
see the sociology of peace processes as public social science in practice. Therefore I do
empirical studies that involve real people and real life situations of conflict transformation.
The empirical study I most want to bring to your attention is the Leverhulme Trust funded
large grant programme called Compromise after Conflict for which I’m Principal Investigator,
which has moved into the Institute with me. This is a five-year programme running between
2009-2014 of £1.26 million, over a third of a million of which is still left and has transferred
to the Institute.
The programme looks at the development of compromise amongst victims of communal
conflict. It is both conceptual, in trying to better understand what we mean by compromise
at the level of interpersonal and social relations, and empirical, by focusing on victims in
three contemporary arenas of conflict – Northern Ireland, South Africa and Sri Lanka. If you
think about it, these cases represent what Max Weber would call a ‘naturally occurring
experiment’, since they represent different kinds of peace settlement and are each at
different stages of societal healing. In addition to a focus on these three cases, we have a
truth commission project, which explores the verbatim evidence of witnesses given at
different kinds of truth recovery process in several different countries.
In addition there are linked PhDs. Their topics are:
victim groups and victim group leaders and their ambivalent contribution to social
capital in Northern Ireland;
the social reintegration of girl child soldiers in Sierra Leone
the recovery of memory policy in Spain and its impact on school education
the role of religion in truth recovery in Colombia
the deconstruction of violent masculinities amongst Loyalist men
Catholic youth identity in Belfast and Derry (ESRC), and
the role of faith-based NGOs in transitional justice in Cape Town (British
Two students have been awarded their doctorates, and three submit this September.
We hold twice-annual workshops, which bring together members of the team and people
from the International Board, alternating between Belfast and Aberdeen. The next starts on
Monday for three days. We also use Skype to keep in touch with the Sri Lankans, and I make
trips between there and here; and they in the reverse direction.
We have our own website, to which I refer you for further detail about the programme. The
website is very important to the civic responsibilities of the funders, whose roots after all
are in the Quakers, and to my commitment to public social science. It is one of the major
ways in which we do public engagement, disseminate knowledge of our work in civil society,
and objectively measure its impact and penetration in civil society. In the last count in
Aberdeen we had nearly eight thousand visitors a year, the majority not being unique
visitors as they refer to it – that is they returned to the site more than once. Aberdeen
changed their way of counting website traffic in the last year we were there, recording daily
not annual visitors. We had a peak of 350 visitors in one day and had a base line average of
over 100 hits a day. We haven’t been here long enough for a Queen’s count.
We have a Facebook and a twitter account and a blog as part of this civic engagement. Our
twitter account has over six thousand followers – we are told by Queen’s that this is more
than all the other Queen’s twitter accounts put together. Our followers include President
Obama, Nelson Mandela, the White House, Downing Street, the UN, NATO, as well as the
folks on the hill at Stormont, and all major newspaper organisations.
I write an annual report to the International Advisory Board, which now includes a Queen’s
University Representative, who is Professor Emeritus Roddie Cowie, and I place these
reports on the website for public consultation. You can click on the three produced so far at
your leisure if you wish, along with whatever else I load under the publications section.
With respect to publications, I have negotiated with Palgrave Macmillan a book series called
– unsurprisingly – Palgrave Studies in Compromise after Conflict, of which I am the Series
Editor, and details of which can be accessed on Palgrave’s website. We plan four books
from the Leverhulme study but the series also intends to bring out the PhD theses of
students associated with the programme and other relevant submissions. I see it particularly
as a vehicle to publish young and early career researchers working in this area. The excombatant book was the first to come out of the series. We have an International Advisory
I would like to expand a little on the research design of the project. We use mixed methods
but the qualitative material exemplifies an approach new to qualitative research – cross
national, comparative qualitative research; long gone are the days when critics could accuse
qualitative research as unsystematic, or like investigative journalism as one critic from
Queen’s Law School once described my work, hanging loose on street corners, going with
the flow, picking up titbits as we hide in the shadows, like grubby red-top journalists. Far
from it in our case.
We have a common research design across all three arenas of conflict.
For the qualitative data this is as follows:
A standard interview schedule across all three countries, which is enculturated to
take account of local factors and used to conduct in-depth interviews with a crosssectional, non-probablity sample of victims in each country, accessed through
gatekeepers and the snowball technique. This numbers between 70-80 victims in
each country.
VIP interviews – targeted individuals involved in the victim field, policy-makers,
politicians and popular culture mediators, like journalists, radio personalities etc.
This numbers between 10-25 in each country. In South Africa’s case we also traced a
number of witnesses to the TRC to get them to reflect back on the process.
60 in-depth follow up interviews (in Northern Ireland only) with respondents from
the general population survey who agreed to be interviewed about their answers
For the quantitative data, we formulated a questionnaire survey for use in all three
countries, sufficiently enculturated to take account of the different circumstances in the
three cases. We sometimes used questions drawn from other surveys so that we could have
longitudinal data and broader comparative data for some issues.
The Northern Ireland survey went to the field first. The questionnaire, which was piloted to
ensure maximum reliability and validity, focused on the following topics:
Introduction, namely some non-controversial introductory questions to place the
respondents at ease;
Religiosity and religious background – namely current/childhood religious affiliation,
religious practices and belief and well as one’s relationship with God;
Political attitudes, namely attitudes towards the Agreement and its consequences
for the two main religious communities as well as views on the new political
arrangements in Northern Ireland;
Voting behaviour and political identity, namely party support, political and national
identity and electoral behaviour;
Prejudice and Tolerance, namely views on the other religious community;
Social Contact, namely attitudes towards and levels of contact between the two
main religious communities in Northern Ireland;
Experience of the Troubles, namely the nature and extent of victimisation within this
Victims, namely self-assessed victimhood and views on how to deal with the legacy
of the conflict;
The Future, namely opinions concerning the future of Northern Ireland in terms of
aspirations for and expected relations between the two religious communities;
Personal details, namely socio-demographic background.
The questionnaire was completed by a 1,500 person nationally representative sample of the
adult Northern Ireland population. We used a professional market research company to
undertake the survey. Using face-to-face interviews, the sample frame was based on the
postal address file for Northern Ireland. To maximise response rates, respondents were sent
an advance letter prior to initial contact explaining the purpose of the survey. All
interviewers were required to carry a copy of the letter and asked to again explain the
nature of the research, re-emphasise the random nature of the survey, and stress the
confidentiality of the material. In all, interviews were required to make at least 5 calls to
each address at varying times of the day and evening. The fieldwork was monitored – both
in terms of accompanying interviewers as well as other measures such as back-checking of
interviews – by both the fieldwork agency and an independent consultant employed by the
project. After an initially slow start, beginning in April 2011, the target survey population –
1,500 individuals – was achieved in August 2011.
The South African quantitative data is complete and the questionnaire is in process of
completion in Sri Lanka, but the sample design is different in Sri Lanka because of the
inability to use the same randomising procedures. In Sri Lanka we use stratified sampling by
area and cover key social categories in Sri Lankan society (rural/urban, north/south,
male/female, young/old, Tamil/Sinhalese, and Buddhist/Muslim/Christian/Hindu). The
fieldwork is outsourced to a local team and conducted in indigenous languages. The English
translation is checked by fluent speakers of Tamil and Sinhalese.
What have we done with this data?
Take the following table from the Northern Ireland survey on the key issue of victims’
attitudes towards the social reintegration of ex-combatants.
Table 3: Experience of Victimisation and Attitudes Toward Sanctions Against Former
Political Prisoners
Multiple victim
Single victim
Public Apology:
Pay Compensation:
State Employment Ban:
Expulsion from NI:
Questions: Under the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement paramilitary prisoners were granted early
release. Would you strongly support, support, oppose or strongly oppose doing the following to those
who were granted early release: Banning them from being employed by the state; Forcing them to pay
some money to those who were their victims; Forcing them to say sorry for what they have done;
Expelling them from Northern Ireland.
Irrespective of the proposed sanction considered, such as public apologies, the payment of
compensation to their victims, an employment ban in relation to state occupations, or
forced exiles, in all four cases, individuals who had experienced victimisation – either
directly, indirectly or both – were notably more likely to oppose these measures than those
who had not. Moreover, this relationship holds even when a range of background
characteristics, such as gender, socio-economic status and political identity, are included in
the analysis.
There is also some evidence to suggest, however, that among those who had experienced
victimisation, it is members of the Catholic community who stand out as being the least
punitive in their views.
Part of an explanation we suggest lies in the key role played by former paramilitary
combatants in conflict transformation within their own communities. Despite earlier
expectations of high rates of recidivism, particularly from within the unionist community, in
the vast majority of cases not only did former prisoners not return to violence but they
became key players in reconciliation and peace-building efforts, particularly at the
grassroots level. The willingness of former political prisoners to live in and work for the
advancement of their own deprived communities, many of whom have borne the brunt of
conflict that explains the less retributive stance of victims towards former political
prisoners, particularly within the Catholic community.
These results point to the willingness of victims to adopt a less retributive stance towards
ex-prisoners in the light of achieving a peaceful settlement. Early results from Sri Lanka
point to the same conclusion.
Note also, victims in Northern Ireland are more tolerant than many of the public figures and
victim group leaders to deem to speak on behalf of victims, particularly within the
Protestant community.
This brings me to the point about the role of victim group leaders. In the VIP interviews
conducted with them, I have classified them into three types according to how they see
their role:
Bridge builders
Post-conflict social networks are critical to the practice of compromise and only the latter
type see their role as building contacts with people across the communal divide. One of the
PhD students has linked this to the idea of social capital; I link it to the very nature of
compromise itself. But that’s another talk. Thank you.