Power relations between the local and the international lie at the very core of gendered analyses about hybrid peace processes. We need to recognize the power of both the local and international, and to reflect upon the complexity of experience. Who experiences war? And what are the effects of these experiences? Talking about the effects of wartime experience is a messy and complicated issue. Rightly so, much of the focus is upon those who directly experienced and lived through a war. But locals and internationals talk about, and know about, wartime experiences in different ways. These diverse experiences are powerful and very political, and crucially, shape post-conflict policy.
I talk more about this in my recent article published in the Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding, which investigated the effects of different wartime experiences for how gender security policies are made in Serbia. In this blog post, I draw out three key concepts as a means of thinking about the complexity of wartime experience for peacebuilding processes. This acts as a compelling reminder that power relations still matter even in alternative frameworks of peacebuilding.
Hybridity is a concept used by academics within the field of critical peacebuilding to make sense of the relationship between local and international actors and institutions engaged in peacebuilding. It isn’t necessarily a policy that peacebuilders aim for, or even seek to deliberately implement. Rather it is a concept which seeks to explain the dynamics of power between local and international actors implementing policies intended to support peacebuilding and post-conflict development. Roger Mac Ginty puts it well when he suggests that hybridity allows us to visualize the very complexity of peacebuilding processes.
A feminist perspective of hybridity extends these ideas to better account for the effects that different experiences of war and post-war have upon peacebuilding processes. Drawing inspiration from the popular feminist insight that the personal is political, I suggest that actors have personal and political narratives of war experience that they bring to the table in the attempt to make peacebuilding policy.
A post-conflict space tends to also be occupied by people who didn’t live through the war. The post-conflict moment brings with it a deluge of “internationals” who seek to resolve the problems arising from the war. They may not have directly experienced war, but they will have experienced the war in other ways: on television, through institutional culture, and so on. As Christine Sylvester suggests, we can think about war from a ‘multi-pointed view of experience’. A brief cravat – the terms ‘internationals’ and ‘locals’ are problematic: neither are coherent categories. But there are different experiences of war which inevitably affect how we develop post-conflict policy.
While hybridity takes local experiences and responses seriously, and recognizes the importance of the everyday, it does not deeply consider the diversity of the ‘personal’. Hybridity as a concept needs to do a better job of understanding the ‘international’ as personal – indeed, the ‘international’ may be an institution, but the institution is made up of people who have personal experiences that they bring to bear upon institutional practice. To develop a nuanced perception of the power relations within a hybrid peacebuilding initiative, we need to pay attention to the diverse ways in which the personal is political for both international and local actors. Here, it is useful to consider the complexity of experience: we know (and already recognize) that ‘locals’ have experiences. But also, ‘internationals’ do have experiences of war that shapes peacebuilding policy.
On the face of it, the story we tell about a war and the problems emerging from that war doesn’t really matter. After all, good initiatives are happening, and all of these processes are resolving problems in the post-conflict context. But these stories do matter, and matter very much. They matter because they shape the very way in which we understand ‘gender’. Gender itself can be configured in many ways. Gender can be viewed as being about biological sex, and specifically, women. But gender can also be about how bodies are socially constructed.
In the full article, I look at a capacity-building initiative by an international institution in Serbia concerned with the control of the threat posed by small arms and light weapons. In developing the initiative, an understanding of ‘gender’ as being about a particular biological sex (women) in need of protection was reinforced. This story is not wrong. Indeed, it is one of the many important ways by which we can come to understand the effects of the conflict in ex-Yugoslavia. But does paying attention to this particular experience miss others? And what do we end up missing? For instance, in Serbia, this story misses how many feminists understand the increase prevalence of domestic violence as being connected to the patriarchal violence of war. This is quite different to the image of women as a vulnerable body in need of protection.
The way in which we understand gender in relation to war and post-conflict – an understanding which is shaped through experiences – crafts the very pattern of peacebuilding. That is, such stories are central to how we go about identifying problems that need to be solved, and how we think they need to be solved.
Moving forward: Complexity, peacebuilding and hybrid experiences and practices
Peacebuilding can be a project-driven, top-down approach where international donors and organisations implement policies. However, peacebuilding processes are more complex than that, and local actors can be involved. This can unintentionally (and sometimes intentionally) produce hybrid initiatives. This complexity is also subject to power dynamics relating to experience, which has gendered implications.
We should not slip into the lazy view that local experience and understandings are prioritized in hybrid interventions. Rather we should pay attention to the personal-political experiences and perceptions of conflict that are held by both local and international actors to reveal the tension at the very heart of post-conflict agenda-setting. Furthermore, we should realise that how, and which, war experiences are recalled are in themselves political. The memories, stories and experiences invoked by both local and international actors and institutions are invoked for a reason: they are deemed to be worthwhile experiences worth drawing out. These personal-political experiences that are recalled shape the very construction of tricky concepts like “gender” within post-conflict initiatives. Paying attention to how war is narrated differently and noticing the gendered power relations at stake in peacebuilding provokes significant questions about the practice of making and keeping peace, and the effects of these practices.
Laura McLeod is a Lecturer in International Politics at the University of Manchester, United Kingdom. She has written about security, peace negotiations and constitutional reform in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina from a feminist and gendered perspective. Her first book, Gender Politics and Security Discourse: Personal-Political Imaginations and Feminism in “Post-Conflict” Serbia is out in July 2015 with Routledge, London. Laura is also Conversations co-editor of the International Feminist Journal of Politics.