University of St. Andrews: Love in the time of conflict

Putting love at the heart of research could help shift our understanding of conflict and peace, according to new research co-led by the University of St Andrews.

The research, published in International Studies Review, explores the importance of love and care in rebuilding societies following conflict and violence, and asks what might happen if we look at conflict through a lens of life rather than death.

The article was co-authored by Dr Roxani Krystalli, Lecturer in International Relations at the University of St Andrews, and Dr Philipp Schulz, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Bremen.

From her own research, Dr Krystalli noticed that studies into the effects of armed conflict primarily focused on violence and suffering, motivating her to ask how focusing on love and care can expand our understanding of areas affected by conflict, and draw attention to the way love and harm exist together in such places.

As the authors wrote: “Scholarly narratives about armed conflicts are typically characterised by a primary focus on violence, suffering, cruelty and harm. Yet, in the midst and wake of violence, people also fall in love, forge social and intimate relationships, and extend different forms of care to one another.”

The article is rooted in a decade of in-depth research from Colombia and Uganda, where the authors have listened to the stories of victims and survivors of violence as well as former combatants, state officials and those involved in building peace and restoring justice.

“These narratives shed light on a wide range of actions and relationships, ranging from material support and acts of caregiving such as loaning one another money, cleaning wounds, helping one another fill out bureaucratic forms in order to access the mechanisms of justice; to more emotional practices such as establishing listening circles to process experiences of violence,” said Dr Krystalli.

“The love and care our research participants speak of is wide-ranging and includes many kinds of relationships and webs of kinship from family to friendship, and from the promise of romantic, intimate love during war to its complications. People have also spoken to us about their love of place and nature and how conflict-related displacement has ruptured these bonds in ways that justice processes sometimes fail to take into account.”

Dr Krystalli’s research at the University has explored various dimensions of feminist peace and conflict studies, most recently focusing on the politics and hierarchies of victimhood in Colombia, paying attention to how gendered power affects both experiences of violence and research into those.

It is her hope that a care-based approach will shape research agendas and help to shift the perspective of those who are involved in peacebuilding and justice in the wake of violence, impacting positively on peace talks, negotiations and spaces of justice such as courts and human rights organisations, as well as informal spaces that victims and survivors create to support one another and make sense of their experiences.

Dr Krystalli said: “I hope this work can highlight the transformative, political power of love and care. They are not just feelings, nor are they just private and personal. They are actions, practices and ways of relating to one another that shape our public life. They make us think about what enables life to go on, and help us reimagine how to live.”

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