Parents of the Field

Parents of the Field

In 2003 we started to undertake a project we had long talked about and planned, namely to record visually the recollections and views of some of the individual scholars and practitioners who initiated the field of conflict analysis and peace research in the 1950s and 1960s.

 

Many of these “parents of the field” were now in their 70s and 80s, but most were still working and researching. Some were continuing to teach the next generation of students in the field, while others were still pursuing the ideal - first enunciated by one of the pioneers from the 1940s, Kurt Lewin - of becoming “practical theorists,” that is, scholars who actually used some of their skills and knowledge to help resolve conflicts in the real world.

 

The original idea was limited in scope, namely to video-tape interviews with 15 'key' figures in the development of “conflict and peace research.” The issue of what to call the field [or the discipline] became one of the questions on which we sought enlightenment, as it rapidly became clear that the early days had seen much discussion about what the new field of study should be called, what its main focus should be, and how it might best have an impact on the world of problems and policy.

 

Very rapidly, it also became plain that, to do justice to those parents who had been working, thinking, and acting in the years after World War II and during the era of the Cold War, far more than 15 interviews were required. Hence, the 'Parents’ project expanded hugely over the next few years and is far from complete in terms of who we were able to interview. At present, it encompasses over 40, approximately two-hour long interview sessions in places as far apart as San Francisco, Oslo, Ann Arbor, London, Washington, Martha’s Vineyard, New York, Bradford, Oxford, and Philadelphia. With every interview, the list of important “parents” whose views and memories needed to be recorded lengthened, even though we had reluctantly tried to draw a firm line in wanting at first only to interview the first generation of 'parents,' or if they were no longer with us, people who knew their work and contributions intimately. In practice, this approach excluded important figures from the second and third generation of researchers and scholar-practitioners who will hopefully all be interviewed in future iterations of this project. 

 

What we present here, then, is an initial selection of the interviews, planned to consist of 15 of the video-taped interviews with some of the key figures from “the early days.” Their names should be well known to anyone familiar with the core literature of our field, although this may be an initial introduction to their faces and their voices. What we hope will also be new to everyone is the way in which all of our respondents have striven to use their ideas and knowledge to “do something” about a  world of much conflict and too little real peace. The same is true for the 30-plus video-taped interviews which have been transcribed and lightly edited, all of which will gradually be presented on this website, as well as on that of the University of Baltimore and on Guy & Heidi Burgess’s invaluable “Beyond Intractability” website.

 

We hope, in due course, to make all of the video recordings available for research, enlightenment, and general interest.   

 

Johannes (Jannie) Botes

 

Christopher Mitchell

 

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