Violence, traumatic stress, peacemaking and peacebuilding - Social psychology

Psychology: an introduction (Oxford Southern Africa) - Leslie Swartz 2011

Violence, traumatic stress, peacemaking and peacebuilding
Social psychology

Craig Higson-Smith & Shahnaaz Suffla


After studying this chapter you should be able to:

•give a definition of violence

•provide a general overview of the breadth and depth of this field of study

•discuss violence as a public health problem using a systemic approach

•describe the consequences of violence, especially traumatic stress responses

•discuss and critique the range of violence prevention strategies in use, such as those used to assist individuals, families and communities affected by violence

•define and describe in your own words the concepts of peacemaking and peacebuilding

•outline the differences between peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding

•identify and elaborate on the major theoretical principles underlying these concepts

•present an argument for a culturally centred approach to peacemaking and peacebuilding

•describe a framework for action through which psychologists can contribute to peace processes.


Yolisa had only been a young child during the political conflict of the apartheid era in South Africa, but she had been aware of the violence, fear and anger around her. As Yolisa grew up, she came to understand much more of the conflict and how it had affected not only her family, but also many others. It was hard to discuss some of these things with white people, but as Yolisa began to develop better relationships with some white friends, she heard about their different experiences of living in South Africa. She was surprised to hear how traumatised her friend’s uncle had been after being sent out to keep control in a township.

But instead of the improvement everyone had expected after 1994, it seemed that violence was still one of the biggest threats people faced in their lives. Yolisa had several friends and even some family members who had been mugged or threatened with violence. Quite recently, her cousin, a young man close to her own age, had been attacked by two knife-wielding men. She saw him a few days after the incident, but when she asked about it, he seemed reluctant to talk.

’It was nothing — they just took my wallet,’ he said.

But Yolisa’s aunt was worried about her son. He had been very irritable since the mugging and just wanted to be alone. Yolisa’s aunt told how he had also lost interest in his college work. Yolisa was convinced that, even though her cousin had downplayed the mugging, he had in fact been quite traumatised by it.

Yolisa felt strongly that the problem of violence needed to be dealt with by society as a whole, not just by each person who suffered its effects. She believed that people needed to teach children that violence and aggression didn’t solve their problems. People could also do things in their local community to try to protect one another and fight violence. Yolisa discovered that psychologists could also play a role in building peaceful societies. She felt this was especially important in a country such as South Africa, where violence and conflict had been so much a part of everyone’s history.


This chapter introduces the interrelated but distinct areas of violence, traumatic stress and peacemaking. It begins with some recent statistics of violence in South Africa, and discusses the question of intention in defining violence. The chapter looks briefly at some social psychological theory on violence, and proposes a model of violence and violence prevention over four levels. A focus on the individual effect of traumatic stress leads to a discussion of violence prevention strategies and interventions to provide services to survivors of violence. Peace processes are described, as well as the importance of peace processes for preventing violence.

South Africa has entered the 21st century and as the country tries to shake off its violent history, it carries with it an international reputation for violence. The violence of war, apartheid and armed struggle seems to have made way for terrible criminal, sexual and family violence. Violence remains a critical problem for our country — a problem that we must understand better if we are ever to be free of it.

In the World Report on Violence and Health, it is estimated that violence claimed the lives of 1.6 million people worldwide in the year 2000. Of these deaths, 91 per cent occurred in low- to middle-income countries. The United Nations Global Study on Homicide 2013 reports that intentional homicide was responsible for the deaths of nearly half a million people in 2012, with 31 per cent of these occurring in Africa (UNODC, 2013). The global rate for males is nearly four times that of females (United Nations, 2013). Violent death is particularly common among adolescents and young adults, with 43 per cent of all homicide victims aged between 15 and 29 years (UNODC, 2013).

In South Africa, there were 17 068 murders per 100 000 in 2013/14 (47 per day), which is an increase on the 2012/13 rate of 45 per day (Africa Check, 2014). According to Africa Check (2014), South Africa’s murder rate is five times higher than the global average of six murders per 100 000.

South Africa’s National Injury Mortality Surveillance System (NIMSS) reports that in 2008, 31.53 per cent of non-natural deaths were due to violence. Close to 80 per cent of victims were male, while those most at risk for violent death were between 20 and 30 years of age. Violence accounted for 44.8 per cent of deaths in the 15—24 age group, and 41.5 per cent of the 25—34 age group.


Figure 20.1 Deaths, by age, resulting from homicide in South Africa (Krug et al., 2002, p. 270)

Yet loss of life represents only a small part of the cost of violence to the world. The World Health Organization notes the widespread cost of interpersonal violence and also notes that interpersonal violence particularly affects low- and middle-income countries (WHO, n.d.). In South Africa, a single homicide is calculated to cost $15 319 (in the region of R160 850) (WHO, n.d.). The full cost of non-fatal injuries is difficult to estimate, especially since many crimes such as rape, domestic assault and child abuse are seldom reported. In addition, it is important to move beyond the costs associated with individual people in order to understand the costs to families, communities and entire countries.

What precisely is violence?

There is controversy around how social scientists should define violence. The difficulties revolve around the idea of intention, as well as differences between different disciplines. Most definitions of violence are based on two assumptions (Jackman, 2002, in Aisenberg, Gavin, Mehrotra & Bowman, 2010): (1) violence is motivated by hostility and the intent to harm, and (2) violence is deviant.

These approaches are largely individualistic, and do not pay enough attention to structural and contextual factors. Aisenberg et al. (2010) note that how violence is defined is crucial as it influences the kind of research that is conducted. The World Report on Violence and Health defines violence as follows (Krug et al., 2002, p. 5):

The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.

While this definition still includes a broad spectrum of situations, it requires that the act must be intentional in order to be defined as violent.

To better understand the crucial difference between definitions which include intent and those which do not, consider the following questions:

•If a person drives a motor car while under the influence of alcohol and accidentally kills a pedestrian, has that person committed an act of violence?

•If a worker is hurt as a result of insufficient safety provisions at work, has the employer committed an act of violence?

•If a small child falls off a swing while her caregiver is not watching her, has that caregiver committed an act of violence?

These are difficult questions not only for social scientists but for many others, particularly people working within the criminal justice system. For the purposes of this chapter, it is argued that where harm arises as a result of society’s laws, regulations and norms of due care being ignored, an act of violence has taken place, even when harm was not intended.

Types of violence

It is virtually impossible to provide a complete classification of different forms of violence; however, it is worth mentioning some broad categories.

Domestic violence

Sadly, a great deal of violence occurs within families and homes, between people living together. Traditionally, domestic violence is conceptualised as violence against women in homes. Indeed, Devries et al. (2013, p. 1528) say that violence against women happens in every country in the world and that ’the UN estimates more than 600 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not considered a crime’. However, domestic violence may include violence between gay partners, the active abuse or neglect of children, battery of spouses or the abuse of elderly people; in whichever form, it is extremely destructive for families. Victims of domestic violence are often trapped within the abusive situation by social norms and economic pressures (Levendosky et al., 2004).

One must also be cautious about the term as it often downplays the real issues of power (and social acceptability of some forms of domestic violence) that underlie it (Giddens, 2006). For example, the authorities are often slower to respond to a complaint of assault if it is seen as ’simply’ a domestic disagreement.

Violence for material gain

Many violent crimes, such as muggings, armed robberies, hijackings and cash-in-transit heists are motivated by the desire for material gain (Moser, 2006). South Africa has extremely high levels of violence for material gain, including murders carried out for the purposes of making ’medicines’. La Fontaine (2011) discusses the term ’ritual murder’ and notes how such killings have historically been associated with spiritual purposes, to obtain good fortune or cleansing (La Fontaine, 2011). However, some of these ’magical’ killings are conducted for the personal gain of both the client and the practitioner of magic, ’fuelled by individual ambitions and a lust for wealth and power’ (La Fontaine, 2011, p. 9).

Sexual violence

Violence often takes on a sexual form. Whether in the form of rape, sexual assault, child sexual abuse, molestation or sexual harassment in the workplace or other social arenas, sexual violence is responsible for very high levels of traumatic stress in society (Bennice, Resick, Mechanic & Astin, 2003).

State and collective violence

State and collective violence has been a constant part of the past 200 years of South African history. Included in this history is the violence implicit in colonialism and apartheid: from the wars between settlers and indigenous South Africans, to the militarisation of South African society through conscription and the training of young people to fight in the liberation struggle, to acts of terror committed by both the apartheid regime and the liberation armies. Hate crimes and genocide are also examples of collective violence. Aisenberg et al. (2010, p. 17) give the example of ’micro-aggressions’ as ’acts involving discrimination, racism and daily hassles that are targeted at individuals from diverse racial and ethnic groups’.

Self-directed violence

The final category is violence directed towards the self, most notably suicide and self-mutilation. Self-directed violence is usually associated with great emotional pain and despair.


•South Africa has an international reputation for violence. South Africa’s murder rate is five times higher than the global average. Most violent death victims are young males. The cost of violence is enormous for families, communities and entire countries.

•There is disagreement around the definition of violence. According to one definition, any act that results in harm is essentially an act of violence. Other definitions include intention. This chapter argues that where harm arises as a result of society’s laws, or the disregard of regulations and norms of due care, an act of violence has taken place, even when harm was not intended.

•There are many types of violence: domestic violence, violence for material gain, sexual violence, state and collective violence, and self-directed violence.

Theories of violence

Early theoretical approaches tried to suggest that people who commit acts of violence are somehow different from the majority of the population, because they are evil, disabled or sick. However, these theories cannot explain the frequency of violence in our society, including war and oppressive governments. Such approaches have resulted in perpetrators of violence being imprisoned, exiled or executed, or undergoing brain surgery, but this has failed to reduce the incidence of violence in society.

Socio-biological explanations

Theories that acknowledge that the potential for violence exists within all people have a far greater chance of making a real contribution to violence prevention in the world. Socio-biological explanations of violence argue that human beings, like most other animals, have an innate capacity for violence. This enables human beings to hunt, to protect resources, and to respond to threats, all of which are fundamental to survival.

However, such theories do not help social scientists to predict who will commit what act of violence and under what kind of circumstances. Without this information, it is very difficult to prevent violence.

Work on the links between aggression and frustration (e.g. Dollard and Miller’s frustration—aggression hypothesis — see Dollard et al., 1939) has provided some useful information. When people become frustrated, they often feel angry and are ready for action. This combination is linked to acts of violence. Understanding the role of frustration is particularly important in finding ways to prevent crimes such as road rage. Nevertheless, people often feel angry or frustrated without becoming violent, and many acts of violence are difficult to link to frustration.

Social learning explanations

Bandura’s (1973) theory on social learning showed how violence, like many other human behaviours, is learned either through direct reinforcement or through modelling:

Reinforcement occurs when particular behaviours are rewarded or punished. Depending upon their parents, children may learn that punching their siblings either earns them approval, or their parents’ anger. The first outcome will increase the likelihood of violence in future, while the second will reduce it.

Modelling happens when people learn from watching others. Thus children who observe their parents solving conflict with violence are more likely to use violence for problem solving later in life. This area of work has important implications for parenting as well as for discussions of television and film violence.

The general aggression model (GAM) builds on the social learning framework (Baron, Branscombe & Byrne, 2009). This is an integrative model, also incorporating other earlier theories (DeWall, Anderson & Bushman, 2011). The GAM focuses on the chain of events that may lead to aggression and violence. This chain of events may include situational factors (e.g. frustration, provocation, exposure to aggressive models) and personal factors (e.g. irritability, having fighting skills, beliefs about aggressive behaviour) (Baron et al., 2009). According to the GAM, these variables can lead to increased arousal, changed emotional states and altered cognitions.

Group explanations

A further important component to understanding human violence is to recognise that people act differently when in groups compared to when they are alone (refer also to Chapter 17). Early theories here argue that, when in groups, people form mobs which are unthinking and inherently violent. Such theories discount the enormous complexity of human groups and are not helpful in preventing situations of violence. But work on obedience to authority, conformity and shared responsibility does help explain why groups tend to be more violent than individuals.

People commonly identify themselves as being part of different groups. We think of ourselves as belonging to a certain neighbourhood, ethnic group, religious denomination, language community, and so on. Social identity theory (Tajfel &Turner, 1986) has produced a wealth of research that shows that group identity is very important to people, that people hold differing beliefs about their own and others’ groups, and that under conditions of threat, these group identities become stronger. Stephan, Ybarra and Morrison (2009) call this a ’tribal mindset’ and note that people are more inclined to perceive a threat when there is none rather than the other way round. This is because it is potentially more costly to miss a threat that does exist. These threats may be realistic or symbolic; either way, their effects on intergroup relations are generally destructive (Stephan et al., 2009). Thus, much of the violence in the world today can be understood in terms of group conflicts.


Cyber bullying is a relatively recent form of intentional harm that has emerged as a result of rapid growth in communication technology. Cyber bullying involves the use of electronic forms of communication to send intimidating or harassing messages to someone. Other forms of bullying include physical (e.g. hitting), verbal (e.g. taunting) and relational (e.g. social exclusion) (Wang, Nansel & Lannotti, 2011). Bullying is a serious problem for many children and adolescents; those involved can be categorised into bullies, victims and victim-bullies (Mishna, Khoury-Kassabri, Gadalla & Daciuk, 2012; Wang et al. 2011).

Mishna et al. (2012) studied the risk factors of involvement in cyber bullying. They administered self-report questionnaires to 2 186 school children and found that over 30 per cent had been involved in cyber bullying (either as victims or perpetrators) over the previous three months. One in four had been involved as both bully and victim. Females were more likely than males to be victim-bullies (whereas in traditional bullying, being a victim-bully is more common among males). Risk factors included spending more time on the computer and giving passwords to a friend.

Wang et al. (2011) studied the relationship between bullying and depression in 7 313 school children and found that depression was associated with all four forms of bullying. However, victims of cyber bullying reported higher depression than cyber bullies or cyber bully-victims. This may be due to the particular characteristics of cyber bullying in which victims are typically under attack from anonymous others, leading them to feel ’ isolated, dehumanised and helpless’ (Wang et al., 2011, p. 417).


•Early theoretical approaches suggested that people who commit acts of violence are somehow different from other people. However, such approaches have failed to reduce the incidence of violence in society.

•Socio-biological explanations of violence argue that human beings have an innate capacity for violence. This is not helpful in violence prevention. Some theories have noted links between frustration and aggression.

•Social learning explanations argue that violence is learned either through direct reinforcement or through modelling.

•Group explanations note that people act differently when in groups compared to when they are alone. However, groups are complex. Some helpful explanations have focused on authority, conformity and shared responsibility, as well as group identity (social identity theory).

The effects of violence at multiple levels

Although we tend to think about violence in terms of its impact upon individual survivors, violence occurs at many levels. When a family member abuses other family members, this is an example of violence at the level of the small group, in this case, the family. Another example of smallgroup violence happens in criminal gangs, where gang membership often depends on perpetrating violent acts such as rape.

Violence can also occur at the level of the community, for example when residents of a community victimise people of a particular group. In South Africa in recent years, many non-South Africans have been labelled amakwerekwere (a derogatory term meaning ’foreigner’) and have been victimised.

Finally, violence can occur at the level of society. The use of force by the apartheid government to systematically remove people from the land on which their families had lived for generations is a clear example of this. Enforced conscription of young men to serve in armies is another.

There are therefore four broad levels at which violence can occur, namely the individual, small-group, community and societal levels.

Violence at any level typically also impacts upon other levels. For example, when a young man is conscripted into an army (on a societal level), he may well be exposed to violent acts that leave him emotionally compromised (on an individual level). He may become an angry person who copes through drinking and often becomes violent. Upon his return home, his emotional state impacts upon the family (on a small-group level).

Even single acts of violence at the individual level may impact upon many people’s lives. For example, when a young child is sexually abused, members of the immediate family, teachers, police officers, social workers, prosecutors and magistrates are also involved. If it is a high-profile case that is discussed in the media, millions of people may be exposed to that act of individual violence, as in the case of Oscar Pistorius.


Figure 20.2 Soldiers are often forced to do and see things which are extremely emotionally distressing and can lead to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

One way to try to understand the enormous complexity of a phenomenon like violence that occurs at multiple, interconnected levels is through a systemic or ecological model. This can help make sense of the way in which different acts of violence impact upon society also at multiple levels. Broadly speaking, violence can be understood as being simultaneously both fragmenting and disempowering.


Fragmentation refers to the breaking up or destruction of important linkages, and can occur at each level of society. For example, at an individual level, traumatic amnesia and dissociation are forms of fragmentation associated with sexual abuse. At the small-group level, acts of violence often break up family structures, with certain members being expelled. At the community level, political action may disrupt workplaces, schools, religious institutions and so on. Finally, at the societal level, war may lead to fragmentation of whole societies.


Disempowerment refers to people’s inability to fulfil their appropriate functions in their families and communities, and in society more generally. For example, workers can be disempowered when they have been assaulted, and are therefore unable to work in order to provide for their family.

Traumatic stress as an effect of violence at an individual level

As suggested above, violence has wide effects upon people and society (see also Chapter 22). Moments of overwhelming fear, horror or helplessness, where we literally face death, are deeply distressing and potentially life changing for the affected individuals.

While violence is a familiar and visible part of the world around us, traumatic stress is a phenomenon of the internal or psychological world, and is less directly observable. It is only through close examination of the behavioural changes in people who have recently survived a violent incident, and through survivors’ descriptions of their feelings and thoughts, that traumatic stress can be understood.

Human beings, like other animals, have well-developed mechanisms for surviving within a dangerous world. As a result, the majority of people endure traumatic experiences without any lasting psychological disturbance. Certainly these experiences are likely to cause a short period (usually four to six weeks) of emotional upset. During this time, the person may often feel anxious or afraid, and will spend a great deal of time going over the traumatic experience in their memory. Although often quite severe immediately after the event, these symptoms quickly become milder and less frequent as the person returns to normal functioning. During this time, it is helpful for friends and family to ensure that the person feels safe and supported, and to assure them that what they are experiencing is healthy and will pass.

A relatively small proportion of people do develop more lasting problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or acute stress disorder. This response varies substantially depending on the nature of the traumatic event and the individual’s personal history. For this group, the signs of traumatic stress do not reduce during the first four to six weeks following the event, and often become worse. In these cases, it is likely that the person will require substantial psychological intervention by a traumatic stress specialist before they return to previous levels of functioning.


Figure 20.3 A systemic or ecological model attempts to encompass complex phenomena at multiple, interconnected levels

Four broad categories of symptoms are associated with traumatic stress: re-experiencing, avoidance, arousal, and alterations in cognition and mood (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).


Source: Bar-tal and Labin (2001)

In 1996, researchers repeatedly measured the attitudes of a sample of Israeli adolescents towards Palestinians, Jordanians and Arabs in general. An initial measurement was taken after a long period of peace, a second measurement was taken one day after two major attacks on Israelis by Palestinians, and a third measurement was taken three months later.

In the first measurement, Israeli adolescents held more positive attitudes towards Jordanians (Jordan was at peace with Israel at the time) and Arabs in general, than towards Palestinians. However, following the Palestinian attacks, attitudes towards all three groups became more negative. This provides a clear demonstration of how violence and fear create greater difference between groups, even when those groups are not in conflict with each other.

Re-experiencing symptoms

Re-experiencing symptoms are associated thoughts, feelings, physiological responses and behaviours which remain with the person long after the traumatic event is over. This may take the form of memories, intrusive images, nightmares or flashbacks. For example, a man who is recovering after a car hijacking might find that whenever he gets behind the wheel, he thinks about the incident, his heart starts racing and his palms become sweaty. Although the incident is in the past, his mind and body still react to the triggers associated with being in the driver’s seat.

Avoidance symptoms

Avoidance symptoms are strategies people use to try to prevent the fear and pain caused by their ongoing re-experiencing of the event. Very often people stay away from the people, places and activities that remind them of the experience. For example, a bank employee whose life was threatened during a bank robbery might find it easier to stay away from work. It is also possible to avoid thinking about an event by blocking thoughts and constantly distracting oneself. People also block painful feelings, a strategy that is called ’numbing’.

Arousal symptoms

Arousal symptoms are closely related to our highly developed survival mechanisms. Following a traumatic experience, people often find it very difficult to fall asleep and are easily woken, are often hyper-vigilant (constantly alert to danger), very jumpy and quick to anger. For example, a woman who was raped might find that she constantly scans groups of people for the perpetrator.

It is important to remember that these different symptoms of traumatic stress are signs that the person is working through a very difficult experience. In cases where the symptoms are not reducing or are getting worse, it is crucial that the person be encouraged to seek professional assistance.

Alterations in cognition and mood

The traumatic event may also be associated with negative alterations in cognition and mood. The person may struggle to recall key features of the event (dissociative amnesia) and show a persistent and distorted sense of blame towards self and others. The person may also become detached from others or from the activities he/she usually participates in and enjoys.


Source: Eagle and Kaminer (2013)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may develop when a person has been exposed to traumatic events which threaten his/her life. The range of events is very wide: assault, hijacking, bombings or natural disasters. However, all of these events happen and then they are in the past. What about people who are exposed to trauma on a continuous basis?

The notion of continuous traumatic stress (CTS) was developed in the 1980s in South Africa by Professor Gill Straker and the Sanctuaries counselling team who had been working with victims of state oppression in the apartheid era. The victims could be treated and helped with therapy, but they faced the likelihood of repeated victimisation and it became clear that a different approach was needed. Over time, a growing literature demonstrated the research being done in this area.

Eagle and Kaminer (2013) re-examined and reconceptualised the idea of continuous traumatic stress. They proposed that there are four key characteristics of CTS. The first relates to the context in which CTS occurs. This may be a conflict zone, where the threats are unpredictable and impersonal, or where there is ongoing community violence, or where people have been displaced by warfare or xenophobia. The second characteristic relates to the temporal location of the traumatic stressors. As noted above, PTSD refers to previous trauma; in CTS, affected people are primarily concerned with the present and future safety. Third, there is a need to distinguish between real and perceived or imagined threats. Victims of CTS may struggle to make this distinction and be accused of being paranoid — it is important in this situation for counsellors to be open to the idea of realistic threat, especially in circumstances where there is little protection for the victim. The fourth characteristic relates to this lack of protection. In contexts that make people vulnerable to CTS, there is often a breakdown in law and order. Indeed, in the South African apartheid context, the law was part of the problem.

Eagle and Kaminer (2013) note the need for further research into whether the CTS response should be considered pathological or adaptive under the traumatic circumstances. In addition, they note the need for changes at community and society levels, as well as alterations to existing therapeutic approaches.


•The impact of violence is felt at many levels: individual, small group, community and society as a whole.

•Violence at any level typically also impacts upon other levels; therefore a systemic or ecological model provides the most helpful explanatory approach.

•Violence may lead to fragmentation at any level of society. It may also lead to a sense of disempowerment.

•At the individual level, violence may involve fear, horror or helplessness, and be deeply distressing and potentially life changing.

•Traumatic stress is an internal phenomenon, individual to the person who experiences it. With support, most people recover within four to six weeks. However, some people continue to experience symptoms and may need professional help.

•Four broad categories of symptoms are associated with traumatic stress: re-experiencing, avoidance, arousal and alterations in cognition and mood.

Violence prevention and recovery

If the effects of violence are understood to be disempowering and fragmenting, then it stands to reason that interventions to prevent violence and to assist in dividuals, families and communities to overcome their traumatic experiences resulting from violence should be empowering and re-integrating. This process helps affected people and communities regain mastery or control over their lives. This is illustrated in Figure 20.4.

Psychologists and other mental health activists have an important role to play in helping individuals, families and communities whose lives have been disrupted by violence return to healthy social and psychological lives. These interventions differ depending on the level of the ecological model.


Figure 20.4 An approach to violence prevention

Individual-level interventions

Violence-prevention initiatives at the level of the individual include programmes teaching children and young adults how to resolve conflicts non-violently ( empowering), and helping children to identify protective places and adults in their community (linking).

The majority of services for individuals are run by counsellors whose main purpose is to reassure people that what they are feeling is normal, and to support them through the painful process of coming to terms with their traumatic experience. These counsellors are also equipped to recognise when a person needs more specialised assistance to deal with the event. In this case, counsellors refer their clients to trauma specialists who will use a range of trauma therapies to assist them.

Small-group-level interventions

Family counselling helps families to communicate more effectively and can help reduce domestic violence (empowering and linking). Other examples of small-group intervention strategies are helping youth gangs that survive by crime to find other ways to earn a living (mastery), and training teachers to identify and report child abuse responsibly (empowering).

Therapeutic group work depends on the principle that people are able to offer each other deep support and assistance during times of crisis. Support groups exist for various people, including survivors of rape, child abuse and violent crime. Where trauma occurs within a school or workplace, the most effective form of intervention might be to mobilise the care and support of others in the classroom or work team.

Community-level interventions

Projects that bring people who live in a particular area together to establish a neighbourhood watch system (linking and empowering) are a community-level intervention strategy, as are local awareness and public information campaigns.

In some cases, whole communities are affected by violence. This is particularly true in situations of civil conflict, or following acts of terrorism. In these situations it is important to mobilise local community structures such as faith organisations, schools, youth clubs and sports teams, as well as local media and businesses. Community activists can help people to pool their material and emotional resources in order to meet the challenge of trauma resulting from violence.

Societal-level interventions

Intervention strategies that deepen the democratic process in a country (mastery) and encourage people to value diversity (linking) are some ways in which peace is built (see also later in this chapter). Other examples of so cietal-level interventions are changes to the criminal justice system, such as the provision of special courts for child victims of violence (empowerment) or projects to increase the cooperation between different agencies responsible for law enforcement (empowerment) and conflict resolution in times of unrest and war (linking).

The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission gave people whose lives had been disrupted by violence an opportunity to have their suffering recognised. Similar interventions are required to provide appropriate services to veterans of South Africa’s conflict-filled past, and to provide all victims of violence with the necessary support and care to take back control over their own lives and well-being.

Integrated strategies that operate at multiple levels are the most likely to be successful. Thus, for example, an attempt to reduce the incidence of sexual violence in a community would do well to start with an intensive awareness and information campaign. This might be accompanied by special training for local police officers and social workers to assist them to identify potential problems and respond effectively. Furthermore, an anger management support group would complement these interventions.


•If the effects of violence are seen as disempowering and fragmenting, then violence and trauma interventions should be empowering and re-integrating. Interventions will differ depending on the level at which the trauma was experienced.

•At an individual level, interventions may include conflict resolution programmes and helping children to identify protective places and adults in their community. Counsellors assist and support people, and refer them to specialists if necessary.

•At the small-group level, interventions include family counselling, training for youth gang members, and training teachers to identify and respond to child abuse. Support groups can also be helpful and effective.

•At the community level, interventions include neighbourhood watch systems, as well as local awareness and public information campaigns. Local community structures (schools, faith groups), local media and businesses can also be mobilised.

•Interventions at the societal level may include changes to the criminal justice system, projects to increase cooperation between law enforcement agencies, and conflict resolution initiatives.

•Integrated strategies that operate at multiple levels are the most likely to be successful.


Source: Hoffman (2002)

A study of traumatic exposure and trauma symptoms in a South African tertiary institution reveals the links between violence and trauma in a student population.

Two-hundred-and-forty-five students completed questionnaires designed to find out what traumatic experiences each student had been exposed to in the previous year, and how those experiences had impacted upon their emotional functioning. More than two-thirds of the respondents reported one or more traumatic events, with women reporting more than men.

The most frequent event was the death of a loved one, followed by negative changes to life circumstances. After this came the witnessing of serious injury or death. Intrusive thoughts and avoidance strategies were associated with many traumatic experiences, especially violent robbery and unwanted sexual activity.

Peace psychology


The last few decades have seen a number of global problems, such as growing hostilities between and within different groups; political, religious and economic refugees fleeing their homes; and the increasing militarisation of societies. As a result, as suggested in the first half of this chapter, the field of psychology has had to critically review and reconceptualise its understanding of issues related to violence, conflict and peace. Peace studies, as a distinct field of psychology, began to emerge from about the 1980s onwards (see Box 20.6).

The discipline of psychology has tried to prevent violence and promote peace by addressing issues such as the behaviour of groups, social interactions between members of different groups (including intergroup conflict), social identity and psychosocial healing. More recently, there have been various theoretical developments that have served to shape peace psychology as a field of research and practical intervention (Christie, Tint, Winter & Wagner, 2008). Accordingly, peace psychology seeks to develop theories and practices directed at the prevention and reduction of direct and structural violence (as seen in the previous section), and the promotion of peacemaking and peacebuilding (Christie, Wagner & Winter, 2001).

This section will focus on the concepts of peacemaking and peacebuilding, review the major assumptions underpinning the theory and practice of these peace processes, and highlight the differences between the two concepts.


According to Christie et al. (2001), peacemaking refers to a range of methods directed at reducing the occurrence and intensity of direct, episodic violence (see other definitions of violence at the beginning of this chapter). Direct violence refers to violence that harms the psychological or physical well-being of individuals or groups. Examples of direct violence include genocide, torture and sexual violence during armed conflicts.

Peacemaking is commonly associated with the concept of peacekeeping, which evolved from the founding of United Nations (UN) missions to respond to environments of war across the world, and to prevent the reoccurrence of war (Langholtz & Leentjies, 2001). For example, UN missions to Africa have included the deployment of UN personnel to countries such as Somalia, Rwanda and Angola to monitor the implementation of peace agreements, to serve as a preventative military barrier between warring factions, to assist in the coordination of humanitarian aid to relief workers and the civilian population, and to allow for the safe return of refugees (Shawcross, 2001).

While both peacemaking and peacekeeping refer to actions intended to lessen the probability of individuals and nations engaging in violence, peacemaking is recognised as a more proactive approach to peace, advancing methods to encourage positive and non-violent relations among adversaries. Peacekeeping, on the other hand, generally relies on the presence of neutral forces to manage rather than resolve conflict.


Wars and disasters often leave hundreds or thousands of people destitute and emotionally traumatised. It is common in such situations for the international community to mount large-scale humanitarian crisis response programmes. Common to many such programmes is the screening of large portions of the population for signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychosocial problems, publication of self-help material, training of lay counsellors to offer care and support, as well as the establishment of various kinds of support groups and structures within communities.

Such interventions are typically gratefully received by the intended beneficiaries. However, while the psychologists who design and implement these services are convinced of their usefulness, and often argue that without such intervention a return to a healthy peaceful society would be difficult, there is seldom rigorous scientific evidence to support this argument.

Critics of these large-scale intervention programmes argue that such work has very little benefit whatsoever, and in fact may even be damaging to individuals, families and the community at large (Summerfield, 1999). This argument is based on several important points:

•The interventions are too short, and international traumatic stress experts spend too little time in the country undergoing the crisis to understand the social and historical dynamics well enough to design effective interventions.

•The psychosocial interventions tend to be based on a very particular, Western understanding of people, community and mental health. What is generally understood to be healthy or unhealthy in the US may not be appropriate when applied to people in rural Swaziland or Chile. These attempts to identify people in need of psychosocial assistance might falsely identify people who are actually coping well, and miss many people who are not.

•Even if screening processes do correctly identify people with post-traumatic stress disorder or other severe psychosocial problems, these people often do not receive the care that they need. This is because resources are typically very limited in humanitarian crises, especially once the need to supply medical treatment, housing and food is taken into account. It is of little use to provide people with a diagnosis if appropriate treatment cannot be offered as well.

•Healthy communities have inbuilt mechanisms that protect the community and its members from the effects of disaster and warfare. It seems sensible to think that these mechanisms might be far more effective than those applied from outside the community. Moreover, by imposing an external approach to healing, it is possible that the intervention will damage the long-standing internal healing mechanisms of that community.

And yet, when crises do occur, it is very difficult for the international traumatic stress community to stand back and not try to offer assistance. The challenge is to find ways of assisting in times of largescale crises that are based in the cultural, spiritual and historical context of the community in question, and which are effective and sustainable in the long term. This might include advocacy work on the part of the international community to ensure that social and spiritual structures are protected and supported in times of crisis, channelling resources to local, community-based organisations, and providing appropriate capacity building for local healers.

Conflict resolution

To a large extent, the theory and practice of peacemaking are informed by the notion of conflict resolution, which is defined as a process that

provides techniques to deal with disputes in a manner which is non-violent, avoids dominance or oppression by one party over the other, and, rather than exploiting one party, aims to meet the human needs of all (Sanson & Bretherton, 2001, p. 193).

The practice of conflict resolution uses knowledge of psychosocial processes to build on the positive potential inherent in conflict, and to minimise its destructive consequences (Sanson & Bretherton, 2001). This approach coincides with the values of peace. It uses methods that promote dialogue, empathy and win—win consequences, and it acknowledges the influence of the social context within which conflict is embedded.

Sanson and Bretherton (2001) have identified four basic principles that underlie most approaches to conflict resolution:

•Conflict resolution is supported by cooperation and not competition.

•Integrative solutions are pursued through mediation and direct negotiation.

•The interests of all parties are understood and responded to as they are all considered to be equally legitimate.

•Both the conflict resolution process and its outcome are non-violent.

The application of these principles includes involving an objective third party to act as a mediator, and employing active listening skills to ensure that the interests of all parties are heard. It also involves acknowledging emotions and encouraging their responsible expression. Other strategies include the use of brainstorming to generate creative solutions, and the promotion of ’I/we’ statements to avoid criticism or blaming (e.g. ’I need …’ or ’We are concerned about …’).

The cultural context of peacemaking

Much of the theory on conflict resolution has been developed in North America and reveals a clear lack of sensitivity to the influence of the sociocultural context in conflict resolution processes. There is thus a growing awareness of the need to integrate ideas, practices and experiences of multiple cultures and contexts into existing peacemaking knowledge.

The contemporary viewpoint emphasises that people’s ideas about conflict and conflict resolution are shaped by their specific cultural contexts. For example, Pederson (2001) observed that cultures outside of Western settings typically display a collectivist approach to conflict resolution. In these contexts, the emphasis is placed on social cohesion, reciprocal role obligations, and ritual and spirituality to symbolise peace settlements. In contrast, Western cultures typically attach less value to the significance of context. They tend to take an individualistic perspective, where individual freedom, rights and autonomy, a controlling attitude to confrontation, and the confidentiality of negotiations are emphasised. However, one approach is not necessarily more effective than the other; instead, this discussion cautions against cultural insularity, and encourages the maintenance of cultural integrity in seeking solutions to conflict between groups.


The early conceptual development of peace psychology was largely influenced by the cold war era and the hegemony of Euro-American psychology. The Cold War (1947—1991) refers to the continuing political conflict and tension between the US and the Soviet Union following World War II. Against this backdrop, most American peace psychologists focused their attention on the prevention of nuclear war (see Christie et al., 2008), while issues related to social reconstruction were considered to be primarily the domain of political scientists and politicians.

Consequently, psychological scholarship on peace and war during this time remained limited to the levels of theoretical analysis, research and application. In South Africa, organised professional psychology maintained this conceptual position, sometimes actively colluding with the ideology of racism prior to and during the apartheid era (see Suffla, Stevens & Seedat, 2001).

In contrast, groups of progressive psychologists in other parts of Africa and Latin America increasingly challenged the status quo of mainstream psychology and, in particular, its exclusion of social transformation as a goal. Influenced by the ideas of scholars such as Frantz Fanon (see Fanon, 1967), critique by these groups gave shape to the conception of liberation psychology, a form of peace psychology that focuses on activism towards promoting social justice (see Dawes, 2001). The expansion of liberation discourses within psychology, together with the shifting global and national landscape of conflict and violence, compelled peace psychology to reconceptualise its theoretical basis. Although still questioned by some, the current conceptualisation of peace psychology mainstreams the principle of social justice.

The need for cultural sensitivity is evident in reported psychosocial interventions during times of conflict and post-conflict reconstruction. In reflecting on her ex periences of trauma reduction work under war conditions in Bosnia, Agger (2001) stressed the value of incorporating indigenous healing methods into efforts to reduce the traumatising effects of conflict and violence. Likewise, in their work on demobilising and socially reintegrating former child soldiers in Angola after the 1992 to 1994 conflict, Wessells and Monteiro (2001) emphasised the inclusion of local communities and culture in the construction of a culturally centred approach to healing.

In this respect, the National Peace Accord Trust in South Africa has adopted an innovative approach to addressing the social and emotional scars of militarised youth. Their approach recognises that conventional counselling methods may be ineffective in this context and instead draws together former enemies in a process of wilderness therapy in the Drakensberg Mountains of KwaZulu-Natal (Schell-Faucon, 2001). Wilderness therapy provides space for groups of participants to work through the effects of violence; it aims to promote open communication, self-reliance, self-respect and assertiveness.

Wessells and Monteiro (2001) strongly suggest that the political, economic and social strategies typically implemented to facilitate the transition from violence to peace must include psychosocial interventions to interrupt cycles of violence and promote reconciliation. In this way, the role of psychologists in reconciliation and reconstruction in the aftermath of conflict is highlighted.

Reconciliation within the peace framework

Reconciliation, including the concepts of truth, forgiveness and healing, is considered to be central to the psychological and spiritual dimensions of peacemaking. Reconciliation is thought to rest on the process of rebuilding relationships and should include a range of actions (Hamber & Kelly, 2004). These actions include:

•developing a shared vision of an interdependent and fair society

•acknowledging and dealing with the past

•building positive relationships

•significant cultural and attitudinal change

•substantial social, economic and political change (Hamber & Kelly, 2004).

Many psychologists agree that reconciliation necessarily implies the expression of a range of painful emotions, including anger, grief and guilt (De la Rey, 2001).

The reconciliation process is a frequent feature of truth commissions (Crawford, 2000; De la Rey, 2001). According to Crawford (2000), truth commissions attempt to heal the wounds of the past though the recognition of victims’ pain, the acknowledgement of wrongdoing by perpetrators, and the disclosure of the truth about past events. A local example is the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) (see Box 20.7). Among other things, the TRC was intended to provide the opportunity for victims to publicly tell their stories of human rights abuses in a supportive context and to grant amnesty to perpetrators of human rights abuse who offered full disclosure about the crimes that they had committed. Individual, community and national healing and reconciliation were thus promoted. Many South Africans consider the TRC to have ultimately played only a marginal role in the psychosocial, political, economic and social reconstruction process of South African society. On the other hand, some observers have suggested that, through public truth telling, the TRC served as an adequately cathartic medium, particularly for black South Africans (e.g. Knox & Quirk, 2000).

In this regard, psychologists provided support to some of the victims testifying at public hearings. Psychologists also provided testimony at special hearings on children, youth, women and the health sector, conducted assessments of some perpetrators, and to some extent contributed to scholarly debate on the TRC and the issue of reconciliation.

When successful, peacemaking can contribute to the building of a peaceful society — one in which the structural arrangements and cultural narratives are directed at promoting human security and well-being, and reducing inequality and oppression.


The promulgation of the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Bill in 1995 formalised a 17-member commission to facilitate a truth and recovery process aimed at reconciliation. The mandate of the TRC, as a statutory agent of national unity and reconciliation, was to:

•establish as complete a picture as possible of the nature, causes and extent of past gross human rights violations

•provide reparation and rehabilitation to victims of abuse

•grant amnesty to perpetrators of human rights abuses who offer full disclosure about the crimes that they committed

•formulate a set of recommendations to the President with respect to the creation of institutions conducive to a stable and fair society, and measures to prevent future human rights violations

•compile a report publicising the proceedings and findings of the TRC.

To assist in the implementation of these objectives, the legislation established three committees within the TRC:

•the Committee on Human Rights Violations — to conduct public hearings throughout the country

•the Committee on Amnesty — to consider applications for amnesty from those who have committed political crimes

•the Committee on Reparation and Rehabilitation of Victims — to formulate recommendations on how to implement a reparations policy (De la Rey, 2001).

Available literature on the TRC includes a number of analytical commentaries on the process. This body of literature can be examined to gain a more critical understanding of the overall TRC process. (See De la Rey, 2001; Foster, 2000; Foster & Nicholas, 2000; Hamber, 1995; James & Van der Vijver, 2001; Van der Merwe & Chapman, 2008.)


•Peace psychology emerged from the 1980s in response to global problems and hostilities. This discipline has tried to prevent violence and promote peace by various means. More recently, there have been various theoretical developments that have shaped peace psychology as a field of research and practical intervention.

•Peacemaking refers to a range of methods directed at reducing the occurrence and intensity of direct, episodic violence. It is commonly associated with the concept of peacekeeping. Both are intended to reduce the likelihood of violence, but peacemaking is a more proactive approach.

•Conflict resolution deals with disputes in a non-violent and fair manner. It aims to minimise the destructive consequences of conflict and violence. There are four basic principles that underlie most approaches to conflict resolution: cooperation, not competition; mediation and direct negotiation; seeing the interests of all parties as equally legitimate; and ensuring that both the process and its outcome are non-violent.

•Most of the conflict resolution theory is Western based and not sensitive to the influence of the sociocultural context in conflict resolution processes. Cultures outside of Western settings typically display a collectivist approach to conflict resolution. Various approaches may be effective. Psychosocial interventions should be included in order to interrupt cycles of violence and promote reconciliation.

•Reconciliation, including the concepts of truth, forgiveness and healing, is considered to be central to the psychological and spiritual dimensions of peacemaking. Reconciliation processes are frequently evident in truth commissions.


Peacebuilding aims to alleviate structural violence. Structural violence refers to the social domination, political oppression and economic exploitation of individuals and groups (Montiel, 2001) (see ’State and collective violence’ earlier in this chapter). Some examples of structural violence in the 21st century include globalisation (which has contributed to vast inequalities in wealth — see Chapter 18) and the coercive influence of militarisation.

It is known that factors such as excessive concentrations of political power and social privilege tend to contribute to conflict between groups. Clearly then, efforts to redress these inequalities should entail the creation of local, regional and global conditions conducive to social transformation. Peacebuilding is thus conceptualised as:

a movement towards social justice, which occurs when political structures become more inclusive by giving voice to those who have been marginalised in decisions that affect their well-being, and economic structures become transformed so that those who have been exploited gain greater access to material resources that satisfy their basic needs (Christie, 2001, p. 277).

Peacebuilding initiatives are not only directed at structural reconstruction, but also at the transformation of cultural discourses that maintain oppression and exploitation; they are thus intended to address the root causes of the conflict (Hamber & Kelly, 2004). Christie (2001) argues that peacebuilding considers the broad, macro-level origins of violence, so that it can bring about the development and execution of a critical consciousness that challenges the existing situation. Interventions may include socioeconomic and community development, building effective government and social reconstruction, among others (Hamber & Kelly, 2004). This position stresses the idea that a new social order must address peace not only in terms of preventing or resolving conflict, but also in terms of pursuing social justice. While they appear to be theoretically distinct concepts, peacemaking and peacebuilding are considered to represent an interlocking system of peace (Christie et al., 2001; Hamber & Kelly, 2004) (see Table 20.1).

Table 20.1 Differences between peacemaking and peacebuilding (adapted from Christie et al., 2001)



Addressing direct violence

Addressing structural violence

Focusing on non-violent means

Focusing on socially just ends

Preventing violence

Promoting social justice

Responding to the threat/use of violence

Responding to long-term structural inequalities

Dominant themes in peacebuilding

A comprehensive overview of scholarship on the various understandings and applications of peacebuilding identifies some dominant themes (Christie, 2001):

•challenges to dominant cultural discourses

•the honouring of multiple voices and the coconstruction of social change

•the adoption of an activist agenda

•the sustainable satisfaction of basic human needs.

These will be examined in detail below.

Challenges to dominant cultural discourses

Challenges to dominant cultural discourses question those discourses that support structural violence. For example, peace psychology has been criticised for lacking a gender perspective, thereby marginalising the views and contributions of women in peacebuilding efforts (McKay & De la Rey, 2001). Despite evidence that demonstrates women’s central role in the promotion of peace (see Box 20.8), the dominant gender discourses on peace and violence continue to place women as merely victims and/or survivors of violence (Suffla & Seedat, 2003). It is thus argued that peace psychology needs to include women’s perspectives at all levels of theory and practice.

The honouring of multiple voices and the co-construction of social change

The second theme foregrounds the idea that peacebuilding involves multiple social agents, and that social change is co-constructed. In terms of knowledge production, for example, the ways in which knowledge is produced, transformed and applied in certain communities are often marginalised in favour of modern scientific knowledge (Le Grange, 2000). Silences have been imposed on cultures that hold different ideas about peace and social justice.

The preferred paradigm of peacemaking takes multiple voices into account, making sure no-one is excluded. It also recognises that knowledge is embedded in a system of social, cultural and economic representations, and argues for the merging of scientific and indigenous knowledge systems.

The adoption of an activist agenda

As a form of peace psychology, liberation psychology is concerned with issues of social empowerment, emancipation and transformation, and the needs of the politically and economically oppressed (Dawes, 2001). These concerns can be seen in the third theme of peacebuilding, which is activism as an essential component in the pursuit of social justice and the process of social change. Dawes (2001) and Suffla et al. (2001) detail the activist agenda that informed the contributions of groups of progressive South African psychologists in response to the violence of apartheid, prior to the transition to democracy in 1994. Primarily, the activism of these psychologists involved efforts to dismantle apartheid and to induce social transformation. They called attention to the psychological effects of human rights violations, and transferred psychological skills to lay helpers so as to enable victims and survivors of violence to access support services. For a detailed description and discussion of the emergence of liberation psychology within the South African context, see: Dawes (2001), Nicholas and Cooper (1990), Seedat (1997) and Suffla et al. (2001).


Peacebuilding includes a focus on strengthening local level capacity as a way of building sustainable social, political and economic structures in post-conflict societies (Hamber & Kelly, 2004). This motivation is underpinned by the contention that peacebuilding that is characterised by participation and ownership of the process of social change is more likely to contribute to enduring peace (Hamber & Kelly, 2004).

An excellent example of local capacity development is the case of a group of black women volunteers involved in peace and safety promotion work within a historically marginalised context in South Africa (Suffla & Seedat, 2003). Through their association with the Neighbourhood-based Safety Promotion Programme, implemented by the University of South Africa’s Institute for Social and Health Sciences, the women have adopted the principles of equality, peace and development as an organising framework for their violence prevention and peace promotion efforts. Their activities are supported by ongoing training, and include environmental upgrading, social development and support through a range of activity groups, home visitation, home-based after-care, advocacy and lobbying. The programme serves to nurture and promote local level peace processes, thereby mainstreaming the contributions of one of the most marginalised groups in South Africa.

The participation of local peace agents supports the idea that social change is co-constructed. Research directed at examining the women’s accounts of their involvement in peace promotion work indicated that they construct their contribution in the following ways (Suffla & Seedat, 2003):

•Addressing the legacy of apartheid

•Building a culture of human rights

•Organically expressing historical roles

•Empowering individuals and groups.

Research of this nature acknowledges the validity and range of the knowledge and perspectives of women, thereby challenging the dominant cultural narratives that unwittingly support structural violence.

The sustainable satisfaction of basic human needs

Finally, the notion of peacebuilding as the sustainable satisfaction of basic human needs is central to many discussions on peacebuilding. Structural violence in evitably results in certain people being deprived of food, shelter, health care and other resources essential for normal human development and growth. According to Montiel (2001, p. 285), structural peacebuilding therefore necessarily implies social arrangements wherein ’all groups have more equitable control over politico-economic resources needed to satisfy basic needs’.

As discussed earlier in this chapter, various approaches have been proposed to ensure equal access to resources. These have included empowerment-oriented interventions at the individual level and the small-group level (e.g. skills training), the community level (e.g. advocacy and lobbying) and at the societal level (e.g. the development of cooperatives) (Webster & Perkins, 2001).

Actions that psychologists can employ to promote peace

Psychologists can contribute to peace processes in a number of ways. Some of these measures overlap with the violence-related interventions discussed earlier in this chapter. Actions may include peace education directed at the development of conflict resolution skills, psychosocial interventions to reduce conflict within families and communities, and the ongoing development of knowledge on the theory and practice of conflict, violence and peace.

Psychologists can also contribute through participation in the public arena, reaching larger numbers of people, formulating social policy aimed at the institutionalisation of social justice, and extending the level at which they can intervene (Wessells, Schwebel & Anderson, 2001).

Wessells et al. (2001) propose four avenues for accomplishing these goals:

1.Peace psychologists should engage in sensitisation or consciousness raising to contribute to agenda setting and public dialogue. This can be done through the utilisation and dissemination of psychological knowledge and skills, such as drawing attention to the psychosocial consequences of human rights abuse through the mass media.

2.Peace psychologists should offer expertise on issues of social justice and peace. Consultation services could include a focus on training, education, research, programme design and evaluation, and human rights monitoring.

3.Peace psychologists should see themselves as activists. Projects of activism would consider issues of nonviolence, empowerment and mobilisation, critical discourse at multiple levels, and the establishment of psychological organisations committed to mobilising for peace.

4.Peace psychology is considered to have an influential role to play with respect to public policy. Peace psychologists could intervene at this level through conducting research to inform policy development, and offering psychologically informed critiques of existing policies. They could also monitor policies, mobilise public opposition to destructive policies and advocate for policies based on sound psychological knowledge.

In effect, such a framework for action translates into a position that constructs peace as a political process and rejects the notion of neutrality at the levels of both science and practice.


Figure 20.5 Collective peace initiatives may be political (left), or non-partisan (right)


•Peacebuilding aims to alleviate structural violence which is the social domination, political oppression and economic exploitation of individuals and groups. Its goal is social justice.

•Peacebuilding is aimed at structural reconstruction and transformation of cultural discourses that maintain oppression and exploitation.

•There are several dominant themes in peacebuilding:

”challenges to dominant cultural discourses

”involving multiple voices because social change is co-constructed

”including an activist agenda (e.g. liberation psychology)

”the sustainable satisfaction of basic human needs.

•Psychologists can contribute to peace processes in a number of ways: peace education, psychosocial interventions to reduce conflict, and ongoing development of the theory and practice of conflict, violence and peace.

•Psychologists can also contribute through participation in the public arena:

”consciousness raising to contribute to agenda setting and public dialogue

”offering expertise on issues of social justice and peace

”engaging in peace activism

”informing public policy development through research and critique of existing policy.


Violence prevention and care for survivors of violence are deeply interrelated, as are concepts of peacemaking and peacebuilding. Thus, efforts to mitigate and resolve conflict are inextricably linked to the process of transforming unjust social conditions into more equitable and peaceful structures. In a just society, healthy people can and do live together without violence. Violence prevention ensures that fewer people will be hurt by traumatic ex periences, and healing the damage done by trauma plays an important role in preventing future violence.

Work in the fields of violence, traumatic stress and peace psychology represents a major challenge to social scientists and mental health workers today. There are a number of important factors to be careful of in relation to peace psychology. These include cautions against:

•cultural insularity and the resultant marginalisation of voices and knowledge located outside the dominant paradigm

•the universal application of dominant values and traditions

•polarisation of different knowledge systems

•an inattentiveness to the contextual dimensions of peace processes.

It is important for psychologists to develop a more critical conception of the role of psychology in building peace. The 21st century continues to be characterised by warfare, atrocities against women and children, ethnic conflict and severely oppressive social structures. Psychology therefore needs to continue to question and expand its orientation towards social justice. The pursuit of social justice and the quest for human security, particularly as it relates to the African context, should indeed be a central concern and responsibility of psychology in Africa.


Imagearousal symptoms: symptoms of traumatic stress where, for example, people often find it very difficult to fall asleep and are easily woken, are constantly alert to danger, very jumpy and quick to anger

Imageavoidance symptoms: symptoms of traumatic stress whereby people try to avoid the fear and pain caused by their ongoing re-experiencing of an event

Imageconflict resolution: a process that deals with disputes in a non-violent manner, avoiding dominance of one party over the other and aiming to meet the human needs of all

Imagedirect violence: violence that harms the psychological or physical well-being of individuals or groups

Imagedisempowerment: people’s inability to fulfil their appropriate functions, personally, in their families, in their communities and in society more generally

Imagedissociation: mental condition involving loss of integration of functions of the consciousness; can affect identity, memory, sensory functions, motor functions and cognitive functions

Imagedomestic violence: acts of violence such as active abuse or neglect of children, battery of spouses or the abuse of elderly people that occurs within families and homes, and between people living close together

Imagepeacemaking: a range of methods directed at reducing the occurrence and intensity of direct, episodic violence

Imagefragmentation: the breaking of important linkages at any level of society in the face of violence

Imageliberation psychology: a form of peace psychology that is concerned with issues of social empowerment, emancipation and transformation, and the needs of the politically and economically oppressed

Imagemodelling: a process whereby people learn behaviours by watching others

Imagepeacebuilding: a process that aims to alleviate structural violence by transforming oppressive cultures and changing them into just and inclusive political and economic systems

Imagepeacekeeping: a process where the presence of neutral forces is used to prevent or decrease episodes of violence in contexts characterised by conflict and hostility

Imagepeace psychology: a distinct field of psychology that seeks to develop theories and practices directed at the prevention and reduction of direct and structural violence, and the promotion of peacemaking and peacebuilding

Imagere-experiencing symptoms: thoughts, feelings, physiological responses and behaviours that are associated with a traumatic event and remain with a person long after that person has experienced the traumatic event

Imagereinforcement: occurs when particular behaviours are rewarded or punished

Imageself-directed violence: acts of violence that are directed towards the self, most notably suicide and self-mutilation

Imagesexual violence: acts of violence that take on a sexual form, such as rape, sexual assault, child sexual abuse, molestation, or sexual harassment in the workplace or other social arenas

Imagesocio-biological explanations of violence: explanations that argue that human beings, like most other animals, have an innate capacity for violence

Imagestate and collective violence: acts of violence that occur within and between nations

Imagestructural violence: the social domination, political oppression and economic exploitation of individuals and groups

Imagetraumatic amnesia: memory loss following a traumatic experience

Imageviolence for material gain: acts of violence, such as muggings, armed robberies, hijackings and cash-intransit heists that are motivated by the desire for material gain


Multiple choice questions

1.According to NIMMS, what is the most common age range for death as a result of non-natural causes?

a)5 to 14 years

b)15 to 24 years

c)25 to 34 years

d)35 to 44 years.

2.According to the World Health Organization’s definition of violence, which of the following acts would not be considered violent?

a)a teacher spanking a naughty child

b)a parent spanking a naughty child

c)accidentally knocking a child over in the playground

d)knocking a child over in a playground fight.

3.What is the name given to models that present society as having multiple, hierarchically arranged levels?

a)scientific models

b)social learning theory models

c)social identity theory models

d)ecological models.

4.Which of the following is an avoidance symptom of traumatic stress as described by the American Psychiatric Association (2013)?



c)difficulty concentrating

d)not wanting to talk about the experience.

5.According to the American Psychiatric Association (2013), how long does it typically take a healthy person to recover from a single traumatic experience?

a)four to six weeks

b)four to six months

c)four to six years

d)most people never recover from traumatic experiences.

6.Peace psychology is aimed at:

a)the reduction of direct and structural violence

b)conflict resolution

c)the promotion of social justice

d)all of the above are correct.

7.The core principles of conflict resolution include:

a)empathy and unconditional positive regard

b)psychosocial resolution


d)’I/we’ statements.

8.The dominant themes underlying the application of peacebuilding include:




d)the satisfaction of psychosocial needs.

9.The focus on women’s contributions to peace processes is important because:

a)peace psychology always acknowledges women

b)women are peacemakers by nature c) more women than men practice traditional healing

d)none of the above is correct.

10.Liberation psychology is concerned with:

a)human security

b)indigenous knowledge systems

c)social justice

d)all of the above are correct.

Short-answer questions

1.List the five broad categories of violence mentioned in this chapter, and provide examples of each.

2.Describe a situation that you have witnessed or read about where a group of people have perpetrated an act of violence. Provide an explanation for this event based upon what you have read in this chapter about how people in groups behave.

3.Consider the case of a child being severely beaten at school. How do the concepts of ’disempowerment’ and ’fragmentation’ apply to this situation?

4.Based on the case described in question 3, outline an effective violence prevention intervention for this situation.

5.What is peace psychology and what are some of the issues that it aims to address?

6.Imagine that you are a peace psychologist, and have been selected to mediate between two warring factions in South Africa. The dispute appears to be related to the ownership of land. Describe your strategy and provide a rationale for your plan of action.

7.Discuss the role of peace psychologists in the pursuit of social justice in the African context.

8.Present your opinion of the form that the peace process could take in contexts currently embroiled in conflict (e.g. the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East, or the India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir).

9.How would you support the contributions of South African women to national peace processes?


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