Inclusive Political Settlements: Theory and Practice of Transforming Conflict

We held our first PSRP Summer School, Inclusive Political Settlements: Theory and Practice of Transforming Conflict in Edinburgh, 20 – 22 June 2015. During these three days, we had the pleasure to host 25 participants from 14 different countries and five continents. This was not only a great opportunity to debate the research questions and research output of our programme. It also provided a platform to share innovative approaches and challenges faced by practitioners and researchers addressing issues related inclusion and conflict transformation in various contexts.

The summary below was put together by Astrid Jamar and the Summer School rapporteurs, Sissela Matzner, Jenna Sapiano and Sean Molloy.

The first day of the summer school focused on questions of inclusion and exclusion in past and present political settlements. In his keynote lecture, Professor Samuel Hickey, from the University of Manchester, argued that the study of political settlements and the power brokering underlying them can help trace pathways to development. In other words, political settlement analysis, while not offering a theory with generalisable answers, can be a useful middle range theory to assess the context of political settlements and generate advice on how development can take place from there. A key point in Professor Christine Bell’s conclusion, Principal Investigator of the PRSP at the University of Edinburgh, in her keynote talk on ‘what we talk about when we talk about political settlements’, was the unexpected possibility of inclusion for ‘non-aligned minorities’ minorities and women at the negotiating table where presence is increasingly about identity rather than forms of ‘merit’.

The participant panels alternated between research papers by students, senior academics, and practitioners from the public sector and NGOs.

This mix of perspectives from theory and the field – sometimes combined – provided a rich picture of what inclusion and exclusion mean in practice. Of particular interest were the reports from field experience and the projects engaging with locals affected by  conflict and peace agreements, but often excluded from the political settlements.

A second strand of papers was based on work experience in the public sector. Presenters grappled with identifying the groups excluded from political settlements, such as young people in Nepal, and those seizing the political system, such as the elites in Pakistan. They also addressed the stumbling blocks for peace, and the challenge of facilitating dialogue between insider and outsider groups. Finally, the first day on inclusion and exclusion was completed with more theoretical papers. One presenter made interesting analogies between occupation and dispossession during Antiquity and in the contemporary era of indigenous-rights struggles in Canada. Another asked why existing research does not address the question of how organisations engaged in conflict keep competing for control after the violence ended and peace was agreed.


The second day of the summer school was on ‘Gender and Political Settlements’. Professor Fionnuala Ni Aolain, of the University of Ulster, spoke about political settlements and peacebuilding from a feminist perspective. Prof Ni Aolain, as a critical feminist, observed that much of the foundation political settlements literature leaves out woman as people, and fails to give necessary space to substantive aspects of femininity.

The existing presumption that political settlements include women, she argued, has to be critically interrogated as it is not clear that this is the case. Understanding the gaps that exist for women is necessary to understand how and why it is that political settlements fail to deliver even when women seem to be included.

Women have little or no real access, in the context of political settlement processes, and even when women are able to gain access to power points, they have limited capacity to change the rules of the game. Prof Ni Aolin called for more consideration to be given to the place of gender in the political settlement literature, how and when women become visible in the conflict processes, and to look at the consequences of that space being the hot spot of engagement (read more here).

The second speaker, Dr Catherine O’Rourke, also of the University of Ulster, spoke on the gendered shortcomings of the political settlements literature including conceptual, epistemological, methodological and political challenges. She proposed that international law norms on gender equality can be useful for negotiating inclusion. Her principal concern was with the definition of ‘elite’, which, she argues needs to be more reflective. The consequences of conceptualising some groups as elite and others as non-elite is that elites tend to be primarily male, as maleness is as much a category of elite, as elite is a category of male. Her second concern was with the assumption in political settlements literature that it is possible to apolitically read the power dynamics in a setting (read more here).

The final speaker of the day was Dr Zoe Marks, from the Centre for African Studies at the University of Edinburgh, whose presentation focused on armed conflict and peace processes. As a starting place, Dr Marks considered the relationship between war and political settlements, where war is the violent contestation of the political settlement. Women in armed groups highlight the gender imbalances in political settlements. Gender inclusion is a last bastion of the peace and security agenda. Female representatives are overwhelming excluded in armed groups’ peace negotiation delegations. They are also excluded from power-sharing arrangements and DDR programmes. While the vast majority of rebel groups have women who are active participants (20-40%), in peace talks the status quo institutional structures continue to dominate (see more about her project on gender here).

The participants presented creative approaches based on their experiences of involvement  in peacebuilding efforts in the Philippines and Myanmar. One practitioner introduced a collaboration with Filipino filmmakers to spark dialogue, overcome stereotypes, and work towards different narratives of Mindanao. Another presented the challenges ahead of implementing gender quotas in Myanmar, asking whether women, in the absence of a mobilized women’s rights movement and sustained funding to operate strategically, can make the most of this policy opportunity. Others presented their conceptual and empirical research related to topics such as territorial disputes and secessionist efforts, the role of the Irish Republican Movement in relations to conflict transformation in Northern Ireland, and the limited organizational learning capacities of the United Nations peacebuilding efforts.

The focus of day three was on measuring transformation. Facets of this issue which were discussed throughout the day included the indicators used to measure transformation, the processes involved in defining what is being measured, who is involved in both the processes of identification and measurement, and what methods of evaluation are or could be used.


Professor Roger MacGinty explored the possibilities of using local indicators to measure peace. Implicit in the argument is a partial rejection of current approaches to quantifying peace and provided a useful point of departure for the day’s discussions. When we think of measuring transformation we are increasingly drawn towards an array of broad indicators such as the presence of or improvements in respect for the rule of law, absence of violence, democracy, and levels of criminality. MacGinty asserts that these are in fact often measurements of a negative peace. Inherent in such approaches is a gap between what is continually being advocated by academic and practitioner communities respectively- the need for conflict sensitivity- and how we attempt to measure transformation (see more about the Everyday Peace Indicators Project).

Colleen Duggan and Natalia Cepeda, both of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia, focused on the difficulties of measuring transformation in the context of political settlements. Adopting a victim-centred lens through a focus on reparations, the presentation explored both the complexity of political settlements and the entrepreneurial attempts of Colombians’ to integrate victims into political settlement design. While transitional justice mechanisms (TJM) in the past have often tended to be legalistic and top-down, overlooking the needs and desires of victims, the approach in Colombia is a more bottom-up approach in such a way that not only addresses the past but attempts to transform the future. Victims are enabled to participate not only in the processes, but also in the design of TJM, including what issues should be dealt with and what reparations should look like.

Both presentations align with the general focus on political settlements which attempt to better understand the realities on the ground. They can be understood as approaches which reject top down interventions.

Measuring transformation, therefore, is itself context specific, in the sense that those on the ground are best placed to direct what it is that should be transformed.

The indicators we use, it follows, are correctly dictated by the people of the countries in question and not superimposed by those from another. AAA_3547

Presentations on this last day focussed on case studies engaging with political settlement literature and based on fieldwork undertaken in Timor-Leste, Bougainville, South Sudan and the UN mission in Haiti. The first participant asked how the character of a political settlement affects the subsequent stability or instability of a polity. The researcher focusing on South Sudan examined dynamics of exclusion and inclusion in peacebuilding processes and education policies. The last panel addressed the very topical case of the Colombian conflict and peacebuilding process. It specifically questioned whether victim inclusion enhances elite negotiations and political settlements of armed conflict, and how gaps between normative demand for participation, victim engagement, and inclusive victim consciousness can be addressed. Another participant drew attention to how land rights and distribution patterns are left out of transitional justice and peacebuilding processes.  The last participant concluded that dynamics of the conflict and political settlements in Colombia vary across regions. Therefore, case studies need to look closely at local actors and dynamics at sub-national levels. Particularly, public policies should focus on governance arrangements that allow institutions to attend civil society need in the sub-national regions, rather than in on-size-fits-all solutions designed at national level.

Overall the first PRSP Summer School offered us the opportunity to present and discuss our research findings to a group of scholars and practitioners in the field.  At the same time, it provided a chance to learn more about the pressing problems in the field that practitioners experience, which will shape our future research directions on the programme. There is no doubt that these stimulating exchanges sparked future research collaboration that will continue bridging the gaps in-between academia and practitioners’ challenges.

We wish to thank the Global Justice Academy and the Research Support Fund, School of Law for their support in the organization of the Summer School.

See the recorded lectures of all Guest Speakers here