Peace Academics

Q) What jobs did you do before this one?

A) I have been both an academic and a peace and conflict resolution practitioner in a range of different organisations. I was director of the Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, at the University of Queensland, before coming to Otago. Before that I was secretary general of International Alert

(IA) in London, which is one of the world’s biggest international non­-governmental organisations working on peace and conflict issues.

Q) Why did you choose this job?

A) In order to develop New Zealand’s first postgraduate centre in peace and conflict studies. Such centres are important to develop high quality research and practice skills in order to prevent direct and indirect violence.

Q) How did you get into it and when?

A) I am a sociologist and political scientist by background. I turned myself into a peace and conflict studies expert in the mid ­1990s when I became head of the Peace Research Centre at the Australian National University, Canberra.

Q) What qualifications and training did you need?

A) I would advise anyone interested in work in this area to do a bachelors degree in a social science or a natural science, with a humanistic bent, and then do a master’s in peace and conflict studies to get advanced theory and practice skills.

Q) What personal skills do you need?

A) You need to be able to combine heart and mind. There is so much preventable violence in the world. The challenge is to identify the origins of hatred and violence at home and abroad and then harness the best analytic and empathetic skills you can, to prevent suffering that flows from prejudice and hatred.

Q) Any physical requirements?

A) Development and peace­building work in war­torn societies requires high levels of hopefulness, stamina and resilience. Dealing with people who are dispirited and unable to see any bright future requires individuals who are able to generate reality­ based optimism.

Q) What do you do each day?

A) I read, teach, research and write. I also advise civil society organisations and governments when asked. I participate in public debates and discussions on peace and conflict issues in order to establish bridges between ‘‘town and gown” on peace, conflict, sustainable development and good governance issues.

Q) What is the most challenging aspect?

A) Not having enough time to do all that needs to be done. The bureaucratic needs of modern universities absorb a lot of time and energy, time that could be directed to more research, more practice and more community engagement.

Q) What was your most interesting assignment?

A) Close to home, maybe this was being appointed to the Government Defence Committee of Inquiry in the mid­1980s, which was charged with working out how New Zealanders wished to be defended, given our anti­nuclear policy. It was a chance to hear individual citizens talk about fear, actual or imagined threat, and how they wished to be protected.

Q) What’s something people generally don’t know about the job?

A) It’s not 9am-­5pm. I’m on several international boards, and chair the Research Advisory Committee of the Global Peace Index. When we are finalising reports etc I often have teleconferences/conferences, Skype sessions that take place in the middle of the night so that we can talk to people in four or five different time zones.

Q) Has your life ever been in Danger?

A) Yes, anyone doing this work will find themselves in dangerous and challenging situations. When I first visited Bujumbura in Burundi in 2000, there was a very active insurgency taking place and one night I remember very vividly mortars falling very close to our house and armed militia running up and down the street beside us.

Q) New Zealand helped resolve regional troubles in Bougainville. Could it do more?

A) Yes, we should be doing a lot more of this kind of work in the southwest Pacific and in other parts of the world which might require the good offices of a respected and valued – relatively neutral – intermediary. Norway has developed a unit in its foreign ministry dedicated to third party intervention/facilitation and problem solving competence. There is absolutely no reason why New Zealand could not develop a similar unit in our Ministry of Foreign Affairs, assisted by organisations such as ours, to help counter impending or actual violent conflict.

Q) How has the national centre developed?

A) I arrived in 2009 to a small bungalow on Albany St. There was just me and a personal assistant for the first few months. I appointed two wonderful postdoctoral fellows from Sweden, and developed a teaching curriculum. From these small beginnings – and with some wonderful support from the Aotearoa­ New Zealand Peace and Conflict Studies Trust, private philanthropy and support from the Global Futures Centre Trust – we now have five permanent and two contract staff. From 10 students in 2010 we now have 36 postgraduate diploma and master’s students and 25 PhDs and we now occupy two larger houses in Castle St.

Q) Can your centre help resolve damaging conflicts, which sometimes involve the massacre of innocents?

A) Our research is helpful to peace processes in many different ways. In my own work on development and peace building, I have discovered that peace agreements are more likely to endure if they are rooted in custom and tradition and accompanied by material incentive sufficient to provide a peace dividend to former warring parties.

Q) What are the highs of the job?

A) There is nothing more satisfying than helping to catalyse difficult conversations between parties in conflict, here and overseas.

Q)What is the salary?

A)The salary band for peace and conflict academics ranges from $72,000 to $157,000.

Source: Otago Daily Times

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