‘Our job is to show students the bigger picture,’ says Peace Studies lecturer
How a talent for languages led to a love of Brazil and a passion for social justice
In a world dominated by politics and the polarising effects of social media, where opinion often trumps fact, the ability to see ‘the bigger picture’ has never been more potent. As the US - and the world - prepares to enter a new political era, a renaissance in the desire for a deeper understanding of law, government and public policy making beckons.
If you have ever hankered after a deeper understanding of world politics, why wars are fought, why governments adopt certain policies, why some groups of people experience inequality and persecution and, ultimately how you, as an individual, can affect change in these areas, then the University of Bradford’s Peace Studies and International Development programme provides a compass with which to navigate this intellectual, ethical and practical terrain.
This is the second in a series of features on University of Bradford academics and their research. Read the full version of this article here.
As Senior Lecturer in Peace Studies in the School of Social Sciences (Faculty of Management, Law and Social Sciences) Dr Fiona Macaulay sees herself not just as teacher and mentor but also as a changemaker, a peacemaker and, when necessary, a troublemaker, in the sense of challenging unjust situations. Alongside her day job, she also runs PeaceJam in the UK, which works with 14 Nobel Peace Prize winners to inspire young people to social action, through peace education. PeaceJam was founded in 1996 in the USA, and Dr Macaulay brought it to the UK in 2006, where it ran from the Peace Studies department.
“People don’t understand what Peace Studies is at first. By its very nature, it’s interdisciplinary because you are asking not just why societies break down and become violent but also why, most of the time, they are peaceful… and how we maintain that. Differences of opinion are inevitable and if you tried to eradicate them, you would be in an authoritarian society, so how do you manage to construct a society that is tolerant and able to deal with differences in peaceful ways? We give students a very broad grounding in the social and political dynamics of conflict and peaceful relations from the personal level right up to international level. It’s about getting them to see the bigger picture.”
Seeing the bigger picture and making connections can explain why the USA engaged in wars in Central America under the Reagan administration (following its humiliating defeat in Vietnam), how the Gulf War came about, why Donald Trump or Joe Biden came to power, and how economic policies adopted in the West in the 1980s are still affecting people today. Falling between the cracks, as ever, are ordinary people from all walks of life together. It is the most vulnerable and marginalised groups that are often worst affected and stigmatised when government policies and economies fail.
The ability to understand the interrelated geo-political forces that shape our lives, through laws, trade, wars, economic policy and so on is the essence of Peace Studies, which offers a wide range of career prospects, from advising on government policy, local authority administration, community work, teaching, law, diplomacy, conflict resolution, even the armed forces and security services.
Dr Macaulay is passionate about the subject and its import. “We need to be curious and always question received wisdom and orthodoxy. None of us can have a fully objective view of any society, even our own. What we can do is work in collaboration with a degree of modesty with people on the ground, who have access to data, ensure key messages are given to policy makers when they do engage, and keep working for a fairer, more peaceful and more sustainable world.”