Category Archives: Myanmar

How are we approaching the research into culture, conflict and community?

If I asked you to tell me about your community, what would you say? If I asked you to tell me what your community thinks about the conflicts that it is involved in (this is not the same as violence, every community has differences and conflicts!), how would you explain it? Would you choose stories, tell me about events you do together, or symbols that unite you? Would it be easier to explain the conflicts between the generations, that the community has with ‘outsiders’, or link it to the past?

In peace and conflict studies we don’t have a set methodology for finding out the intricate differences of lived experience in communities and how that might be important to our understanding of conflict and peace, and we have often relied on social science methods of interviews or data that has already been categorised into aspects we want to know about. In this research we are drawing on other disciplines to see if we can find a way of listening with curiosity and are not restricting our understanding because of preconceptions that we have.

We are drawing on ethnography, and particularly the way of observing and noting everything that people say, wear or do, as potentially important in understanding. We are drawing on community engagement work where evidence suggests that there is power in the process of communities stating and sharing their visions and perceptions, so by asking and listening we already change some of that relationship. We are drawing on cultural studies and the way in which it frames the importance of lived experience and the embedded nature of culture. We are drawing on feminist approaches to understanding power.

Some work has been done, for example John Paul Lederach’s work in Nepal where the close working with communities revealed environmental conflicts that had been hidden, or in his book ‘When Blood and Bones Cry out’ where social healing is explored through stories. Adam Curle’s work also from peace studies is focused on the building of relationships. Historian Mandy Sadan has been collecting stories in Myanmar, with a different focus, and has put collections of photographs and stories online.

I have done desk research, and I think there is so much we can learn from Myanmar about the power in our own communities and the importance of enquiring about the conflicts within and between us, and more consciousness about the way we give our culture meaning.

Why am I going to Myanmar to do research?

Monday 6th November.

I am curious about the way people in local communities share their opinions and wishes about how they want to live, or how they manage to influence those controlling money and resources. This curiosity has led me to wonder how rural communities in the U.K. negotiate to keep, and source, services, and the ways they make their needs known to government or agencies. In this I have been working with a small voluntary organisation for many years. My work on Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping is about how communities use protection strategies to help create new relationships in their areas and how this enables them to create spaces for peace. The communities we live in are incredibly complex, many individuals, families, businesses and services all in a web and then relating to the other intermediate and national levels of decision-making, and I am seeking ways of understanding this complexity and how we could be giving it more power.
I think it’s important that communities can influence what happens to them because if we want peace, then it is about strong relationships and trust, but in order for people to have the space and energy to build these, then basic needs of shelter, food, safety and health need to be met…and so being able to communicate needs, and get support for meeting those needs, means communities being able to speak.

Our research in Myanmar is exploring this focus on the importance of communities by taking one step further and wondering how we can learn and understand what communities know and want by listening to how they give meaning to aspects of culture. In Myanmar we will be talking to people about their culture, and through stories, music, art, and craft learn about how communities see themselves and the way they communicate their knowledge and ideas to others. Myanmar is a place we can learn a lot from because of the dramatic changes it has undergone in recent years and so people in communities will have new options.

As well as being able to learn more about the roles communities take on themselves, and the way meaning is expressed through culture, we will be reflecting on the link between conflict, violence and peace in relation to cultural stories.