Ambition and Ambivalence: Reconsidering Positive Peace as a Trans-Scalar Peace System

Gearoid Michael Millar* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
22 Downloads (Pure)


For 50 years positive peace has served as an aspirational goal for many scholars and practitioners of peace. However, much recent scholarly literature evidences a substantial ambivalence toward this ambition, suggesting that prominent theories, policies and practices in the field have failed to support positive peace. This paper argues that a key reason for this failure is the field’s failure to respond adequately to the evolving character of conflict (latent and overt) related to technological, legal and economic changes associated with the consolidation of globalization over this period. This consolidation has served to shrink the distances between previously remote actors, to expand exponentially the influence of many institutions, norms, practices and projects as they penetrate new societies, to concentrate power into the hands of ever fewer actors, and to reify instead of deconstruct endemic inequality and marginalization within states, between states, and across the globe. The failure of the field to respond robustly to these changes also prompts concerns about its ability to face sweeping challenges soon to come related to technological innovation, climate change, demographic shifts, labour automation, and the search for new governance models. This paper, therefore, reaffirms the aspirational goals of peace and conflict studies by building on Lederach’s earlier Peacebuilding Triangle to propose a Trans-Scalar Peace System which would recognize the need for coherent and supplementary policies and actions across scales (global, regional, international, nation, and local) and utilize a backward-mapping approach to promote a parity of esteem for actors, institutions and decisions at each scale which would, at the same time, privilege the voice of those with the most pertinent knowledge, experience, and capacity for action in support of any given policy or practice. Such an approach would honour the lessons of the ‘local turn’ while developing a global trans-scalar peace system.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)640-654
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Peace Research
Issue number4
Early online date1 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

This research was supported by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship (2018-2019)


  • Positive Peace
  • Peacebuilding
  • Peace Systems
  • Conflict Systems
  • Complexity Theory


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