Decentring the intervention experts: Ethnographic peace research and policy engagement

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The failures of peace interventions are often associated with their exogenously conceived and technocratic nature, which discount complexity within and diversity between post-conflict contexts. In response, scholars have resorted to concepts of empowerment, resistance, hybridity, and friction to refocus post-conflict policymaking away from ‘top-down’ and towards ‘bottom-up’ processes. Any such efforts, however, require that policymakers understand the local drivers and everyday experiences of peace interventions across a range of cases; a task for which the current tools of the intervention experts have proven unsuited. This paper, therefore, proposes an Ethnographic Peace Research (EPR) agenda which would provide access for and influence to the ‘peace kept’ and decenter the intervention experts in peacebuilding policy. In its effort to influence policy, however, an EPR agenda faces substantial challenges. These include, among others; the failure of academics to communicate clearly to non-academic audiences, the ideological biases of policymakers, and the relentless simplification of complexity. However, as will be discussed and evidenced using a variety of cases below, an EPR approach also has a number of strengths which can enhance its relevance for policy, serve to decenter the intervention experts, and develop a credible alternative bottom-up approach to policymaking in post-conflict states.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)259-276
Number of pages18
JournalCooperation and Conflict
Issue number2
Early online date19 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018


  • Peace Research
  • Peacebuilding Policy
  • Ethnography
  • Methodology
  • Evaluation
  • Bottom-Up


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