The field of Peace and Conflict Studies (PCS) was launched in the mid-twentieth century with revolutionary aspirations for explaining, describing and understanding protracted violent conflicts. The field’s architects called for inquiry into the “whole person” of conflict actors that required inquiry into the social, psychological and political spheres of their lives. But the proposed research perspectives for carrying out such inquiry were devoid of revolutionary prescription. Regarding such perspectives, they set the stage that continues to this day for disciplinary conservatism by invoking research traditions from the positivist social sciences and from the interpretative social sciences. A third research tradition that underpins certain areas of inquiry in PCS is Phronesis research, according to which the social sciences are fundamentally pragmatic endeavors that are organized around strategies to address pressing social and political challenges of society. Yet, importantly, Phronesis research has garnered little theoretical attention among conflict analysts. No conflict analyst has ever explicitly cited Phronesis as a basis of their research practice.

With this article we offer the first theoretical reflection of Phronesis research in PCS. From this perspective PCS constitutes forms of research praxis, that is, an objective inquiry into the critical conditions—personal, social, and political—for the liberation of conflict actors from the internal drives and external forces that lead to mass violence. Genocide Studies serves as a prototype of such praxis. After providing critical remarks about positivist and constructivist research traditions in the social sciences (section 1), we offer a short genealogy of social science as praxis, including the contributions of Critical Theorists of the Frankfurt School (section 2). We then present the defining elements of Phronesis research in the social sciences generally (section 3). Such elements are realized in the research praxis of Genocide Studies (section 4).

Author Bio(s)

Daniel Rothbart

Daniel Rothbart is professor of conflict analysis and resolution at the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution, George Mason University. He specializes in prevention of mass violence, ethnic conflicts, power and conflict, the ethics of conflict resolution, civilians in war and the psycho-politics of conflict. He currently serves as co-director of the Program on Prevention of Mass Violence. He is also the director of the Laboratory entitled Transforming the Mind for Peace. Professor Rothbart’s academic writings include more than sixty articles and chapters in scholarly journals and books. Among his ten authored or edited books, his recent publications include the following books: State Domination and the Psycho-Politics of Conflict (2019);Systemic Humiliation in America: Fighting for Dignity within Systems of Degradation (2018). Professor Rothbart received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Washington University, St. Louis, and taught in the department of philosophy at GMU. He also held positions as visiting research scholar at Linacre College, Oxford, University of Cambridge and Dartmouth College.

Douglas Irvin-Erickson

Douglas Irvin-Erickson has worked in the field of genocide studies and mass atrocity prevention in DR Congo, Burundi, Cambodia, Myanmar, Ukraine, and Argentina. He is the author of books, chapters, and articles on genocide, religion and violence, human security, international criminal law, and political theory. His first book is titled Raphaël Lemkin and the Concept of Genocide (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), and he is currently writing a second book, Dying in the Age of Thoughtlessness: Genocide, Terror, and Conflict Resolution. Irvin-Erickson is a Senior Fellow with the Alliance for Peacebuilding, a Board Member of the Institute for the Study of Genocide, and a member of the editorial board of Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal. He holds a Ph.D. in Global Affairs and an M.A. in English Literature from Rutgers University, in Newark, NJ, USA.


Peace and Conflict Studies; Conflict Praxis; Genocide Studies; Critical Theorists



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