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Book Review

Peaceland: Conflict Resolution and the Everyday Politics of International Intervention

By Séverine Autesserre

            Séverine Autesserre paints an excellent picture of the current state of international intervention in conflict situations in her 2014 book Peaceland: Conflict Resolution and the Everyday Politics of International Intervention. Utilizing an based on her vast experience in the field and academic research in political science and international affairs, she points out that what conflict resolution needs is a change in the way interveners function on a daily basis.

Rather than the all-too-common scathing critique of the liberal peace model, Autesserre argues that the failure of peacebuilding efforts is not theoretical or abstract. Instead, it comes down to the “everyday” practices, habits, and narratives of the peacebuilders themselves that get in the way of sustainable peace.

The author provides several feasible recommendations in the conclusion that help readers envision a way that peacebuilding operations can be reformed from the ground up, in order to increase the effectiveness of operations and sustainability of the subsequent peace.

            Autesserre uses an ethnographic approach to provide support for her argument that “mundane elements – such as the expatriates’ social habits, standard security procedures, and habitual approaches to collecting information on violence – strongly impact the effectiveness of intervention efforts” (Autesserre 2014, 9).

She draws upon experience and connections made as an employee of various development and humanitarian aid agencies, as well as her time as an academic researcher in places such as Afghanistan, Kosovo, and especially, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As a political scientist, she specializes in international relations and African studies, although she includes peacebuilding and peacekeeping as well. This is important, as it shows she has had access to many other scholars in the discipline of conflict resolution, in addition to drawing upon her own experiences in conflict zones and those she has met.

This is shown in the vast spread of interviews cited in the book, from fellow interveners, representatives from major organizations such as the United Nations, and those most affected by conflicts- the locals. This ethnographic method is well-suited for the research, which is directed towards examining the day-to-day operations and inner workings of peace operations conducted by external interveners.

It allows one to obtain a nuanced view of a culture, in this case the culture of “Peaceland,” as one who is also part of that culture. Autesserre has done this with a great deal of reflexivity as a researcher, attempting to be as objective as possible despite her close proximity to the subjects of the study.            

Autesserre, as aforementioned, argues that the ineffectiveness of peacebuilding operations is explained by the counterproductive “practices, habits, and narratives that shape international efforts on the ground” (Autesserre 2014, 3).

These things are not always deliberate actions undertaken by peacebuilders and are not the result of peacebuilders’ wishes to undermine the peace process. Rather, they are ingrained and standard modes of operation, shaped by the culture of the intervention community Autesserre calls “Peaceland” and its separation from the reality of peacebuilding that enable such counterproductive practices to continue, despite their detrimental effect on peace.

For example, Autesserre discusses the “politics of knowledge” and how the debate over which types of knowledge are most important has negative consequences for a peace operation (Autesserre 2014, 69). The first type is what Autesserre calls “local knowledge,” which is specific knowledge about the country or village in which the conflict is taking place, as well as an in-depth understanding of the historical and political context.

This understanding of the conflict environment is typically relegated to a lower status, relative to the second type of knowledge she refers to as “thematic knowledge.”

This second type is the technical expertise centered on understanding the mechanisms of intervention, including conflict resolution, provision of humanitarian aid, as well as other things that may be relevant in a conflict situation, such as project management (Autesserre 2014, 69).

The result of the premium placed on technical knowledge is that interveners are not properly equipped to assess a situation or understand the underlying dynamics of a conflict, which inhibits them in designing and implementing a conflict strategy that will be effective (Autesserre 2014, 80). Further, viewing the conflict as “a set of technical problems to be solved by experts” often leads interveners to adopt templates that have been used in other conflict situations, despite the lack of similarities in the contexts between the two conflicts. Worse yet, Autesse

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