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Wednesday, September 15, 2021

What is Peace Work? Definitions, Examples, and Career Opportunities

Written by Kroc School


Humanity, with its predilection toward violence and conflict, has made peace an elusive goal. But throughout most of recorded history, eminent people have inspired us by speaking of and promoting peace. Albert Einstein reminded us that "Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding." Eleanor Roosevelt told us that "It isn't enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn't enough to believe in it. One must work at it."

“Working at it,” however, requires passion, drive, and the knowledge, experience, and skills only a peace school can offer. To that end, let’s explore what peace is—you may be surprised—and look at some examples of peace work taking place today, followed by a review of some of the many exciting career paths peace work offers, and how you can create a career in peace and justice.

Want to learn more about the field of peace and justice? Including what it is,  who should study it, and potential career opportunities? Download our guide to  get these questions (and more) answered: Here's How to Make Peace and Justice  Your Full-Time Job.

What is Peace?

Peace may seem like a simple, black-and-white issue; either it exists, or it doesn’t. However, the reality is that peace is multifaceted and layered, and what it means depends heavily on the perspectives and experiences of individuals or groups.

In short, peace is neither easily summarized nor is it easily sustained.

Historically, the term “peacebuilding,” or the work it takes to bring about and maintain peace, was first introduced in 1975 by Johan Galtung. John Paul Lederach later broadened the term to mean, “a comprehensive concept that encompasses, generates, and sustains the full array of processes, approaches, and stages needed to transform conflict toward more sustainable, peaceful relationships.” Peacebuilding both precedes and follows formal peace accords, yet it’s not a phase or condition, but a dynamic continuum of socially constructed transformations.

Laying the groundwork for peacebuilding means that, “We are not merely interested in ‘ending’ something that is not desired. We are oriented towards building relationships that, in their totality, form new patterns, processes, and structures.”

Positive Peace vs. Negative Peace — and Other Elements of Peace Studies Theory

First formulated by Galtung, the definitions of positive and negative peace by the Institute for Economics & Peace and their focus on positive peace are consistent with Lederach’s broad approach.

  • Negative peace: the absence of violence or fear of violence.
  • Positive peace: the presence of attitudes, institutions, and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies.

Before we dive deeper into negative and positive peace, we must first understand violence. “Violence may seem like a straightforward concept: you know it when you see it. It often manifests itself physically when someone attacks someone else or when we experience or hear loud voices or noises. However, violence can show itself in a variety of ways that are not always explicit.” Violence is often grouped into three main categories: direct, structural, and cultural violence.

  • Direct violence is the violence we physically perceive; war, rape, murder, assault, and verbal attacks. It manifests itself out of conditions of structural and cultural violence.
  • Structural violence occurs when social structures or social institutions harm people by preventing them from meeting their human needs. Disabilities, disparities, and even deaths result when policies and institutions meet some people’s needs at the expense of others.
  • Cultural violence occurs in the symbolic sphere of our existence; rhetoric symbols, flags, hymns, and the history we tell. Johan Galtung defines “cultural violence” as “any aspect of a culture that can be used to legitimize violence in its direct or structural form.”

We can only address violence effectively if we are aware of all the ways people experience it and the social structures and cultural narratives that support it.

Getting back to negative and positive peace, the negative peace meaning is used to refer to the cessation of violent acts. This approach was inspired by the twin definitions of health. Negative health is curative whereas positive health is preventative. In the same way, relative to violence, negative peace is curative whereas positive peace is preventative.

Positive peace, however, is peace that is just and sustainable. Positive peace is the ultimate goal of peace work, as it aims to ensure that societies have the conditions in which all people can thrive. Developing social cohesion, relationships across groups, and trust in institutions are all required for positive peace. After violence has ended, positive peace can only be achieved through rebuilding and social cooperation between sides previously in conflict.

An Introduction to Peace Work and Peacebuilding

Any survey of peace work is likely to include terms such as conflict prevention, mediation, conciliation, peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peace enforcement. Each of these represents an aspect of peace work, and they are mutually reinforcing. Peace workers achieve the best outcomes when these activities are performed together to address the root causes of conflict and thereby reduce the risk of conflict recurring.

Conflict Prevention: Before disputes flare into conflict between two or more parties, peace workers identify early warning signs that may lead to conflict. Providing mediation and working through diplomatic channels, peace workers aim to find positive outcomes that avoid violent conflict.

Peacemaking: Conflict takes no holidays and can appear at any moment. Peacemakers are the professionals who work to bring conflicting parties together at the bargaining table so they can reach a negotiated settlement.

Peace Enforcement: When conflict has progressed to the point of violence, organizations like the United Nations may approve coercive measures that can include military force. Restoring peace and security in the combative regions is the goal of peace enforcement.

Peacebuilding: This may be the most productive example of peace work, but it's also one of the most difficult to achieve. Peacebuilding lays the foundation for positive peace. It strengthens the parties in conflict by shoring up national capacities that lay the foundation for sustainable peace. According to the United Nations, peacebuilding “…is a complex, long-term process of creating the necessary conditions for sustainable peace. Peacebuilding measures address core issues that affect the functioning of society and the State and seek to enhance the capacity of the State to carry out its core functions effectively and legitimately.”

Note that there are no sharp boundaries between these various peace work activities. In most cases, several of these actions are undertaken sequentially, while in others, several may be taken simultaneously.

Examples of Peace Work in the World Today

Scholars and peace workers have defined peace work in a variety of ways. The Strategic Peacebuilding Pathways model put forth by John Paul Lederach and Katie Mansfield is one of many models, and it stands alongside those from the United States Institute of Peace, the United Nations, and others. However, no matter which definition one prefers, all of them identify at least these three outcomes peace workers strive for.

First, they work to prevent, respond to, and transform violent conflict. For instance, conflict mediators help individuals, groups, and organizations resolve disputes and deal with conflict by equipping them with communication tools, conflict resolution mechanisms, and other peacebuilding tools. Conflict mediators are an integral part of a healthy community as they help to de-escalate problems and facilitate interactions, conversations, and behaviors that lead to lasting peace.

Second, peace workers ensure justice and healing, which is crucially important if positive peace is to be established. For example, World Renew focuses much of its peace work on gender justice, which means “…more girls complete their education, remain single throughout childhood, and gain access to leadership development in their own communities.”

And third, peace workers facilitate structural and institutional change. Building a foundation that supports positive peace often calls for significant changes to the social structure or institution. The need for structural and institutional change becomes obvious when the current social environment causes harm by preventing people from meeting their basic needs. For instance, when food, water, or shelter become scarce in a given area but are readily available elsewhere in the region or the world, then structural violence is taking place.

3 Exciting Career Opportunities in Peace Work

Peace and justice professionals are needed in a variety of sectors and at institutions around the world. Below is a sampling of three titles of those involved in peacebuilding work, along with a high-level overview of what those roles entail and average salary information.

You will find that the salaries and growth opportunities depend on the scale of the organization, the job market where the organization is located, and its funding sources, among other factors. There may also be differences between salaries in international organizations and national and local nonprofits. However, there are also many pathways for moving between sectors, from the local to the international or from the government to the NGO sector.

Conflict Mediator — These professionals help individuals, groups, and organizations resolve disputes and deal with conflict by equipping them with communication tools, conflict resolution mechanisms, and other peacebuilding tools. Conflict mediators are an integral part of a healthy community as they help to de-escalate problems and facilitate interactions, conversations, and behaviors that lead to lasting peace. Conflict mediators, such as those who work for the National Conflict Resolution Center, make an average of $63,930 per year.

Program Officers — These professionals are responsible for the implementation of specific programs in an organization. For example, international NGOs such as World Vision or Red Cross may have a program officer that leads initiatives focused on mitigating violence against women in disaster zones, or who implement programs for child protection. Other program officers serve as headquarters-based liaisons for field staff in different countries. Depending on the type of organization, program officers are usually mid-tier professional positions making between $64K and $70K each year.

Development Manager — In many organizations, such as 350.org, development managers are responsible for marketing and public relations activities directed at raising funds. They may be the sole contributor leading fundraising activities or they could lead a team. These professionals may also be responsible for creating and managing special events or publications designed to maximize donor engagement. In the United States, development manager salaries can range from $60,993 to $79,510.

Let Us Help You Get Started

There’s much more to learn about peace work and the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace. The University of San Diego established the Kroc School in 2007 as the first stand-alone school of peace studies in the United States. Our Master of Arts in Peace and Justice is the Kroc School’s flagship program and will prepare you for a wide variety of careers where you can pursue your passion to confront humanity’s urgent challenges. To learn more, take a moment to download our ebook titled Here's How to Make Peace and Justice Your Full-Time Job: A Look at the Career  and Education Opportunities in the Field.

Kroc School

About the Author

Kroc School

The Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice (Kroc IPJ) launched in 2001 with a vision of active peacebuilding. In 2007, the Kroc IPJ became part of the newly established Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies, a global hub for peacebuilding and social innovation. The core of the Kroc IPJ mission is to 
co-create learning with peacemakers — learning that is deeply grounded in the lived experience of peacemakers around the world, that is made rigorous by our place within a university ecosystem and that is immediately and practically applied by peacemakers to end cycles of violence.

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