Imageandpeace at FISA 2022 in Tampere

On May 7, we presented a paper at the Finnish International Studies Association Conference, which took place in Tampere, Finland. The conference was jointly organized by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, the Ministry of Defence of Finland, the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, Tampere University, and the Foundation for Foreign Policy Research.

In the paper titled “Applied Visual Peace Research: Active Looking in Peace Mediation,” we aimed to develop an Applied Visual Peace Research by adding to the theoretical and conceptual body of research a stronger practical dimension. In this specific case, we asked: How can images improve peace mediation practices? To engage with this question we approached Peace Mediation through the lens of the narrative tradition to mediation, which postulates that narratives – that tend to get simplified in context settings – need to re-gain complexity to allow for non-violent cohabitation. We then argued that specific characteristics of images might make them promising communicational tools that allow for the re-complexification of narratives in conflict settings. We termed these overlapping characteristics of images Ineffability, Approximation, Elusiveness, and Commonalities.

Imageandpeace at FISA 2022 (c) Bram De Smet

In recent years, International Relations and neighbouring disciplines such as Peace Research have seen a growing body of literature addressing the role and potentialities of visual images in international political processes. Especially Visual Peace Research has explored how peace can be visualized and, tentatively, how images can contribute to peace. This paper presents a initial attempt to translate the academic debates into more practical approaches, developing a theoretically informed Applied Visual Peace Research that is relevant for both peace researchers and practitioners. Based on the recognition that different kinds and dimensions of peace as well as different stages of a peace process require different visualizations, I will explore possible points of inclusion of images in peace dynamics by looking at peace mediation more specifically. By engaging with a narrative approach to peace mediation, I will suggest that images’ openness and ambiguity pose a promising venue for the evolution and re-complexification of narratives within a conflict setting. I will discuss the idiosyncratic word–image relationship in terms of four categories: ineffability, elusiveness, approximation, and the general/particular and consequently advance an understanding of active looking – inspired by the concept of active listening – in peace mediation.