New Book: Peace, Complexity, Visuality (Preview I)

In October, Palgrave Macmillan will publish our book Peace, Complexity, Visuality: Ambiguities in Peace and Conflict. In preparation for the book’s release, we will publish a couple of blog posts over the next weeks introducing the book’s main lines of thought and its different parts.

In Peace, Complexity, Visuality, we argue that we can capitalize on the tolerance of ambiguity enhancing potentialities inherent in visual images – their non-coherence – and thus increase our capability of tolerating ambiguities. Studying international relations equals studying ambiguity. The international system is complex, and where there is complexity, there is also ambiguity. Crucially, in a world saturated not only with ambiguities but also with visual images, it is mandatory to think ambiguity and visuality together. We analyze the constructive and peaceful potentialities of ambiguities through an exploration of journalistic imagery in the context of post-war Bosnia and post-siege Sarajevo.

The book will appear in the Rethinking Peace and Conflict Studies series edited by Oliver Richmond, Annika Björkdahl and Gëzim Visoka. It contains original photographs taken in Sarajevo between 2018 and 2022.


In the book’s first part, titled Complexity and Ambiguity, we discuss two of the book’s main concepts in connection with peace and conflict research. In chapter two, we introduce complexity which we understand as a specific way of thinking, a frame of reference. In the chapter, we discuss diverse literature from IR and peace and conflict research and explore what complexity means for our understanding of international relations. Thinking in terms of complexity offers a profound basis for a critique of existing approaches and practices – a critique from which new spaces of possibility can emerge. We end the chapter with brief remarks on the relationship between complexity and visual representation in terms of photocomplexity.

In chapter three, we suggest accepting complexity and ambiguities rather than reducing them. Accordingly, we engage with the question of how to deal with ambiguity without resorting to disambiguation and simplification. To this end, we look at complexity through the concept of tolerance of ambiguity (TA) and discuss it in relation to IR theory, suggesting how to deal with TA constructively. Essentially, attempts at disambiguation – reducing complexity – will also have effects that actors cannot anticipate. Becoming aware of various consequences of an action in a complex system makes us recognize the multitude of possible and permissible interpretations that any event engenders. At the same time, we need some borders for what counts as permissible interpretation to avoid a politically dangerous and morally questionable anything goes approach to ambiguity. We conclude the chapter with reflections on the relationship between ambiguity and visual representation in terms of photoambiguity. 

In the next blog post (Preview II), we will introduce the book’s second part, titled New Photographies and Visual Ambiguities.