Do No Harm, Peacebuilding, and Culture   2 comments

Below is a pending piece of the literature review for my Master’s Paper. Any thoughts or comments are appreciated.

DNH has identified five categories of ‘peace capacities’ or connectors Anderson (1999, p. 24). They use the term ‘peace capacities’ in the text but I feel this term could also be the same as ‘conflict management cultural norms’. The ‘peace capacity’s’ categories include: system and institutions; attitudes and actions; shared values and interests; common experiences; and symbols and occasions. The following will briefly explain each of the five categories and attempt to explain how each has to do with conflict management cultural norms

Systems and Institutions are signified by direct contact (even if there is a war or conflict, certain systems still function [cf markets or trade]), which are where people interact – connectors, or indirect contact (infrastructure that connects people [cf roads, water, electricity] who jointly depend on certain communal amenities) (Anderson, 1999, p. 25-6). It is good to note here that each said contact provides a connection when people are divided by conflict. In terms of culture, people grow accustom and require communal aspects just stated, thus, in a way, can be included into conflict management cultural norms.

Attitude and Actions are connectors found in non-war attitudes and action that bring people together and depict their social interaction. Therefore, even in time of conflict, there are people who are accepting and tolerant to the ‘other’ side’s point of view and actions. It is these people, in parallel with the people who are not involved in the dispute, who dictate that the actions done during the conflict are wrong – and it is these activities/actions that bring people together (connectors) as they are not directly related to the conflict. An example of this category is taking care of orphaned children of the opposing side, thus refusing to abide by the acts of war (Anderson, 1999, p. 26-8). In terms of conflict management cultural norms, ‘attitudes’ and ‘actions’ parallel with cultural ‘norms’ and ‘practices’.

Shared Values and Interests are simply the continuation of the pre-conflict societal and communal systems way of life and commonalities. It is these commonalities that are seen as connectors in contexts of conflict. For example, warring groups share love for children or both have the common need for electricity or water (Anderson, 1999, p. 28-9). These connectors can be seen as ‘peace capacities’, and therefore, contextually, conflict management cultural norms.

Common Experiences are instances, even ones of which occur during time of conflict, which can provide links or connectors among people under conflict. For examples, women from opposing sides who have experienced living within a war can share their stories and find commonalities within those stories (Anderson, 1999, p. 29-30). Since the experiences are common and can be used the build the capacity for peace, in turn, they can be views as conflict management cultural norms.

Symbols and Occasions are cultural aspects that all societies possess and maintain. These include national art, music and literature, historic anniversaries, monuments, and ceremonies (Anderson, 1999, p. 31). All of these examples provide a venue for connectors to occur for people torn apart by conflict, thus in many circumstances can be categorized in conflict management cultural norms.

Within each of these categories just explain there are also dividers, but this text will not detail that aspect of DNH. The categorized, as seen above, can be viewed and used towards finding and utilization conflict management norms, and in doing so to be used towards peacebuilding acts. What is important to take away from DNH and its ‘peace capacities’ is the recognition that said connectors already exist and we as conflict management practitioners or peacebuilders can recognize and utilize these existing cultural aspects. In capitalizing and (positively) exploiting these cultural connectors while reinforcing norms, rather than undermining them by using outside mediation and negotiation techniques (which is a divider) may bring stability to the situation and culture in a non-ethnocentric approach. Furthermore, the recognition and reemphasis of shared commonalities, values, experiences, and communal systems can reinforce people’s commitment and need for non-conflict problem solving and way of life.

Therefore, under the DNH umbrella, I contend that DNH is not just meant in terms of aid but also for development, peacebuilding and even research. This is possible as peacebuilders are able to support and empower contextual systems, institutions, and norms that occur and exist during periods of peace. In this reinforced act by peacebuilders, the local capacity for peace and connectors can be strengthen, rather than allowing the said capacities to become dividers. However, this may be easier said than done, as peacebuilders must recognize the capacities for peace and find appropriate ways to reinforce and support their introduction and inclusion into the peacebuilding or peace-keeping process without simultaneously increase the probability that these said capacities may be used by those who pursue war.


Anderson, M.B. (1999). Do no harm: How aid can support peace – or war. Lynne Rienner Publishers: Boulder & London.

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2 responses to Do No Harm, Peacebuilding, and Culture

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  1. Your grammar needs work. Many sentences don’t make sense. Try reading them aloud one at a time. And I don’t get what you’re trying to do here – is it just a summary of the DNH approach? You write that *you* “contend that DNH is not just meant in terms of aid but also for development, peacebuilding and even research” – that’s not a contention of *yours*, it’s a stated aim of DNH authors and practitioners! Watch your attribution.

    • @ Fraggle,
      Thank you for your comment. I will take your suggestions under consideration. As per your non-grammar related concern: The DNH author intended the approach towards aid, hence the title of her book. As for DNH practitioners, they may or may not agree with my stance. But it is from my experience being trained by the main DNH office in Cambridge, Massachusetts as a Trainer of Trainers (ToT) and my reflection of the DNH book that the fields of development and peacebuilding are not directly addressed by DHN as an approach. Please feel free to email me if you have further concerns.

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