Studying Through: People and Places

  • Niels Nagelhus Schia
Part of the Rethinking Peace and Conflict Studies book series (RCS)


I embarked on this project by going to Liberia to study aspects of the peacebuilding process in the country. Failing to find what I was looking for on that trip, I realized it would be necessary to trace connections of the activities I studied in Liberia to other places, such as Oslo and Manhattan. When I arrived at those places and started further enquiries, I realized that the answers were not to be found there either, and that I would have to return to Liberia. In each place I visited, divergent perceptions emerged about the kind of knowledge production on peacebuilding and perceptions of national ownership that I sought to trace. Tracing these connections provided me with greater knowledge of peacebuilding as a field. As I searched for the local in the global, and the global in the local, peacebuilding became a dimension for comparison—as climate change, NGOs or neoliberalism can serve as dimensions for comparison. I began to get a grasp on peacebuilding by following and tracing connections to the empirical questions I had initially sought to investigate in Liberia. This, I would argue, is also one of the main strengths of this project. Because it is ethnographically driven, I have adjusted the methodological approach accordingly. This has involved following the connections patiently and thoroughly across various different localities, as findings at one place led me to new enquiries at new places.

Following the context of selected UN peacebuilding processes and being involved with the practitioners who work on these processes led me to focus on the internal dynamics in the UN, seeing these as especially important for understanding the rationality behind its outputs and thus for better understanding the organization itself. This approach provided certain kinds of data that led me further to a way of understanding the UN through a perspective on its constitutive elements. My inductive empirical fieldwork led me to places around the world in search of answers to my questions about peacebuilding—only to direct me to new sites elsewhere. In the UN Security Council, the overarching frameworks for the rest of the activities were being produced. In the bureaucracy at UN headquarters, these overarching frameworks were being merged with the actualities and realities of the field. And out in the field, realities met politics and became activities on the ground. Combining these methods and findings with the use of anthropological perspectives on organizations and sovereignty as an analytical approach made it possible to explore peacebuilding as systems of global governance and political transition without losing the perspective of how they are practiced on an everyday basis by individuals in real life.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Niels Nagelhus Schia
    • 1
  1. 1.NUPIOsloNorway

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