Monday, April 19, 2021

Séverine Autesserre's "The Frontlines of Peace"

Séverine Autesserre is an award-winning author, peacebuilder, and researcher, as well as a Professor of Political Science at Barnard College, Columbia University. She is the author of The Trouble with the Congo, Peaceland, and The Frontlines of Peace: An Insider's Guide to Changing the World, in addition to articles for publications such as Foreign Affairs, International Organization, and the New York Times.

Mary Soledad Craig is a senior studying political science and philosophy at Columbia University. As a Human Rights Research Fellow, she is currently a research assistant to Professor Autesserre.

Craig applied the “Page 99 Test” to Autesserre's The Frontlines of Peace and reported the following:
On page 99 of The Frontlines of Peace, the reader will find a discussion of the problematic assumptions which international peacebuilders often rely upon. Séverine Autesserre identifies a key problem in the peace industry: The members of this industry only have surface-level knowledge of the nations and communities which they are seeking to aid. For example, Autesserre writes, “I have frequently heard peacebuilders and their donors explain that a six-month or year-long project focused on organizing a series of workshops will produce democracy or peace—both of which in fact take decades to develop, and require a little more than just a few workshops.”

This selection provides us with a good idea of the shortcomings of prevailing peacebuilding methods. However, while this page is important for providing this background, it is not representative of the book’s main mission. Autesserre aims not to focus on the failures of peacebuilding, but to instead document where it has succeeded.

Throughout The Frontlines of Peace, Autesserre brings to light many examples of those who have successfully built peace in their communities. In contrast to the peace industry described on page 99, she argues that successful peacebuilders develop strong local-level knowledge and put aside their own assumptions. They listen and learn in order to understand the root causes of the conflict they are dealing with. These qualities can only be developed by sustained and thoughtful engagement with local communities. It is on the basis of these findings, that Autesserre makes her central argument that peace can and should be built from the bottom up, by including locally-led efforts.

While perhaps this page does not illuminate the full scope of Autesserre’s book, it does reveal the expertise and personal experience from which Autesserre has written The Frontlines of Peace. She is able to so precisely pinpoint and describe the problems of the peace industry, because she has been intimately involved in it for over 20 years, including time on the ground in war zones throughout the world.

This page does demonstrate the urgent motivations for this book and Autesserre’s unique insight into the peace industry. However, one page cannot capture the many hopeful stories which make this book essential reading for those looking to build a more peaceful world.
Visit Séverine Autesserre's website.

--Marshal Zeringue