Maureen Flaherty


Abstract: In a world fraught with images and experience of violence and discord, global citizens often feel powerless to impact the larger picture – world peace. This article argues that what might be considered smaller acts of positive relationship are the essential components of peace building – individual and community acts. Seeing ways to further develop the practice of peacebuilding, we look at the development of the fields of Social Work and Peace and Conflict Studies considering their intersection of values, theories and skills and see the importance of further research and collaboration for global community development.

The purpose of the article is aimed at studying the contributions of social workers towards building a more just, verdant and peaceful world. Starting with a brief overview of the history of Social Work, the article examines the development of social work as a discipline over the past more than a hundred years; it also describes the current situation of the social work profession.  The view then turns into a new field of research, which is Peace and Conflict Studies. The definitions of «peacebuilding», as well as some basic and new theories in Peace and Conflict Studies are considered. It is determined that social work can be an extremely necessary resource for the further development of Peace and Conflict Studies theory and practice, and fosters active peacebuilding. The article argues that both Social Work and Peace and Conflict Studies, based on values and theories related to human rights, human security and social justice can be inextricably interconnected. The conclusion of the article contributes to a more in-depth and focused dialogue between Social Work and Peace and Conflict Studies in order to more methodically determine the appropriate analytical tools and skills that can help create and maintain a more integrated, fair, shared world.

Results: In time, Social work as profession, based on values and attitudes, shifted from the earlier patriarchal approach, into a field that is built on more collaborative relationships, wherein social workers still do indeed become involved in the lives of people when they are most vulnerable. However, now the social work profession espouses that all people have intrinsic value and the social worker facilitates the processes necessary to assist people to carry out the tasks required for a full, healthy life. Social work as a profession also aims to improve social conditions and structures that support a good quality of life for all. In 2014, the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) and the International Association of Schools of Social Workers (IASSW) agreed upon a global definition of social work. The actual tasks of a social worker can be quite diverse. A social work professional may work with individuals, families, and/or communities in a variety of settings and roles that will facilitate their emancipation and empowerment. In addition to their practical work, social workers may also teach and train others working in the area of social policy development, simultaneously respecting cultural and other differences, collaborating for a new paradigm of social development.  It is mentioned in the article that Peace and Conflict Studies emerged from the study of war and the processes of de-escalating armament acquisitions is considered to be one tool in resolving conflict and diminishing the likelihood of further violence.  As the Peace and Conflict Studies field grew, it was acknowledged that peace must be built through the involvement of all layers of society, and that lasting peace comes through “multi-track diplomacy” – using a systems approach to work with people from the grassroots to mid-level elites, to the highest level of government and all of these levels or “tracks” must be involved in education, research, and even activism in an all inclusive, all encompassing approach to addressing conflict and building peace. Just as the role of the social worker has changed and developed over time, so too has the role of “peacebuilder”. In 2007, the United Nations defined peacebuilding as a process that involves a range of measures targeted to reduce the risk of lapsing or relapsing into conflict by strengthening national capacities at all levels of conflict management, and to lay the foundations for sustainable peace and development. In 2009 the UN changed its definition of human security to …the need to protect the vital core of all human lives in ways that enhance human freedoms and human fulfillment. Human security means protecting fundamental freedoms – freedoms that are the essence of life. It means protecting people from critical (severe) and pervasive (widespread) threats and situations. It means using processes that build on people’s strengths and aspirations. It means creating political, social, environmental, economic, military and cultural systems that give people the building blocks of survival, livelihood and dignity. The importance was emphasized to create cultures of peace – cultures of inclusion, where all people have their needs met, depending a great deal on relationships. School programs were developed to assist children to build empathy, a foundational quality for relationship building. “Emancipatory peacebuilding”, focused on community development work done in participation with communities rather than for them gained further support. It is mentioned that there are not many Peace and Conflict Studies university programs in the world, but those existing in the West focus on theory, conflict analysis, and practice, with the practice at the time of this writing, heavily dependent on skills of mediation and conflict resolution. Both Social Work and Peace and Conflict Studies espouse values of social inclusion, social justice, human rights, and facilitation of personal agency – individual human security and citizen empowerment through which safe and healthy communities are built. Modern Social Work acknowledges that it is often not an individual or group that needs to change in order to get their needs met – it may be the system within which they live – structural change. In the early 1990’s Social Work education openly acknowledged the need for a gendered analysis in the work that social workers do – and some schools began to teach required courses on feminist perspectives to policy and practice. In its turn Peace and Conflict Studies has also realized the importance of a gendered views in analyzing and working in any context.

Originality: Currently Peace and Conflict Studies has focused less on stopping war per se and more on the grassroots – considering how communities solve conflict.  Social Work also teaches that those who work with challenged and traumatized individuals and communities must be self-aware and take special measures to monitor the impact of the work on themselves, for their own health’s sake as well as for the sake of the people with whom they work.

Conclusions: This paper began to examine the relationship between the two fields of study, which now include theory, practice and research related to social justice and genuine human security. Social Work has a longer history as a recognized discipline and profession, with schools and faculties, as well as training programs that teach not only theory, but also practical skills of working with individuals, families and communities, as well as self-care and personal management of a clinical social worker. Peace and Conflict Studies is a much younger field of education, borrowed from conflict resolution; there are some schools that teach courses in mediation and conflict resolution, conflict analysis and conflict transformation. However, since the Peace and Conflict Studies looks further to build a theory and to develop analysis tools and skills to go beyond the conflict to the establishment of peaceful communities, this paper points to the Social Work as an allied branch of training and practice that can be a wonderful resource in the practice of peacebuilding. In addition, since both areas recognize the importance of working with the gender issues using a culture-sensitive approach to practice and research, more research and reflection is needed in order to better use each of these areas to develop the research, practice and pedagogy needed to build more peaceful and just world. 


social work; peacebuilding; conflict; peace and conflict studies; empowerment; community building


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