The Birth of the Workshop: Techno-Morals, Peace Experts and the Care of the Self in the Middle East

In the article I examine through ethnography and contextual analysis one of the flagship techniques of peace expertise in the Middle East and elsewhere, the so-called conflict resolution workshop. For the transnational and hyper-mobile clan of peacemakers and peace experts, the workshop constitutes maybe the absolute travel device: it can be transported and deployed everywhere without the need for translation into local vernaculars; it can exemplify the moral ambition for peace in the world backed with technical arrangements of space, time and learning mostly imported from other disciplinary settings; it can address sustained needs for knowledge and hopes for personal betterment by introducing a unique style of pedagogy based on both academic credentials and moral superiority. I present ethnographic evidence that shows how assemblages of peacemaking, most of them centred around the technique of the conflict resolution workshop, had at least three, often unintended, effects in Lebanon and beyond: First, a massive trend towards what one might call the workshopping of peace, namely the idea that major issues of broad concern regarding past and future violence can be effectively addressed within secluded spaces of conflict resolution workshops. Second, the widespread acceptance and consequent proliferation of a particular version of what Michel Foucault has called ‘the care of the self’ (Foucault 1986) primarily premised on a new configuration of peacemaking that understood the individual as the primary target of expert intervention in a distinct moral and technical sense. Third, the (re-)production of a professionalized field of peace experts, whose degree of legitimacy and conditions of institutional existence crucially depended on the constant need to reiterate and reify the binary between an intrinsically ignorant and potentially uncivil society (that needs to be trained) and themselves (who need to train it).

Published in:
Public Culture, 26, 3, 529-558

 Record created 2015-03-04, last modified 2018-03-17

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