The 16th General Conference of the International Peace Research Association (IPRA) took place at the University of Queensland in Brisbane from July 8-12. It drew together hundreds of peace researchers, academics and activists from all over the globe to discuss "Creating Nonviolent Futures".
IPRA is a worldwide association established to advance interdsiciplinary research into the conditions of peace and the causes of war and other forms of violence. The conference theme itself was a significant step in IPRA's history with nonviolence as a positive peace taking centre stage over the more traditional defensive (but obviously important) peace concerns like disarmament, or international diplomacy. Another first for the conference was the welcome by the elders of Jagera people which opened the conference, and ushered in a continuing focus on the situation of indigenous peoples around the world.
The conference boasted an impressive range of international and local 'names' including Nobel prize laureates, leading academics and former government and community peace makers. The format was mixture of plenary sessions, smaller group sessions and workshops and music and entertainment.
The program was vast, reflecting the diversity of IPRA and of the wider
peace movement. The sessions were organised under the categories of the various
Commissions which provide IPRA's ongoing network base. Thus there were
commissions running up to two sessions a day on: communications, conflict
resolution and peace building, Eastern Europe, ecological security, global political
economy, internal conflicts, international human rights, nonviolence, peace
eduction, peace history, peace movements, peace theories, peace through literature,
refugees, religion and peace, security and disarmament, women and peace,
ive' audience frustrated some activists. Perhaps with more information and preplanning activist groups could have made use of the workshop part of the program to meet and discuss their concerns. This is a lesson for the future.
Of course, there were many papers which inspired activists, academics and activist-academics alike. For me the highlights were: Roberta Sykes talking on the links between the violence of the sex trade and indigenous peoples; Johann Galtung on political economy, basic needs and future research directions; Hendrik Bullens on disarmament and industrial conversion; and Wayne Reynolds on Australia's nuclear past. But everybody's highlights and impressions of the conference would be different because there was such a great range of speakers, activites and political opinions.
And like all such conferences, apart from the formal sessions, important networking, discussions and just "catching up" took place over coffee, lunch and a social hour which was built in to the program every evening.
A selection of papers from the conference reflecting the diversity of the areas discussed was published in a commemorative issue of Social Alternatives which should be available in most university libraries or from the Department of Government at University of Queensland.
and peace. Researchers presented papers at these sessions and this, plus a range of workshops organised by community groups, provided a more than full program.
The Noviolence Commission discussed initiatives in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Africa and India as well as nonviolence theory as it related to aspects of conflict in El Salvador and India. And the breadth of nonviolence theory was revealed in one session which discussed nonviolence as a national defence strategy (for Lithuania) and as a peace maker in communal conflict.
If there was a criticism of the conference, it was that the dialogue between academics and activsts, which could have been the most politically powerful aspect of the conference, did not always work. Some academics did not see themselves as part of a peace movement and with such a mixed audience perhaps did not get the level of academic feedback they may have wanted.
On the other hand many of the papers presented dealt with concerns which were important in terms of international governance, diplomacy and policy, but which were a long way from the level of activity and influence of grassroots activists. This, plus the format of academics presenting papers to a 'pass