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What does peace mean to you?


As there is more attention to war and violent conflict in media, public debates, education, and science, we know less about how ‘ordinary’ people define and visualize peace. This Action Project aimed to uncover these diverse perceptions, raising awareness around the abstract themes of war and peace, using visualization techniques to give words to that what is hard to describe.
The Humanity In Action Mapping Inequities Fellowship 2022 came around the same time as the start of Dagmar’s PhD research at the Communication and Cognition Department of Tilburg University. During the same period, the war against Ukraine broke out, and then the ongoing conflict in Gaza. The related PhD project focuses on people’s peace values, norms, perceptions, and visual imaginations (cross-nationally). Through the Mapping Inequities program I was able to work with creative methods, doing fieldwork in a vibrant neighborhood in Utrecht, the Netherlands. In this way direct voice could be given to peace perceptions that are often unheard and not only let people visualize what everyday peace means, but as well created a visual platform for their perspectives (see story map here).
What does living together mean to the people in your neighborhood? How would you draw this? Children of the IMC Weekendschool work together on the outcomes of their street interviews in the neighborhood, visualizing everyday stories.
After the program in June 2022, further aims to raise awareness were explored through educational workshops for children at the IMC Weekendschool in Amsterdam and by Dagmar’s participation in the science festival Betweter in Utrecht, The Netherlands. Festival visitors could draw what peace meant to them or play an image game where they selected current visualizations of peace. In addition, to explain this peace research, a podcast talk was given in the BNR Wetenschap Vandaag series. Central to the project were connections between academia and the broader public, collaborating with non-profit organizations such as educational programs. For this purpose, connections were created with the PhD Valorisation project of the THRIVE Institute to extend the impact of the HIA project.
“What does peace mean to you?” Dagmar asked a young man in Kanaalstraat, Utrecht as part of her Fellowship, where together with local residents she ‘mapped’ the meaning of everyday peace in the Kanaalstraat, a vibrant multicultural street in Utrecht. The young man replied: “Peace means freedom, doing what I like to do. I don’t know if I am the right person to ask, maybe (ask) someone who is older or experienced war?”
His response showed the importance of asking a wide range of people about their perceptions of peace and war, especially in contexts that are so-called ‘peaceful societies.’ Some people clearly feel they do not hold enough expertise to give their opinion about these matters. Peace is often understood as the absence of war, giving the assumption that the meaning of peace is shaped by this contrast. Positive peace goes beyond the absence of violence and looks at sustainable conditions for just societies. The young man approached by Dagmar felt that he was not the right person to share his perspective. However, the meaning of peace is created by and belongs to all of us.
The project keeps expanding in the way that collaborations with educational partners are always welcome. It is also very much interested in artistic tools, techniques, and methods for visualization to raise awareness around urgent societal themes.