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Master Peace: The Politics and Policies of Violence as Difference in postwar Lebanon

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Nikolas Kosmatopoulos is Assistant Professor of Politics and Anthropology and core faculty at the Graduate Program of Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. Before joining AUB, he taught at Freie Universität Berlin, Columbia University, Sciences Po, Universität Zürich, Panteion University in Athens, and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. In 2014-15 he was Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology in the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. His research has been published in Peacebuilding, Social Anthropology / Anthropologie Sociale, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Public Culture, Third World Quarterly, Social Analysis, and Anthropology Today, among others.  

How, in the decades after the civil war, did an abstract ideal of peace give way to a distinct space occupied by diverse groups of experts in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East? Based on ethnographic research with diplomats, NGO members, mediators, conflict resolution specialists and UN officials in Geneva, Beirut and New York City, I argue that the current policy regimes on peace-making and crisis prevention in the Arab World are based on moralized perceptions of political violence, which largely impede our understanding of the regions’ history and society.

    I coin this new form of disciplinary and expert power Master Peace because it is produced by groups of experts who claim to master certain skills in the policy and practice of peace. Master Peace consolidates the authority of specific master narratives of violence over places, processes, and populations; it invites the technicians of peace to master policy fields through the use of scale, namely by shrinking large political issues down to practices such as a peace workshop, a crisis report, a disciplinary filter; it constitutes a master form of expert politics from which further copies are made and applied to the post-conflict environments of the Global South. In addition, it invents and disperses masters of moral authority equipped with the power to redeem victims, represent perpetrators of violence and restore the violence of the state.