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Building pockets of peace. A case study using the "Veil of Ignorance" methodology



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Costa, João 


The relevance of local capacities for peace is increasingly recognised. However, the effectiveness of peacebuilding initiatives and their ability to meaningfully pursue the localisation agenda continue to be questioned by scholars and practitioners. The purpose of this research is to explore means that could address these issues and thus contribute to the minimisation of the impact of violence in small geographical areas. I seek to understand whether it is possible to develop a systematic procedure that consistently helps to lead communities to become pockets of peace. In the thesis, I explain how I conceptualised the “peace behind a veil of ignorance” (VOI) methodology. The starting point of the theoretical concept is political philosophy (Rawls’ theory of justice) which is complemented by research on emotions, social identity, and intergroup conflict. I detail the process of bridging the theory-practice divide: that is, how I moved from having a theoretical procedure to implementing two pilot studies in Guinea-Bissau with the United Nations Development Programme. The pilots targeted neighbouring rural villages that were involved in violent disputes related to incompatible land tenure claims and aimed at increasing peaceful coexistence between communities. I describe both the pilot projects and an attempt to evaluate them. The thesis explores how the substantive and the methodological become intertwined, the scholar and the activist are confronted, and the positions of power and vulnerability are questioned. The findings have implications for the VOI as a peacebuilding methodology, for peace studies as a scholarly discipline, and for researchers and practitioners who implement projects in conflict-affected scenarios. Overall, the work makes the case that it is possible to achieve a better balance between peace and violence and that the international community can enable local agency in ways that could be effective in sustaining peace – even without a large budget.





Liebling, Alison


Guinea-Bissau, intergroup conflict, measuring peace, peacebuilding, social identity, veil of ignorance, emotion regulation


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
The case studies were possible due to an agreement between Cambridge Enterprise and the United Nations Development Programme Guinea-Bissau, funded by the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund.