Peace education in a conflict-affected society

Peace education in a conflict-affected society: Creating openings not closing conversations
by Bárbara DÍAZ for Shared Future News
6 November 2015

Peace Education in a Conflict-Affected Society: An Ethnographic Journey is the title of the book by Michalinos Zembylas, Constadina Charalambous and Panayiota Charalambous that will be published in the spring of 2016.

Dr Michalinos Zembylas made a seminar presentation at the School of Education, Queen’s University of Belfast.

The project is based on the particular case of Cyprus and, in his own words:

“Our interest in this educational development was triggered not only by an ethnographic curiosity to explore what teachers actually think and do about this but also by our long-term commitment to working into the peace reconciliation for education.”

During the last 50 years, Cyprus suffered an intense conflict between the Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot communities, the two largest ethno-linguistic communities and in 1974 following a pro-Greek coup, the Turkish military forces invaded the island. Since then, Cyprus has been de-facto divided into the southern part (Cyprus Republic) and the northern part (non-government controlled areas where Turkish-Cypriots and Turkish settlers reside).

However, the challenges and opportunities involved in a peace education policy initiative in Cyprus in 2008 created the space for the authors to embark in an ethnographic journey.

The discussion addressed a multilevel analysis of the life-cycle of this policy, promoting officially peaceful coexistence between Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots in schools, starting from its textual representations in policy documents (and the intertextual, relations with other policy texts) to its reception and interpretation by teachers, its enactment in teaching practices, and intervention through teacher training and re-enactment.

The old policy, “I don’t forget, I struggle”, was implemented after 1974 and through special commemorations, special units, etc., remains the national drama and collective memory to the new generation of children.

The research was divided in three phases that were briefly described in the seminar:

In the first phase, the study analyses a set of 40 interviews and maps teachers’ interpretations of the three main policies, using the analytical concept of interpretative repertoires.

Although most Greek-Cypriot teachers recognised the importance of cultivating peaceful coexistence in schools, the results of the survey also documented a significant lack of readiness and willingness to implement the new objective, coupled with doubts regarding its feasibility.

And there are two main resources for teachers’ emotional resistance to reconciliation: ideological or emotional (i.e. “Define reconciliation within the Cyprus context in terms of human rights”, “It is so dangerous”) and practical obstacles (i.e. “The system of peaceful coexistence is not well organised”).

The author stated: “[…] in essence there were no big surprises. It was just interesting to see the kind of arguments use by the teachers to justify whether they want to get involved or not.” And add that even: “in Cyprus there is not signed official political agreement […] Education should get involved and should do something; not to propose a particular trajectory or solution or anything but to get people engage in a problem attaching.”

Dr. Michalinos Zembylas shouted out, “Let’s go into the classroom!” to introduce the second phase: mapping teachers’ practices in a changing context.

During six weeks of ethnographic fieldwork in 11-year-old primary school classrooms with participant-observation, recorders and history lessons, the research team mapped how teachers understood this entitlement between old (“I don’t forget, I struggle”) and new policies (peaceful coexistence) and how they tried to make sense on their pedagogical practice.

The research team documented how this was done in reference to the dominant emotional style that was presented by an example of a young teacher named Petroulas driving her class. The emotional style replicates the dominant emotions of anger and sorrow in the new generation by linguistic and paralinguistic features and using distance techniques as “us vs others”. The analysis concluded that emotional style presents serious obstacle to enactment peaceful coexistence.

Finally, in the last phase, the research team pretended to handle teachers’ discomfort (pedagogies of discomfort) during peace education workshops to engage students and teachers in the discomfort in process about questioning their changes and beliefs.

Dr Michalinos Zembylas ended up saying:

“I did not want to close the conversations, I want to create openings. This is my personal engagement in public.”

Once the presentation of their book was concluded none of the participants wanted to leave the crowded room without sharing some words with Dr Michalinos Zembylas, who made the seminar an interesting and dynamic event.



Zembylas, M., Charalambous, P., and Charalambous, C. (2015). “Superdiversity and discourses of conflict: Interaction in a Greek-Cypriot literacy class”. Working Papers in Urban Language and Literacies (Paper 154). King’s College London.

Zembylas, Michalinos (2015). “Pedagogy of discomfort’ and its ethical implications: The tensions of ethical violence in social justice education”. Race, Ethnicity and Education. Routledge.

Zembylas, Michalinos (2014). “Rethinking race and racism as technologies of affect theorizing the implications for anti-racist politics and practice in education”. Race, Ethnicity and Education. Routledge.

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