Review: Adam Curle: Radical Peacemaker by Tom Woodhouse and John Paul Lederach

Adam Curle Radical Peacemaker

This review of Adam Curle: Radical Peacemaker appeared in issue 302 of Resurgence & Ecologist. Many thanks to Clive Barrett for reviewing it.

If Adam Curle were alive today – he died in 2006, aged 90 – I’m sure he would keep a blog. Many followers would appreciate its diversity, its wisdom born from experience, and the wholeness, the peacefulness of its author.

To mark the centenary of Curle’s birth, Tom Woodhouse and John Paul Lederach, both giants in the field of conflict resolution, have collected an assortment of his writing. A long-time observer of the Bradford peace scene, I had heard of Curle’s reputation as the first professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University from 1973 to 1978 – his inaugural lecture is included in the book – but I had not appreciated his remarkable story or powerful writing.

After an essential biography, the collection introduces Curle’s academic work in peace studies. A later section contains his writing directly of and from his own experience. That is my only grumble: his experience was so extraordinary that it gives huge authority to the theory, and arguably should have preceded it.

Curle – his forename reflected his birthplace, L’Isle-Adam on the River Oise, north of Paris – was born into a family with branches both at the heart of the British establishment and in the world of the arts. At Oxford, he was educated in history, psychology and anthropology, bringing together insights into human personality with awareness of the broadest social contexts. There is constant dialectic between the worlds of the academic and the activist, and between issues of personal relations and national or inter-group relations.

After 1945 – he had served in the British Army, and risen to the rank of major – Curle worked on the benefits former prisoners of war found in resettlement programmes; he undertook development work in Asia and Africa; at risk to himself, he pioneered Quaker-sponsored resolution and mediation in Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Kashmir… He was detained and interrogated by the apartheid police in South Africa. Later, supporting local community peacemakers in Croatia, he was humble enough to challenge his own earlier theories of mediations. Such cumulative experience gave him unique insights into the human condition, the tragic cost of war and the practicalities of peacemaking.

Curle’s reflective practice meant his writing was grounded in reality. Simply, he knew what he was talking about. He developed conflict resolution theory, distinguishing between peaceful and unpeaceful relations. There could be no lasting peace where there was imbalance (one side being weaker than the other) or lack of awareness of oppression (for example by colluding victims). Peacemaking could even involve instigating conflict – nonviolent, of course – raising awareness and challenging oppression.

Curle’s examples from the 1960s and 1970s do feel dated: colonial liberation wars, apartheid, Britain’s negotiations to join the European Economic Community… But it is not necessary to enter that distant world in order to appreciate his analysis and values. Having become a Quaker in Ghana in the early 1960s, he explored the philosophy and practice of mediation, education and peace. Empowered by meditation, the inner peacefulness he found in non-doctrinal Buddhism, he sought the good in everyone, building relationships and trust even with the most unappealing characters he dealt with in wars around the world.

Lederach speaks of “remembering forward”. Adam Curle possessed a wholeness of perception that transcended his own era. This collection not only honours him, but also brings his thinking to a new generation, both specialist and general readers alike. Curle has much to teach us in our own troubled times. Now, if only he’d had a blog…

Buy the book here…

More about Resurgence & Ecologist here…

Adam Curle Symposium and book launch

We’ve just returned from the peace symposium at the University of Bradford, and it was wonderful. We met a lot of of brilliant people, enjoyed the talks and sold a lot of books. We’re now enjoying a cuppa with our new mug.

Just updated this gallery with a selection of our favourite photos from the symposium.

Buy Adam Curle: Radical Peacemaker here…

Review: Adam Curle: Radical Peacemaker by Tom Woodhouse and John Paul Lederach

From the wonderful Nimue Brown, this review of Adam Curle: Radical Peacemaker. Visit Nimue’s blog by following the link. This book is out on Thursday, and is being launched at the Adam Curle Symposium, which is running from the 4-6th September at the University of Bradford, more details here.

Adam Curle Radical Peacemaker

Adam Curle: Radical Peacemaker is published by Hawthorn Press. It’s an overview of the life and work of Quaker academic, and peace maker Adam Curle, and includes some of his most important and influential writing.

Adam Curle’s first contact with peace issues came through working with returning prisoners of war after WW2, but has taken him, over the following decades, into many of the world’s most troubled zones. His writing comes therefore from a rare mix of firsthand experience, spiritual belief, and considered academic thinking. What he has to say about peace is fascinating.

Too often, we allow peace to simply mean an absence of obvious conflict. Adam uses the term ‘unpeacefulness’ to talk about situations where there may be no overt violence, but nonetheless what’s happening is likely to lead to violence and is causing harm. Oppression, prejudice, injustice, any kind of cruel or degrading system creates a breeding ground for violent resentment. Anyone interested in genuine peace has to be willing to tackle unpeacefulness wherever it manifests.

I found it very powerful that this book recognises that sometimes it’s very hard, or impossible, for a group of people to go from unpeaceful relations to properly peaceful and constructive relations, without first having some kind of dramatic upheaval. You can’t negotiate for peace if you have no power. At the same time, the more violence there is in the transition, the harder it is to build genuine peace in the aftermath. Adam Curle is a great advocate of Ghandi’s methods – non-violent disruption, non-cooperation, and civil disobedience can be tools for radical change.

This is a book with a message that can be applied at all levels. From issues of international politics down to how we operate our individual households, peace is not the absence of violence, but a deliberate project. It’s something we can do. It’s something we can all do. As a peacemaker, the author has a lot to say about bridge building (conciliation) and mediation work to help opposing sides rethink their relationships and renegotiate for something more beneficial. He illustrates how angry narratives can become self perpetuating, but if both sides are saying ‘we want peace, but the other lot will never give up’ then there’s room for a third party to do some real good.

Some of the writing in this book dates back to the 1970s, and uses male pronouns to describe people who are doing things. There’s a certain irony here, talking about oppression and alienation and so forth in a language that explicitly excludes half the population. However, if you can grit your teeth for that bit, and chalk it up to the shortcomings of the period, what the author has to say is well worth hearing, and as we go along, the language evolves into something much more inclusive.

This book is many things. It’s a history lesson, a biography, a philosophical piece, and almost a ‘how-to’ manual for becoming an active peace practitioner. It’s not always an easy read, some of the ideas are challenging and the language is quite dense in places, but it is absolutely worth your time and effort. Highly recommended.

Read the review on the original website here…

More about the book here…

More about the Adam Curle Symposium here…