Introducing APA Divisions: The Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict & Violence - Peace Psychology's International Focus

Dr. Julie Meranze Levitt discusses the history and international component of Peace Psychology, as well as the work of Division 48 award recipients Cristina Montiel and Diane Bretherton.

By Julie Meranze Levitt, PhD


APA Division 48, The Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict, and Violence: Peace Psychology, was launched in 1990 as an outgrowth of concerns among psychologists over the build-up of nuclear arms in the U.S. and Soviet Union. The energetic founders of Peace Psychology, members of APA’s Division 9 – Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI), believed a separate division was both necessary and important because it enabled psychologists to apply their knowledge directly to the pursuit of peace.

With the break-up of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War in the late 1980’s-early 1990’s, other issues emerged. These included intra-state wars, particularly in the Balkans and in African countries. Pioneer members of 48 wanted to broaden the division’s mission to include peacebuilding in these regions. The Division set up a number of Task Forces, including one on children, families and war, which addressed ways to support children and families exposed to armed conflict. Another Task Force on ethnicity and peace explored the causes of political misappropriation of ethnicity and created the means for developing constructive relations among groups with different ethnicities. A third Task Force on military and disarmament studied ways to diminish the flow of weapons and how to exchange military cultures for more peaceful ones. In addition to these Task Forces, environmental issues were identified as central to the Division’s mission because harm to natural resources affects the wellbeing of people everywhere and so often contributes to societal conflict. The Society further expanded its exploration of peace by examining the most basic relationships: self and self in relation to others, as well as relationships between peoples and nations, and how Peace Psychology may use this knowledge to develop useful constructs and practices. The Division’s mission now has a broad social justice orientation that overlaps with SPSSI and allows for continued close collaboration between the two societies.

The Society has grown considerably, now 675 members strong, and attracts scholars, researchers, practitioners, and students working directly in the field of Peace Psychology, as well as a large number of others who agree that concepts of peace psychology must be woven into their work. The Society and its members have authored literally thousands of publications and developed large numbers of presentations, programs, and innovative practices--efforts that have affected how we work with others both here and in many parts of the world.

International Focus

The international component of Peace Psychology is central to the Division’s work, as reflected in the mission statement:

"As peace psychologists, our vision is the development of sustainable societies through the prevention of destructive conflict and violence, the amelioration of its consequences, the empowerment of individuals, and the building of cultures of peace and global community."

In building this global community, Division 48 continues to focus on conflict resolution among and within states, peace education, and the needs of people who have suffered from the effects of war, poverty, and diminishment or absence of basic rights. In effect, the Society strives to find ways to increase the likelihood of building peaceful cultures that work, are sustainable, and regard justice as essential for their citizens and others beyond their borders. It strives to explore cultural differences within a society and how these can affect post-war healing, as well as how cultural narratives can be used to prevent the build-up of tensions that lead to interand intra-group violence.

About 10% of the Society’s members are from other countries. These individuals provide perspectives that would otherwise be less known or understood. They contribute to Division study groups and projects, write articles, present papers at APA, host our U.S. members at conferences in their homelands, and serve on the editorial board of Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology. Our members’ modelbuilding, research, and practitioner work focuses on the needs of people everywhere and the construction of communities that are based on peaceful beliefs and practices. The sustainability of these communities rests on studying the transformation from warring cultures to peaceful ones, rather than focusing solely on cultures where war is absent. Moreover, most of the division’s work has an international focus, directly or indirectly, because the Division members’ research and application applies to human development and the ability to create better ways to think, grow, interact and create nourishing environments everywhere.

By bringing international peace psychologists to APA we broadly and deeply enrich the discussions. International cross-pollination among scientists and practitioners is important if we are to develop better models, methodologies, and perspectives. APA may be the largest association of psychologists in the world but because of the psychological, geographical, and political boundaries in the United States and more generally in the west, we may become isolated in our thinking without exposure to perspectives from elsewhere. We as psychologists and members of APA must try to avoid tunnel vision and bias by bringing psychologists with other nationalities, cultures and practices to our table. Only by working together in the same space may we openly share new ideas and find the most comprehensive, effective ways to reduce destructive conflict and build constructive working societies.

International Peace Psychologists at the 2011 APA Convention

At the 2011 APA Convention this summer, addresses were delivered by our 2010 awardees: Cristina Jayme Montiel, PhD, for the Ralph K. White Lifetime Achievement Award for academic scholarship, and Diane Bretherton, PhD, for the Morton Deutsch Conflict Resolution Award. These are the division’s most esteemed awards. Drs. Montiel and Bretherton brought perspectives from Asia and Australia to our discussions, and each have enriched the concepts of peace psychology in important ways.

Ralph K. White awardee Dr. Tina Montiel (center) with Dr. Julie Meranze Levitt (left), President of the Peace Psychology Division, and Ambassador Jose Cuisia (right), Philippine’s ambassador to the U.S.Dr. Cristina Montiel is a Social Psychologist with special interest in Peace and Political Psychology at the Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City, Philippines. The focus of her invited address, Psychological Landscape of Peace Building in Asia: A View From Inside, was on the kinds of conflicts that have emerged after World War II and how the Asian experience has differed from the western one. In the west during those post-war years, the drive for peace was about the Cold War and ending the nuclear weapons build up. In Asia and other parts of the world, peace studies focused on overthrowing authoritarian governments, many of which were supported by Cold War players. And importantly, as the west moved toward ridding the world of terrorism, the east and other parts of the world grappled with intra-state conflicts and conflicts over territories. In her address, Dr. Montiel magnificently laid the groundwork for further exploration into the kinds of issues associated with peoples’ struggles in many parts of the developing world. She spoke about social identity and collective memories associated with land, in contrast to the west where ideology was the primary focus. Her model suggests areas of concentration for research and practice, to better understand how peace psychology can be useful when the issues are land-based and related to struggles for identity.

Ralph K. White awardee Dr. Tina Montiel (center) with Dr. Julie Meranze Levitt (left), President of the Peace Psychology Division, and Ambassador Jose Cuisia (right), Philippine’s ambassador to the U.S. Dr. Montiel’s address concentrated on democratic transition as “collective agentic acts” and explored how collective action may, for the most part, peacefully overthrow harsh regimes. Peace Psychology has an important role in understanding how the transitions from repressive governments to democracy occur, how acts of networking, bringing together and “conscientizing” can be effective in promoting democracies with social justice agendas. In addition, she shared descriptions about the kind of peacebuilding work psychologists are doing in Asia. Her talk emphasized that non-violent movements, while generally peaceful, are not immune to violence, and she shared parts of her own participation in the overthrow of the Marcos regime in the Philippines, her struggle to keep focused on the cause, and the trauma she experienced at the hands of the Marcos regime in the Philippines.

Morton Deutsch Conflict Resolution awardee Dr. Di Bretherton (with plaque) after her acceptance address at the 2011 APA Convention.Dr. Diane Bretherton is from the Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies in St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia. In her APA address and informal suite session, Dr. Bretherton looked at peacebuilding as a partnership between people providing support and those living in communities where there is destructive conflict and/or natural disaster. Her formal address at APA was From Crisis to Opportunity: the Role of Community Resilience in Building Peace. She explored how peace psychologists can be helpful in supporting the resilience of those with whom they work. In a hospitality suite presentation, Dr. Bretherton and her research partner Anouk Ride, who is working on her doctorate at the University of Queensland, discussed the opportunities for change when natural disasters occur. They considered how such experience can change culture, bringing out resilience among people. They interviewed people experiencing natural disasters in different parts of the world, focusing on the tsunami in the Solomon Islands (2007) and Indonesia (2004), the earthquake in Pakistan (2005), the cyclone in Myanmar/ Burma (2008) and the drought in Kenya (2005-ongoing). The examples of courage and communitarian actions provided new meaning to resilience and a willingness to transcend differences. Dr. Bretherton emphasized “response-ability” rather than responsibility and urged peace psychologists to be facilitators who support acts of community building when groups are under siege. Her focus on qualitative research and personal narrative supports the work of others who are looking into attitude and acts that cannot be easily quantified.

Drs. Bretherton and Montiel spent much of their convention time in informal conversations with longstanding friends, new colleagues, and students in the Society. Dr. Montiel made special mention that her discussions included how to expand research and the teaching of peace psychology in American universities to include experiences in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, how to make peace psychology reading materials more accessible to students in the developing world, and possible collaborative writing projects in the field of international peace psychology. I observed enthusiastic colleague exchanges and appreciated the extent to which our members were excited and inspired by their discussions with Drs. Montiel and Bretherton. At least one new project has begun as a result of these discussions. My thinking has shifted, and I know this is true for others as well.

APA’s Convention Registration and Convention Travel awards, administered by the Office of International Affairs, provided resources for Division 48 to bring distinguished scholars and early career psychologists to the convention. Without these successful award applications, it would have been much more difficult to meet with such internationalists. Everyone loses when we are not able to bring a diversity of cultures to the table to dialogue and make new connections. We know this holds true for all specialties within APA and for APA itself because the association is concerned for world peace and good practice beyond the United States. If we cannot invite and support bringing our fellow psychologists from other places to meet with the large numbers of psychologists who attend our annual convention, then we fail to educate, inform, and grow the many specialty areas in our discipline in the broadest and deepest ways. And we fail as U.S. psychologists because we do not have the international perspectives that allow us to be relevant in the largest sense. We must come out of our ivory towers by bringing our international psychologists to the Convention and to other meetings. Otherwise, we remain provincial and woefully out of step with the rest of the world.

For more information about Peace Psychology and the Society’s initiatives, please visit the Division 48 website.