Call for Papers: 6th Manchester Peace and Conflict Studies Conference, 2023

Rethinking Critical Peace and Conflict Studies in a Multipolar World Order

(14/15 September 2023)

Politics Department, University of Manchester


A decade ago the University of Manchester hosted a conference on the local turn in peace and conflict studies. Since then a substantial amount of work on this aspect of peacemaking and peacebuilding has been carried out. It has concurrently become obvious that every international order needs state level, domestic, and localised peace tools to maintain itself. The effectiveness of peace tools and frameworks maintain the legitimacy and viability of the international order. Earlier versions of peacekeeping and international mediation were designed to prevent escalation of small conflicts into large-scale war during the era of decolonisation and the Cold War. Liberal peacebuilding, conflict resolution, conflict transformation, and development frameworks aimed to maintain and extend the liberal order, spreading the normative and political framework of the West through a ‘trickle-down’ process, also including civil societies in peacemaking praxis. We would like now to focus on potential innovation in the theories and practices of peacemaking for the current, and changing international order.

With the decline of liberal internationalism and the emergence of a range of new challenges – coming from ideologically varied sources – a new, multipolar world order has been in the making for decades. Resistance against the unipolar order and its associated liberal peacebuilding and statebuilding tools started gathering pace when the disastrous US invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan implicated the liberal international order in new forms of imperialism. Yet, it took a revolutionary wave in the Arab region to reveal to Western observers how far power had shifted. Regional authoritarian powers, rather than liberal Western countries, emerged as the formative forces of a new counter-revolutionary regional order in the Arab region. Reeling from jihadist insurgencies, the Sahel region has seen a wave of military coups, which went hand-in-hand with the increasing foothold of the Russian Wagner Group. As power shifted towards right-wing populist movements internationally, transnational alliances of authoritarian regimes have been asserting their interests more powerfully at the international level.

For the international peace architecture (IPA), this presents stark challenges. The UN Security Council has become paralysed again and liberal peace interventions (e.g. peacebuilding, statebuilding and maybe even large multi-track peace negotiations) seem to be on their way out. Stabilisation has been the dominant peace tool of the last 20 years along with aspirations for ‘local resilience’. The IPA’s legitimacy deficits, particularly at the local level in conflict-affected societies, have undermined existing UN peace missions, which are facing growing hostility on the ground. Within the Global South, authoritarian forces have increasingly been able to mobilise popular rejection of Western neo-colonialism, dependency and the failure of international liberalism to deliver on expanded rights and justice.

This entanglement of the IPA with what can be called ‘counter-peace’ dynamics, which often challenge the veracity of critical scholarship in the area, has created a practical and epistemological vacuum. This has alternative versions of international order, as well as the development of alternative ‘conflict management’ tools and frameworks, to mount a challenge against the Liberal International Order. Such challenges have been widely disseminated by the BRICS, in anti-Western and authoritarian circles, and in parts of the Global South. They point to the hypocrisy, lack of justice, and ineffectiveness of western promoted peace paradigms. Yet a simple withdrawal of contested missions, ODA, or the collapse of UN peace tools, offer no solutions for conflict-affected countries either. Indeed, in the light of the emerging alternatives to the international peace architecture (e.g. Russia’s authoritarian conflict management; Chinese debt-based interventions; the imposition of the victor’s peace in places like Syria; digital authoritarianism; the manipulation of regional tensions; and the emergence of revanchist and revisionist counter-peace networks) the liberal peace framework’s many flaws may appear benign in comparison.

Furthermore, while the space for the international peace architecture has been shrinking, local peace agency looks more exposed than ever. The transnational networks of critical social movements, the limited scale and scope of peace formation, and of everyday peace activism, have proven to be too easily constrained to be able to create effective international solidarities upon which a new order and its peace tools could be based. This raises substantial questions for emerging understandings of emancipatory forms of peace and peacemaking in Critical Peace and Conflict Studies (CPCS), and how they may be relevant within the international conditions that currently pertain.

Critical peace and conflict studies (CPCS) has developed complex understandings of the various ways through which emancipatory, local, hybrid, and liberal forms of peace have been blocked in conflict contexts across the world. A decade ago the ‘local turn’ highlighted the micro-politics and local infrastructure of peace agency. Moreover, it added new dimensions to our understanding of conflict dynamics via ethnographic, cultural and spatial turns respectively. CPCS scholarship has hosted feminist, postcolonial / decolonial, pacifist, environmentalist and capitalist critiques of the peace that emerged from recent international interventions. Yet, because of its increasingly local focus, Critical Peace and Conflict Studies has become somewhat disconnected from IR and the analysis of wider systemic, political, and ideological challenges faced by the international peace architecture. Moreover, if the emerging multipolar order manages to reduce ‘peace’ to authoritarian and regionally balanced ‘management’ style outcomes in the foreseeable future, critical approaches might appear as an insular, exclusively academic and unworldly exercise in the absence of a constructive environment to operate in.

Hence, this conference addressed the following, critical questions:

  • How might CPCS scholarship be refocused to respond to the changing international environment while maintaining its emancipatory, scientific intent? Would a ‘pluriversal turn’ (incorporating transversal, trans-scalar, transnational, and intergenerational epistemological frameworks and concepts) meet this challenge?
  • How might ‘peacemaking in the pluriverse’ take shape, and what would its associated systems, tools, methods, concepts and theories be?
  • Which critical approaches help us understand the challenges of this new era?
  • With the international peace architecture in decline, where are the spaces in which progressive thinking can assist peace interventions?

We welcome all contributions that reflect on the local-to-systemic challenges to peace and peacemaking in the emerging multipolar order, especially:

  • The possibilities and constraints of pluriversal peace in the multipolar order
  • Local peacemaking in the multipolar order
  • Peace interventions after the end of the liberal hegemony
  • Innovations in peacemaking

Prof. Bahar Rumelili (Koç University, Istanbul) and Prof. Stellan Vinthagen (University of Massachusetts Amherst) have agreed to give keynote speeches at this conference.

Please send your proposal for individual papers (250 words maximum) or panels to   by 31st May 2023. Panel proposals require 3-4 papers and one discussant.


Organising committee: Dr. Sandra Pogodda, Dr. Jasmin Ramovic, and Prof. Oliver P Richmond

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