Research for Peace and Development


Atle Hetland

Sometimes, researchers in the social sciences, and also in other fields, play significant roles, not only in academia, for students and colleagues within their ivory towers, but also for the general public, even in concrete and practical politics, if they listen. Today, I shall draw attention to two unique men in the social sciences, notably pro­fessors Ottar Brox (1932-2024) and Johan Galtung (1930-2024), both Norwegians with theories, mod­els and practice that can be applied to the wider world. They passed away at 91 and 93, respectively, earlier this month. We mourn their passing, but we should also celebrate their lives and be grateful for their many books and articles, and their interviews and talks on radio and TV, nowadays available on YouTube, in Norwegian and English.
Professor Brox was the more local of the two, always looking at issues from be­low, listening to ordinary people and con­sidering their solutions, perhaps with some inputs from academics and experts. He served as a member of the Norwegian parliament for one term, for a leftist party in the 1970s, but he said that social scien­tists and other academics were not nec­essarily better politicians than others. He also suggested that if an academic tried to run farming and fishing businesses based on bookish knowledge, he would soon go bankrupt, because there is so much more to it all, which one cannot learn from books and in the auditoriums, only from real experience. Brox expressed great re­spect for the complicated work of poli­ticians, farmers, fishermen, and for that matter, people in other jobs and life situ­ations. I wish we all carry with us his les­sons and realize that hierarchical arro­gance does not help in solving problems and creating harmony.
Professor Galtung was the more inter­national of the two. Yet, he also had a lo­cal foundation for his theories, empir­ical data and anecdotes. He drew on in his work with the first Norwegian devel­opment aid project, the Indo-Norwegian Fisheries Development Project in Kera­la, India, from 1952. His famous centre-periphery theory is in support of ordi­nary and poor people. His advice about how solve wars and conflicts are about including ordinary people, underlining that durable solutions can only be found if the two or more parties of men and women truly listen to the opponents, not describing one side as good and the oth­er as bad, but transcending stereotypes and stencil analysis. In one radio inter­view I recently listened to with Galtung, he asked if anyone had in honesty tried to understand what the Taliban really want, not only saying that their ideas are wrong. About the ever-lasting Israel-Pal­estine conflict, he said that there could not be real peace if they both put walls around their territories and values, but only if they accept and tolerate each oth­er and try to live together as true neigh­bours. As it is now, or some years ago when he spoke about it, Galtung thought that avoiding direct war and conflict, would only be possible if the United Na­tions, or another multilateral force, was placed long-term to keep peace in Isra­el and Palestine. But that wouldn’t real­ly be peace and it is no way for children to grow up and people to live together in the long run. Hence, new approach­es and negotiations that transcend old ways must be found.
Professor Brox discussed these issues in his several books, taught students and colleagues about the curse of poor peo­ple in these and other remote areas. The riches are there, but it is not possible for the people to make use since they lack capital. Sometimes, rich capitalists from the south of Norway or from foreign countries, invest, leading to some jobs for locals, but the main profit is taken out, and there is uncertainty about how long the outsiders will stay. If they can earn higher profits elsewhere the capi­talists have no loyalty to stay, leaving the locals even worse off than before.
Some of the issues are specific to North-Norway, but most of them are also relevant to other remote areas, and to countries anywhere in the world where the centre dominates the periphery, as it does everywhere. But then, we should also remember that it is the resources from the periphery that often develops the centre, be it at national or interna­tional levels. Ottar Brox’ best known book came already in 1966, entitled ‘Hva skjer in Nord-Norge?’ In English, ‘What Hap­pens in North-Norway?’ He was a young man then. Perhaps new ideas come best and sharpest from young people?
Johan Galtung is the founder of peace research as an academic discipline. He was one of the key academics, with his wife that time, sociologist and politi­cian Ingrid Eide, who in 1959 founded the International Peace Research Insti­tute Oslo (PRIO). He developed the cen­tre-periphery theory, as I already men­tioned above, which is an analytical tool in studying remote areas and develop­ing countries, indeed in understanding imperialism. The core of the theory is simply that the powerful people, institu­tions and capital in the centre cooperate with the same at higher and lower levels. That means that the industrialised coun­tries in what we nowadays call the Glob­al North link up with their rich partners in the Global South. The centre main­tains all the power, sets all the terms and draws all the profits. The periph­ery not only stays poor, but it becomes poorer than before as its resources are exploited and taken away from them. True, in the periphery, the centre’s part­ners there benefit, too, at least to some degree, so they will stay loyal to the real centre’s forces. Are they traitors? Yes, they are, but that is how the world’s eco­nomic system and competition work; the strong wins while the poor looses, and those who already have, will be given more. Galtung’s centre-periphery theory was first published in PRIO’s ‘Journal of Peace Research’ in 1971.
Before I end my article, let me men­tion that Galtung visited Afghanistan and Pakistan several times in the past de­cades, being healthy until a year’s time ago. He was a close friend of the former UN (FAO/IFAD) staff member and top Pakistani politician Sartaj Aziz (1929-2024), who passed away last month. I think the two had met as students in the USA in their youthful years. I should per­haps add that Galtung was an admirer of Americans but a critique of the super­power’s international role and dominant policies. He said, the UN should get out of America, and America should get out of the UN. When I was a young student, we enjoyed listening to such sharp state­ments, fun and analytical at the same time, albeit controversial. Galtung wrote more than a hundred books, and proba­bly thousands of articles, so we can still read and learn from his universally rel­evant thinking for a long time to come.
The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience from university, diplomacy and development aid. He can be reached at