A Visual Arts-Based Approach to Peace Mediation - Master's Research Experience of Yelyzaveta Glybchenko
Since April 2019, I have been working on my master’s thesis - "A Visual Arts-Based Approach to Peace Mediation: Exploring the Conceptual Potential of Visual Art-Making in Peace Mediation" - as part of the Master’s Degree in Peace, Mediation and Conflict Research at Tampere University, Finland. My research objective was to develop a visual arts-based approach to peace mediation - something that has not been done before. The novelty made my work both challenging and positively thrilling. The publication of my master’s dissertation is coming in a few weeks, and I would like to share the research experience and some findings with you already now.
I came into the research process with extensive experience in visual art, graphic design and their employment for social change (for example, the work for Color Up Peace) and a profound interest in mediation. According to Birks and Mills (2011), personal and professional experiences of the sort contribute to the development of 'theoretical sensitivity', which guides the researcher in the choices pertaining to data collection and theoretical sampling in line with the grounded theory methodology. Besides, my experiences and interests allowed me to win the scholarship to become one of the 30 participants of the 2nd International (and the first of its kind in the world) Young Women in Mediation Forum: Women in Arts for Peace, which took place in January 2020 in Nairobi, Kenya. I hope you can see how this discussion and my work in general contributes to the brainstorming that happened in the forum and the new search for artistic approaches to (peace) mediation around the world.
My vision of peace for Color Up Peace, 2018. Photo credits: Yelyzaveta Glybchenko, Art & Design credits: Yelyzaveta Glybchenko.
Employing the grounded theory methodology, developed in 1967 by Barney Glasser and Anslem Strauss, I drew from the fields of (peace) mediation, graphic recording and art therapy to develop the concept of visual arts-based mediation. I asked the following research question (Glybchenko, 2020, p.4, forthcoming publication):
"What is the conceptual potential of developing a visual arts-based approach to peace mediation?"
As a study of concepts (Scott, 2009), the grounded theory methodology allows for developing of concepts and theories from empirical data through processes of abstraction, whereby the the previous research (traditionally understood as 'literature review') often simultanously (to varying degrees) also plays the role of data (Birks & Mills, 2011). For my study, I interviewed nine professionals from across the fields of mediation, graphic recording and art therapy and explored the respective and related literature strands to develop the concept of visual arts-based mediation. As I constantly compared and contrasted pieces of data across the two datasets in the processes of theoretical sampling as well as initial, intermediate, advanced and theoretical coding, I asked the following research sub-questions (Glybchenko, 2020, p.4, forthcoming publication):
- "What gaps and practical challenges can be identified in peace mediation and how could a visual arts-based approach address these?"
- "What are the elements and qualities of visual art(-making) upon which the notion of visual arts-based mediation can be built?"
- "What can the introduction of visual arts-based approach add to peace mediation and what are the risks and limitations involved?"
The analysis of literature in mediation research points to such gaps as lack of the conflicting parties’ understanding of positions, interests and values in the context of emotionally charged communication (fleshed out in the full thesis). At the same time, the potential of mediation for creativity is not efficiently researched or utilized. The interviews with the mediators pointed to the following practical challenges, out of which the last one highlights the divide between theory and practice in the realm of peace mediation (Glybchenko, 2020, p.86, forthcoming publication; theoretical and empirical connections are fleshed out in the full thesis):
- "general lack of inter-party understanding";
- "lack of understanding of and differentiation between positions and interests";
- "general difficulties in inter-party communication";
- "conflicts of values being harder to resolve than others";
- "lack of theoretical guidance and practical tools for mediators to cope with difficulties in inter-party understanding and communication".
Creativity emerged as a response to these challenges, and specifically in the form of visual art-making, across both data sets (including all respective and relevant discussions fleshed out in the full thesis). I found the following qualities and elements of visual art(-making) to serve as the basis for developing the concept of visual arts-based mediation (Glybchenko, 2020, pp.86-88 , forthcoming publication; theoretical and empirical connections are fleshed out in the full thesis):
- "visual art as means of clarification of information, synthesis, making sense of complex events and phenomena";
- "visual art-making as complementary means of expression and explanation when words are not enough";
- "visual art(-making) as a way of exploring fresh and different to one’s own ideas, including the positions, interests and values of the ‘other’";
- "visual art as a record of ideas, discussions, solutions";
- "visual art(-making) as means of legitimization";
- "visual art(-making) as means of purposeful pro-peace depiction to facilitate shifts of focus from conflict to peace";
- "visual art(-making) as means to create safe spaces for inter-party exchanges";
- "visual art(-making) as a way to neutralize emotional charge";
- "visual art-making as means of promoting collaboration";
- "visual art-making as means for the mediator to find balance in their work".
The processes of coding and theoretical integration led me to the following definition of the concept of visual arts-based mediation (written as in my thesis – Glybchenko, 2020, p.89, forthcoming publication):
"Visual arts-based mediation is an approach to peace mediation which implies active employment of visual art-making by the parties and the mediator, individually and collaboratively throughout the mediation process. Visual art-making would thus be a structural element of mediation, employed at different stages without restriction and as deemed beneficial by the mediator. Visual art-making would serve to accomplish the tasks including, but not limited to the following: creating individual and collaborative vision statements as well as visualizations of position, interests and values of oneself and the ‘other’; cross-checking otherwise expressed information; providing a complementary way of expression; and creatively recording the process for reference and accountability purposes. Visual arts-based mediation would not require the parties to have previous practical or academic experience in visual arts. The mediator would be trained complementarily in mediation and visual art-making."
Visual arts-based mediation implies bringing the experiences of the conflicting parties to the forefront of mediation research and practice, thus contradicting the current emphasis on the role of the mediator. Throughout the study, I discuss the possible risks and limitations of visual arts-based mediation, including those of visual art serving to aggravate the conflict, not answering to the needs of the conflicting parties of different cultural backgrounds, age groups and gender as well as overriding the purpose and goals of the mediation process. Based on those, I argue visual arts-based mediation to not be directly generalizable. Yet, it emerges as a potentially effective approach for peace mediators to have as an option in designing peace mediation processes which would answer to the specific needs and wants of the conflicting parties.
‘Mediation’ and ‘peace mediation’ are not always clearly differentiated in research; and my pool of interviewees from the field reflects a wide range of variations of mediation. However, I find it crucial to explain, even in this short summary, why I chose to develop a visual arts-based approach to ‘peace mediation’ specifically. As Marko Lehti argues, peace mediation as an effort to address conflict is situated not only in the realm of mediation, but also of peacebuilding and reconciliation (2018, p.6). Instead of focusing on reaching an agreement as other, overly rational variations of mediation do, 'peace mediation' emphasizes the importance of building peaceful relations between the participants of the process and supporting communication between them (Lehti, 2018, p.40). Similarly, visual arts-based mediation aims to “support intra- and inter-party communication towards establishing peaceful relations (conflict-specific and general)” (Glybchenko, 2020, p.89, forthcoming publication).
In this light, I engage in the discussion of what kind of peace visual arts-based mediation has the potential to contribute to. In particular, I draw on the concepts of ‘sustaining peace’ (IPI, 2017), ‘quality peace’ (Wallensteen, 2015) as well as ‘visual peace’ and ‘visual peace research’ (Möller, 2017, 2019, 2020) to introduce the idea of ‘peace with visual qualities’. This idea gives the name to this blog and is further argued in my master’s dissertation.
What is the importance of this research?
The thesis contributes to peace and conflict research as well as to social science in general in a number of ways. In the realm of mediation research, it criticizes the excessive emphasis on the role of the mediator which causes the discussions around mediation to lose touch with the experiences and needs of the conflicting parties. By elevating those to the forefront of mediation, this study makes mediation theory more relatable to potential participants of peace mediation efforts as well as those mediators seeking to design party-centered processes. At the intersection of the fields of visual art and peace and conflict research, the study discusses visual art-making as an activity potentially performed by all, rather than by an elitist group of trained professionals. In the field of visual peace research, the study discusses the ways in which purposeful visual art-making as well as the created visuals themselves may contribute to the establishment of peaceful relations. Generally, the study adds to the existing knowledge by being one of the first to discuss graphic recording.
To highlight what the research has been all about visually, I created the following illustration, trying to practice the concept of graphic recording - not as 'instant drawing', but as a visual summary of visual arts-based mediation after the concept has been developed in teh thesis and I re-presented it to myself in my head. The illustration highlights what visual art-making could add to mediation spaces, while emphasizing the need for both rational/technical (brain/procedures) and empathetic/artistic (heart/art-making) approaches to mediation as peace work. The choice of the ways of visual expression and the metaphors within this illustration will, perhaps, be better understood after a thorough reading of the whole thesis.
I am very grateful to everyone who made this research process possible, my university, and my two supervisors for their stimulating intelectual company throughout the research time.
The link to my full published dissertation will be shared in this blog in the upcoming weeks. Meanwhile, I will be happy to read your feedback on this summary.
Below, you can find the bibliography of the sources I referred to in this blog post (not the full bibliography of my study):
Glybchenko, Y. (2020). A Visual Arts-Based Approach to Peace Mediation: Exploring the Conceptual Potential of Visual Art-Making in Peace Mediation. Tampere University, Finland. (forthcoming publication)
Birks, M., & Mills, J. (2011). Grounded theory : a practical guide . Los Angeles, Calif. ;: Sage.
Lehti, M. (2018). The era of private peacemakers : A new dialogic approach to mediation. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Möller, F. (2017). From Aftermath to Peace: Reflections on a Photography of Peace. Global Society, 31(3), 315–335. https://doi.org/10.1080/13600826.2016.1220926
Möller, F. (2019). Peace Photography. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-03222-7
Möller, F. (2020). Peace aesthetics: A patchwork. Peace & Change, 45(1), 28-54. doi:10.1111/pech.12385
Scott, H. (2009). What is Grounded Theory? Grounded Theory Online. Retrieved from http://www.groundedtheoryonline.com/what-is-grounded-theory/
Sustaining Peace: What Does It Mean in Practice? (2017). International Peace Institute. Retrieved from https://www.ipinst.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/1704_Sustaining-Peace-final.pdf
Wallensteen, P. (2015). Quality peace: Peacebuilding, victory, and world order. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
 These options are not meant to be rigid prescriptions, but rather examples of what visual art-making could serve for – especially for those who may read only the definition without reading the rest of the thesis.