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Transforming conflict into peace

By Valentina Baú


My research has focused on the use of participatory media in conflict-affected communities. The aim has been to demonstrate that involving community members in a media production provides them with a platform to tell their story about the violence they have experienced and the causes they believe led to it. This facilitates the achievement of a shared understanding of the conflict between groups that were fighting and lays the foundations for the establishment of a new social fabric that encompasses peace.

This is, by no means, an easy process. It is also one that requires the co-implementation of different types of interventions that strive to rebuild peace in those areas. However, what is often lacking in post-conflict contexts is a communication channel that allows people to reconnect. In the aftermath of civil violence, communities are left divided and in need of information to make sense of the brutality they have undergone. Victims and perpetrators live side by side as neighbours, and dynamics based on resentment and hatred hinder the return to a peaceful environment. The mass media are often unable to address the tensions that have remained within communities as a legacy of the conflict; hence, it is crucial to provide a platform where formerly opposing groups can articulate their views.

By drawing on the experience of a participatory video project conducted in the Rift Valley of Kenya after the 2007/2008 Post-Election Violence, when the country underwent a period of intense ethnic violence, I was able to demonstrate the potential of Communication for Social Change in post-conflict settings through the use of participatory video.

Social change is a process that seeks to transform the unequal power relations that affect a community. The literature on conflict studies tells us that, in order to achieve social change, what firstly needs to be targeted in conflict interventions is change both at the individual and relational level. Changing individuals requires adjusting their feelings and behaviours towards other groups, while changing relationships is about creating a meaningful interaction between members opposing groups, which results in the improvement of inter-group relations. This can be represented as follows:

Framework participatory change

I argue that, from a communication perspective, these changes can be achieved when people participate in the production of a media story that allows them to both reflect upon and become aware of their situation, as well as to share their experience and create an understanding among groups.

In particular, collaborating towards the creation of media content, listening to one another and becoming producers of their own story, allows communities to transform conflict at all levels:

Individual change – participatory video activities contribute to instating participants’ confidence in re-establishing peace, helping them identify themselves as agents of change, and also guiding them in the discovery of new skills. The storytelling process people engage with encourages reflection on their actions during the violence and greater awareness of their present situation and the need to rebuild peace.

Relational change – the participatory video-making process can establish harmony among those who work together in the mixed-tribe workshops. These involve both those who are in front of the camera but also who cover other roles during the production process. Those who watch the final videos through public screenings can exchange views and develop an understanding of the situation for both victims and perpetrators.

Social change – Thanks to the power shifts resulting from newly-developed perceptions of the conflict and of their post-conflict environment, members of different groups begin to engage in dialogue. The existence of different realities of the violence and of the need to move forward are acknowledged, laying the foundations that are needed to begin to build a new social fabric.

A Communication for Social Change approach to peacebuilding recognises how changes at the individual and relational level can be addressed both through the media content production process and the screening of the final media outputs in the community. Within this context, participatory video is seen as a catalyst that can initiate processes of conflict transformation that lead to a wider social change.

Valentina Baú is completing a PhD at Macquarie University (Sydney, Australia). Both as a practitioner and as a researcher, her work has focused on the use of communication in international development. Valentina has collaborated with different international NGOs, the United Nations and the Italian Development Cooperation, in various African countries. Her doctoral research has looked at the use of Communication for Development in Peacebuilding, particularly through the use of participatory media. Valentina Baú is the author of Building peace through social change communication: participatory video in conflict-affected communities, in the Community Development Journal.

Community Development Journal is the leading international journal in its field, covering a wide range of topics, reviewing significant developments and providing a forum for cutting-edge debates about theory and practice. It adopts a broad definition of community development to include policy, planning and action as they impact on the life of communities.

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Image credit: Flow chart of social change, by Valentina Baú. Do not re-use without permission.

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