a website of resources for peace is a documentary website whose purpose is to promote an exchange of knowledge and know-how at the service of the construction of an Art of peace.
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Modus Operandi


, Paris, November 2007

Working concepts of Modus Operandi and reflections on the values that are at the basis of Western societies

Présentation en anglais de Claske Dijkema, co-directrice de l’asscociation Modus Operandi.

As part of the process towards creating an alliance of peacebuilders, Modus Operandi has shared some of its ideas, concepts and approaches to peace that can be found below. In response to on Henri Bauer’s question what our values – at the basis of European society - are, we also have included a reflection on them in the coming pages.

Definitions: conflict, peace and peace building

Analysing conflicts brings us at analysing power relations, since power relations determine how resources and affection are distributed and determine who is in the position to make decisions that shape the future. Conflicts arise when existing power relations are challenged. Waging conflict through non-violent means can therefore be seen as a step towards building peace, the chaos emanating from them is a way to make visible the interdependence between actors. Conflicts accompany the transition towards a system where power relations are more equal. Building peace then refers to the further rooting of this equilibrium, allowing a society to deal constructively with future conflicts and to make it resilient to shocks.

Peace, the goal of building peace is not the absence of violence and does entail a healthy relationship with the environment, social cohesion, and a lot of other concepts. Can we think of a definition of peace that is positive (so not a negation) and concise (instead of a long summary of concepts)?

I would like to propose the following: since there is no synonym for peace, not one word that covers its meaning, I would like to propose the crossing of several concepts.

Peace is about security, but not alone because security can be assured in very oppressive and therefore structurally violent societies.

Peace is also about liberty, creating the conditions for self-determination. Liberty, as in the lack of boundaries however can lead to chaos.

A third concept that arguable can be added is justice

None of above concepts is only positive, while peace is.

What if we cross fertilize above concepts saying that liberty and security together do lead to peace and security without liberty leads to oppression/structural violence, liberty without security leads to chaos of which violence is often the result since there are no structures in place to manage individuals and their aggressive/violent drives. Lack of liberty and lack of security describe the conditions of war.

Since peace is about challenging power relations among actors in society, who are those? We can grossly distinct three types of actors in society: the private sector, state institutions and civil society. Our hypothesis is that peace can only exist if there is equilibrium between these players. What does a society look like when power is out of balance? Following descriptions serve as prototypes.

  • 1. Corporate rule

Power is concentrated in business. An example comes from Liberia under the regime of Firestone in the beginning of the 20th century. Business has all economic control and therefore all actors depend on it.

Business can set their own prices since they are not limited by rule. Only system of regulation is the fierce competition between companies.

Government depend on corporate support for their survival. No protection for employees, labourers.

Civil Society are completely subjected to the control of the firm.

  • 2. Totalitarian regime

Power is concentrated in government: totalitarian regime

Example: China under Mao, government controls entire society, no alternative form of political organisation than under state and one party control, civil society organisations (give examples) like sports clubs, unions, all China Women’s federation are all under state control. Private ownership is possible? Only type of enterprise is state enterprise.

  • 3. Civil Society rule, favouritism reigns (patchwork)

Power is concentrated in civil society.

Hypothetic situation in the current international system; We nevertheless have some examples of a very strong civil society compared to other actors (Kirgizstan).

Perverse effects of civil society rule are aid darlings not only in countries but also in domains of funding (schooling for girls rather than sewerage systems). Furthermore, civil society is not elected, they only represent some interests but not the public good. What mandate do they have? Example of Conservation International, instrumentalisation of NGO’s. Weak spot is that they always need funding since they don’t rely on a bureaucratic system of taxes, treating people in the same way, same rights and obligations. Need for money, weak spot for instrumentalisation.

Then we can do a similar exercise of what society would look like if power were concentrated in the hands of two actors rather than a balance of power between three. Power is concentrated in:

  • 1. Regulation rules

Combination of civil society and government => regulation in extremis, killing market

  • 2. Military industrial complex

Power is concentrated in: Combination Business and GVT => military industrial complex (Eisenhouwer)

  • 3. Favouritism rules

Power is concentrated in: Civil society and Business => soul in exchange for money, this soul can however be used for brand/image rather than integrated at the heart of business (that is problem concerning to some that they do not have a heart as a result of their juridical status, see Alternatives to globalisation) to cover up effects of their core business.

We are arguing that currently corporate structure and power are too dominant and imposing dominating other actors. Their actions can be interpreted as new forms of colonisation. Although colonisation as an imperialist strategy to confiscate territory under the banner of bringing civilisation is no longer in fashion, we can argue that the confiscation of common goods in the hands of a few is a process that continues in other forms with similar justifications. The patenting of medicinal plants, human genomes and crops as well as the privatisation of natural resources like water and mineral wealth all have the same consequence. They bring goods from the common good to the realm of private ownership and therefore restrain the number of people having power, obviously increasing the power of the owners. Central in above examples is the unequal balance of power between groups, where one is able to control the actions and even to an extent the way of thinking over the other.

Bringing change in power relations is a real challenge since power is often institutionalised in structures and will be strongly defended.

Interdependence among actors

For a better understanding of these actor’s interdependence, we should have a look at their sources of power and their needs for cooperation with other actors.


  • Power:

    • wealth

    • goods

  • Needs

    • Resources

    • Good image in order to draw consumers

    • Security

    • Space for factories

    • Employees

Civil Society

  • Power:

    • Soul

    • mobilisation people, power of the number

    • credibility

    • Consumer power

  • Needs:

    • Wealth

    • Members

    • Goods

State institutions (instititutional versus individual level)

  • Power:

    • Justice

    • Legitimate use of violence => military and police

    • Laws

  • Needs:

    • Credibility for re-election

    • Wealth

What are current pillars of the system?

How to challenge power structures? A first step is analysing what supports a current system and a next step is to withdraw this support.

First level analysis

  • consumer power

  • liberal laws

  • free trade agreements

  • people willing to work for exploitive companies

Deep level analysis, value systems supporting current balance of power among actors (use quotes of Indian women leader in Guatemala and Xavier):

  • patriarchy system that is based on dominance of one over other (interview corporation)

  • disconnecting people from nature, specialisation

  • individualism versus community

What are signs that these power balances are currently changing?

Positive signs: changing civil society, growing in importance and power.

Negative signs: a. a crisis in confidence, those who govern are rapidly loosing their legitimacy. b. State power is decreasing as a result of globalisation while the latter is the only institution that is (ideally) mandated by an entire community and is (ideally) the legitimate owner of public good.

Justification for structural violence

Structural violence is always embedded in a multitude of justifications that are cultural, being part of this culture makes us often blind to its injustice. Blindness on both sides those who are responsible as well as those who are victim. While the first identify with the cultural justification of injustice, the second interiorise a sense of inferiority that is built into the system. Those active in conflict transformation have been able to demystify cultural messages and have countered a domination culture.

Examples of institutionalisation of injustice are:

  • 1. Racism => making one race supreme over the other. Justification for this inequality is often found in religion, leading in many cases to the missionary idea of lifting the other underdeveloped group to our standards through education.

An example is apartheid in South Africa (though without missionary idea to make them just like us).

  • 2. Development imperative => Domination takes place in the idea that economic development is the only direction in which our societies can move forward.

Development assistance to raise them to same level of development as our societies and in doing so making them forget local cultures and practices. An example are the structural adjustment programs of the IMF and Worldbank in the 1970’s.

  • 3. Private ownership => The idea of ownership is highly cultural. In many societies collective ownership takes prevalence over private ownership. Instead of splitting up goods and placing it under someone legitimate ownership often through monetary transaction, goods are collectively owned and managed. Clashes between these two systems can for example be found in the practice of genetic modification of plants. Plants sorts are taken out of a territory, they are genetically modified by a company and patented. Companies therefore become the owners of the plants while before they did not belong to anyone specifically. Farmers can no longer become the owners of the patented seeds, they are merely leasing them, thereby creating a relation of dependency and power imbalance between the two groups.

Structures have personal consequences

These structures have a highly personal influence, like the interiorisation of inferiority (Elias). Another example is the high incidence of suicides (Durkheim) among poor farmers notably in India (source: courier international) who have indebted themselves to buy seeds and after continued failing harvests of crops, they see no other way out than suicide.


Examples in the past show that structural violence can be challenged through the mobilisation of the masses, especially when targeting around highly symbolic causes like the right to use public goods like salt on the beach => belonging to all people. Yet this method does not work in all cases: Tianenmen square and the hanging of Ken Saro Wiwa in Nigeria are but two examples. A further study into the conditions that have allowed for conflict transformation as a first step towards peace building would be helpful to develop a strategy for challenging Multinational Corporation’s negative impact all over the world

Values in Western society

Values on which European/Western society has been based.

  • Individualism

  • Secularisation

  • Competition

  • Solidarity

  • Belief in progress

  • Ambition

These are no static concepts but dynamic ones, countries and people differ in the degree they have developed these values and the ways in which they are applying them. These terms are not negative or positive in themselves; they can have negative or positive effects.

  • 1. Individualism – Egoism, + liberty.

  • 2. Competition - Isolation, hostility, + motivation.

  • 3. Solidarity – can infringe on personal freedom + community, sharing of risks.

  • 4. Belief in progress - Degradation of earth, +Better material living conditions.

  • 5. Secularism or the separation of temporal and Eternal (leading to separation of Church and State) - Law of God, + Short term goals, self-destruction through environmental degradation to fulfil short term needs.

  • 6. Ambition (Work) -Factor TIME, less time for other activities/values + creating wealth.