6 July 2015
I have hardly any background in the academic fields of Political Science and International Relations, and I came into the International Summer School frankly terrified of my ignorance regarding theories of peace, conflict, and politics. I do read the news, of course, and my father is a history fanatic, so I like to think I know something about the world. As a Sociologist, however, I like to identify how the world is constructed through human interaction; my perception was that these new disciplines would require a basis in realism and trivia. However, I am realizing more every day that my background in Sociology allows me to deconstruct domestic and international conflict by recognizing how social groups are constructed and sometimes intentionally created. In my Scandinavian Government and Politics class (which meets daily at 8:15 – a daily struggle!) we discussed the concept of nation building. How do nations create a united culture? I always assumed that states were created from preexisting social groups, but I am finding that it is often just the opposite. Then, nations are often created in opposition to other nations and ethnic groups. Constructivism is thus at play, and constructed social identities have real consequences. As our Peace Scholars Seminar leader explained, ethnicity is often left out of the “social construction” conversation. We view ethnicity as something ancient and unchanging when it sometimes is actually used as a tool for social divisions.
Though this is true, ethnicity is a beautiful thing. In my time in Lillehammer and Oslo, I have met so many wonderful people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds who have drastically changed my perspective in a very short time. I think difference is crucial to the growth of human understanding. At the Nansen Center in Lillehammer, we learned that what distinguishes dialogue from other forms of communication is that parties do not necessarily need to come to an agreement. I think that if people could remember this, maybe we would be more open to understanding each other. Through interaction, we are always constructing new things, ideas and identities. I often believe that social constructions (like that of binary gender, for example) are damaging, but if we let go of our need to defend and simply begin to listen, maybe we can construct something better.