Bringing nature to consciousness in peace and conflict studies through a phenomenological analysis of veterans’ narratives of nature and recovery

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Westlund, Stephanie
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Peace and conflict studies arose as a response to the human experience of violence, with an intention towards finding possibilities for nonviolent ways of relating. These possibilities, however, tend to be preoccupied with social conflict, reconciliation, and recovery as taking place solely within the realm of human beings, thereby creating an ontology that renders nature silent. This thesis asks why it is so difficult to attend to natural contexts and the more-than-human world in peace and conflict studies. This research suggests that the shift in experience that comes through connection with nature opens possibilities for peacebuilding and recovery from conflict. Thus, while it explores responses to experiences of violence, this thesis also works to articulate an understanding of how conflict and peacebuilding take place within a shared, interconnected and interdependent global ecosystem. The core of this inquiry is experience-centred narrative research within the phenomenological interpretive framework provided by Maurice Merleau-Ponty. This research explores the personal experience stories of veterans suffering from stress and post-traumatic distress from their military training and combat exposure. All of the veterans regard their personal recovery from stress and traumatic experiences as intimately tied to their nature experiences. These experiences are further illuminated by supporting interviews, personal narrative interludes, other stories from the edges of violence, and theories and praxis in ecology, ecopsychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience. Through exploring themes of sensory experience, safety, sense of purpose, relationships, basic needs, and regained humanity, this research culminates in the remembrance that as human beings, we are nature, and the insight that it is our (human) nature that impels and enables us to reach out and relate with others and with the more-than-human world. This central insight holds profound implications for peace and conflict studies, which focuses on peacebuilding through recognition of common humanity and conflict transformation through changed relationships. The thesis concludes by exploring possibilities and implications for bringing nature to consciousness in peace and conflict studies and for revising theoretical and practical frameworks to re-embed peace and conflict studies in the everyday world—the world beyond the boardroom or negotiating table, and the world that sustains all life on earth.
nature, recovery, trauma recovery, post-traumatic distress, veterans, narrative, peacebuilding, peace and conflict studies