Peace, War, and Social Conflict Section Celebrates 20 Years
. . . . Reflections From Founding Members

Elise Boulding

I remember how frustrated I was during the anti-Vietnam era, thatsociologists were putting so much energy into arguing political positions for the ASA and so little energy into developing the field of conflict and peace studies. Here was a research and teaching field that might in the long run enable peacebuilding scenarios to replace war and violence as ways to deal with conflicts.

At that time those of us who were members of the International Peace Research Association (IPRA) and its North American affiliate, the Consortium on Peace Research, Education, and Development (COPPED) were busy forming groups to promote conflict and peace studies in every social science discipline. Naturally I was delighted at the opportunity to chair a committee of sociologists already sold on peace research. Jo Elder, Ted Goertzel, Ruth Jacobs, Lou Kriesberg that was a great gang! We set about educating our colleagues through a jointly authored article on Teaching the Sociology of World Conflicts: A Review of the State of the Field. From the beginning our group, which eventually became a Section, covered a wide variety of research approaches, as does IPRA and COPPED. Never large in numbers, we were nevertheless constantly challenging and stimulating each other and getting new courses introduced into our departments.

Given the new international dangers on the horizon with the steps India and Pakistan have taken to join the nuclear club, to say nothing of the turmoil in the Balkans, Middle East, and parts of Africa, it is time to remind our ASA colleagues of how important peace studies is and will be to help us get into the 21st century peacefully. More of them should join us! 

Louis Kriesberg

My memory is that the section emerged to help solve a problem that the ASA Council faced during the hectic anti-Vietnam war struggle in this country and in the ASA. The Council, in responding to resolutions of the radical caucus relating to U.S. military engagement in Vietnam, appointed a Committee on the Sociology of World Conflicts. The initial membership did not include any members of the radical caucus, but the Committee added one.

The committee was chaired by Elise M. Boulding and included Joseph W. Elder, Ted Goertzel, Ruth Harriet Jacobs, and Louis Kriesberg. The Committee strove by many methods to educate our sociology colleagues about the importance of world conflicts for sociological teaching and research. After a few years, the Council decided that such an ad hoc committee could not continue indefinitely and the Committee members somewhat reluctantly agreed to form a Section.

The section was always an amalgam of groups, varying in number and relative size. The groups have included analysts of social conflicts, social movements, conflict resolution, armed forces, and popular culture; our research and teaching about these matters have stemmed from diverse theoretical and moral perspectives. We have learned much from each other.

Editor's Note: 

I asked members to discuss the founding of the section, their own involvement, any special memories, or their current work. MACC

Joe Elder provides his memories:

You asked for Section Founders' memories. 1969 was not a good year in many respects. The Vietnam War had become a giant burden on the US and the world -- morally and financially. Yet there seemed to be no way of ending the war. The highest authorities in the United States seemed committed to churning ahead ..Teach-ins, vigils, peace-marches, and petitions all seemed to have no effect on the war, It was massively discouraging. Then, in the midst of all the massive discouragement, several concerned sociological colleagues suggested we academics do what we're best-trained to do -- research and analysis. The colleagues I remember most vividly in these discussions were Elise Boulding, Lou Kriesberg, and Allen Grimshaw. It became startlingly clear to all of us that the analytic study of war had dropped between the slats of the academy, Political science didn't do it. Nor did history. Nor did economics. Nor did sociology. The thought of organizing a section of the ASA began to take shape.

The summer of 1969 I had volunteered to work for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker organization. I had agreed to go to Southeast Asia to do some long- range speculative planning: Assuming that someday the Vietnam war would end, what should AFSC be planning to do in that part of the world after the war ?. I was urged to take a particularly close look at the Mekong River Project -- a Project that enjoyed the support of Marxist and non- Marxist governments in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. And at the end of the summer I was supposed to come up with some recommendations to make to AFSC.

In May, 1969, on my way to Southeast Asia, I attended a conference in Stockholm sponsored by the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong. The AFSC delegation to that conference was informed that the North Vietnamese were now prepared to have an AFSC representative come to Hanoi (in North Vietnam) to discuss Quaker/Mennonite relief assistance for civilian war victims in North Vietnam. The Executive Secretary of the AFSC pointed to me and said I would be that representative. In the blink of an eye my summer assignment had been changed!

So I spent the summer of 1969 focusing on communications between AFSC and Hanoi (and eventually taking into Hanoi about $35,000 worth of open-heart surgical equipment that the North Vietnamese government requested for its civilian war victims).

AFSC's usual policy in situations of war is to try to provide assistance to the civilian sufferers on all sides of a war. In the Vietnam War AFSC had been running a large civilian hospital in Quang Ngai in South Vietnam ever since about 1965 -- thereby rendering assistance to southern sufferers. But until 1969 AFSC had been unable to provide assistance to civilians in North Vietnam -- for want of an invitation from the North Vietnamese government. Hence the speed with which AFSC responded to North Vietnam's invitation. And hence my job re- assignment.

All the freshness and immediacy of the Vietnam war was with me when I attended the 1969 ASA meetings and participated in launching the committee that was the precursor of the section on peace and war. I was delighted to see a group of scholars and researchers turn their attention to studying and analyzing topics as important as peace and war. I was pleased when the section was founded and I'm delighted the section is still-alive and well after 20 years!

Allen Grimshaw reflects on his involvement.

I have two particular sets of recollections about our section.

First, when I was chair in 1982-1983 the principal concerns of the section were not intellectual (what causes war or peace) or ideological (how should we balance "scientific" and "activist" goals). They were, rather, administrative and logistic, my principal responsibility appeared to be to achieve and maintain a membership sufficient to continue as an ASA section. Friends in the ASA office helped us in working toward this goal, I sometimes wondered what the thousand members of the medical sociology section thought they would study in the aftermath of nuclear war. I still do.

Second, I am deeply indebted to Ruth Searles for creating the Task Force on Genocide, Politicide, and Democide--and asking me to serve as chair. My activities in organizing and participating in sessions reporting on these unpleasant and perduring phenomena and on helping people who wanted to teach about them at six regional sociology meetings over two years helped me to reinvigorate my own attempts to understand different varieties of mass slaughter as well as to encourage others in developing interests. A sad part of this experience was the confirmation that the bulk of our colleagues continue to distance themselves from the phenomena. An encouraging and restorative dimension was the rediscovery of the extraordinarily high levels of professional and personal commitment of a small subset of sociologists (and colleagues in cognate fields).

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has moved its clock closer to midnight. I hope our younger members will be more successful than we have been in getting sociologists to pay attention to what is going on in the world in which they live.

Kurt Lang remembers the earliest days.

I have jogged my memory but cannot come up with anything truly interesting or even witty. We just had a nice and quiet meeting -- whenever it was. Some of us had come from sociology of the military and others from peace studies. Despite an undercurrent of mutual suspicion about hidden political agenda (we were still under the shadow of the sixties), a consensus emerged, though it may have taken some years, that to promote and understand what it took to make and preserve peace, one had to study and understand war and the military.

About that time, Kai Eriksen (it may have been at the Eastern meetings) gave a paper, in which he urged sociologists to pay attention to the study of war. Elise Boulding turned to a number of us sitting nearby, shrugging her shoulders and remarked "what does he think we have been doing all these years?"

Bill Gamson recounts why he joined the section.

I think my reasons for joining the section were more personal than professional in 1979. I was no longer doing research on international conflict but had been part of the peace research movement of the 1960s as an active member of the Center for Research on Conflict Resolution. Also, it was a critical turning point in the Cold War -- the triumph of the Committee on the Present Danger, the turn around of Carter with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the beginning of the big weapons build up which Carter began and Reagan accelerated. It was also the beginning of a new mobilization -- the Nuclear Freeze movement. Even if my then current workwas not terribly relevant, I had to join as a matter of solidarity.

William M. Evan writes of early work before the section was founded and current activities.

My involvement in our Section dates back to two projects in the late 1950's as the Cold War was getting colder when the atmospheric nuclear tests by both superpowers were polluting the world with Strontium 90.

In 1958, my colleague at Columbia University, Seymour Melman, was conducting a multidisciplinary study of alternative methods--physical, biological, electronic, financial, etc.--of verifying compliance with a disarmament inspection agreement. He solicited my views on how to increase the efficacy of his array of inspection techniques. In the course of our conversation, a new inspection technique--social in nature--emerged which Melman called "Inspection by the People." If incorporated in a disarmament agreement, it would impose a legal obligation on the U.S. and Soviet citizens to report evidence of violations occurring in their own countries to an international inspection agency. This technique presumed that a sufficient percentage of the citizens of the two superpowers would subscribe to a supra-national ideology in the service of world peace. To test this presumption, a six-nation (U.S.. Great Britain, France, India. West Germany and Japan) public opinion poll was conducted, which yielded the surprising finding that a majority in each country was willing to support the technique of "Inspection by the People." My report on this survey was published in Melman's book Inspection for Disarmament (Columbia University Press, 1958).

My second project in the late 1950s involved a collaborative effort with Quincy Wright and Morton Deutsch. We invited 26 world-renowned experts to prepare essays setting forth strategies to prevent nuclear war. The resulting edited volume entitled Preventing World War III was published in 1962 by Simon and Schuster.

In the 1980s, while teaching a course on Nuclear War to undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania, I co-edited, with Stephen Hilgartner, a book entitled The Arms Race and Nuclear War (Prentice Hall, 1987)

Although the Cold War is now over, the threat of nuclear war paradoxically persists owing to the problem of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the continued reliance by U.S. and Russian military planners on the strategy of "launch on warning," and the growing threat of nuclear terrorism. In 1995, together with Ved Nanda, an international law scholar, I co-edited a book entitled Nuclear Proliferation and the Legality of Nuclear Weapons (University Press of America).

As a long-time member of our Section, I deeply appreciate the contributions of our members to sociology as a whole. Nevertheless, I find it surprising that more sociologists are not attending to the pervasive macro-social conflicts threatening the international community.

Kenneth Ives writes of recent activities and sends greeting to other early members of the section.

From 1993 on, discussions in Illinois Yearly Meeting of Friends on service opportunities (work camps, etc.) resulted in a conference in April 1996 in Burlington, N.J. on Quaker Volunteer Service. About 100 attended. A Directory of Quaker Volunteer Service, Training, Witness and Internships was issued (second edition, January 1997, 40 pages). Among the programs listed are: Friends Peace Teams, Alternatives to Violence Project, Quaker United Nations Office, Training Center Workshops, and Friends for a Non-Violent World.

John MacDougall lists his recent work related to concerns of the section.

1 ) Co-editor of 2nd edition of the curriculum guide on teaching the sociology of Peace and War (ASA, 1998). 2) Article in 2 parts on economic conversion, with Fred Rose, in NEW SOLUTIONS (a journal mainly for labor folks--for subscriptions etc. contact the editor, Chuck Levenstein, Dept. of Work Environment, UMass. Lowell, Lowell MA 01854, e-mail This article will be in the June & Sept. 98 issues. 3) Co-director, Peace & Conflict Studies Institute, University of Massachusetts at Lowell. Main activities a) monthly talks & panel discussions on diverse topics, e.g. immigration policy, gun control, the 1995 Beijing Women's conference, Haiti, Iraq etc.; b) organized Days (more than one is needed, we find) without Violence every April since 1996; focus on both educational talks & panels on campus, and basic violence-prevention training, especially for inner-city youth in collaboration with local agencies. I regret I cannot be at the San Francisco meetings and send greetings to other section members.

Editor's note: John was also the first to broach the idea of a section name change several years ago and worked as chair of the Name Change committee to bring it to the members for a vote.

Nandi Proshanta describes work he has been doing and asks for younger members to join him.

I have been active in the peace/non-violence segment of the International Sociological Association (ISA) since 1973. At the time there was no section or sub-section dealing with peace or non-violence in the ISA. In or about 1973 I drew the attention of the ISA Executive board this, and for the first time two session on peace/non-violence were allowed at the 1974 World Congress of the ISA at Stockholm, both being chaired by me. Subsequently, "conflict resolution" was added to ISA Research Committee (RC O 1 ) on "Armed Forces," making the new title of the committee Armed Forces and Conflict Resolution." This was not a happy marriage as the focus of the committee was studies on military armed forces. I found that I was the only member (among nearly 300) whose interest was peace and/or non-violence. At any rate, we have had at least one session on peace/non-violence every fours years since 1974, including the recent one at Montreal.

Editor's notes:

In a phone conversation, Professor Proshanta cited the great need for more people concerned about peace to join the ISA research committee. He will leave San Francisco on the 23rd and thus will not be at the section reception. He sends best wishes to all

In a phone call Joseph Perry recalled his commitment to the ideal of study of peace and war issues and the related concerns of the section. He sent greetings to all.

Albert D. Biderman wrote that he could not add any specific memories of the days when the section was established.

Helen Fein has not been very involved in section activities but has been extremely active in research and writing and as the director of the Institute for the Study of Genocide.

Ruth Searles has served the section as chair and council member and on various committees. During her term as chair she organized with the help of others the very successful Paths to Peace workshop sponsored by the section in 1994 and created the Task Force on Genocide, Politicide, and Democide.

Jack Nusan Porter
Adjunct Professor of Sociology
University of Massachusetts (Lowell) 
and Vice-President, Association of Genocide Scholars.

“I am proud to have been a founding member of the Section on World Conflicts (today called ‘Peace, War, and Social Conflict’) and sorry to have missed your program in San Francisco this summer, but I am still active in the section. In fact, under John MacDougall’s editorship, I have contributed an essay and syllabus on the “Sociology of Genocide” for the section’s curriculum guide to be published by the ASA. As a child of survivors, genocide and the Holocaust has been a major scholarly concern of mine. In fact, I wrote some of my first essays on the subject and edited a book called Genocide and Human Rights just about the time the section was founded in 1979. So, I’ve been involved with many of the people who were original members, going on 20 years, which is also about the same time that genocide studies emerged as a distinct discipline, and now there is an international organization called the Association of Genocide Scholars in which Helen Fein was first and founding president and I am now second vice-president. We welcome readers to join. Again, mazel tov on the 20th anniversary and thank you, Mary Anna Colwell, for notifying me of this nice event.”

Baidya N. Varma (a founding member)
Professor Emeritus 

He was in the Department.of Sociology
He was declared Distinguished International Poet of the Year in 1996 by The International Society of Poets. 

His poem is as follows: 

A Founding Member's View 
by Baidya Nath Varma

Peace and War are matrimonial twins. If there is no War, ther is no need for Peace. The horrors of War have engulfed mankind from time immemorial. We sociologist need to perceive the cause of War in the global context. That's why I joined the World Conflicts Section of the ASA.

I believe in social regeneration and, if need be, social transformation for the good of humanity. It led me to reexamine the social condition of the entire world, And publish my book, The Sociology and Politics of Development: A Theoretical Study, in 1980 For the first time, 150 copies of my book went to Moscow, a first sociology export from the West. I was informed by the Russian Ambassador at the United National the Gorbachev read my book. It becomes clear from his reasoning in his book, Perestroika, published in 1985.

The world situation in the last decade and a half has stabilized in terms of the threat of World War. But social conflicts keep on going and will not stop so long as people in different countries will have their ambitions and no way to fulfill them. It is here that sociologists can make their greatest contribution to the twenty-first century.

Original members of the ASA World Conflict Section in 1979
who belong to the Peace and War Section in 1998

(1979 locationj

Albert D. Biderman~ -McClean, VA

Elise M. Boulding-- - -_Hanover, NH

Russell R. Dynes--------Washington, DC

Joseph W. Elder--------Madison. WI

William M. Evan------Swarthmore, PA

Helen Fein-----New Paltz, NY

William A. Gamson------Ann Arbor, MI

Allen D. Grimshaw--------Bloomington, IN

Kenneth H. Ives------Chicago,IL

Louis Kriesberg--------Syracuse,NY

Kurt Lang--------Sfony Brook, NY

John A. MacDougall--------College Park, MD

Oliver C. Moles--------Rockrille, MD

Martin A. Moluar--------Rome, Italy

Charles C. Moskos--------Evanston, IL

Proshanta K Nandi-------Springfield, IL

Totaro Okada-----Takarazuka, Japan

Joseph B. Perry------Bowling Green, OH

Jack Nusan Porter--------Brookline, MA

Ruth E. Searles------Toledo,OH

Luther E. Tyson--------Washington, DC

Paul Wehr-------Boulder, CO