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Watch out for "dangerous" jargon in conflict reports

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 8 Jan 2013 10:18 GMT
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By Alex Whiting

An excellent blog by peacebuilding expert Phil Vernon from International Alert (IA), spotlights the dangers of lazy jargon.

He gives a checklist of words used by peacebuilders that are often a sign of lazy thinking and poor analysis of a conflict and can therefore lead to poor responses. Here are some examples:

Weak governance:  This phrase masks the fact that the state may be quite strong in some respects - in its repression of its citizens, for example - even if it doesn’t deliver basic services, Vernon says. Analysts often describe the Democratic Republic of Congo state as “weak”, but it actually has a resilient and effective patrimonial system which skews policies and decisions to sustain continued instability and violence, he adds. This kind of mistake has hampered peacebuilding in Congo, an IA report says.

Unaccountable:  Leaders usually answer to at least one faction - failure to capture this means experts don’t identify important obstacles and opportunities for change.

Community:  This word can be very misleading, Vernon says. For example, “working with the Muslim community” became a common phrase in Britain in the face of Al Qaeda terrorist threats, even though there are 1.5 million Muslims in the country. Labelling people as a community where there is none can lead to people drawing wrong conclusions, Vernon says. And the word “community” also often masks a great deal of inequality, so peacebuilders mustn’t assume that community level solutions will always be good ones, he adds.

Youth, women:  Analysts often use broad statements about women (50 percent of the population) or youth (frequently an even larger percentage). “It is far more useful …  to say which women, or which young people are affected … and therefore which specific policy change might help to improve their situation,” Vernon says.

Here's the full blog: The anti-lexicon of peacebuilding: listening to Edward Saïd and George Orwell

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