Pushpa Iyer has many years of experience as a scholar, practitioner, and activist in the field of Conflict and Peace. Her work and research in Gujarat, India, South and South-east Asia and parts of Africa have focused on identity-based conflicts, non-state armed groups, and peacebuilding in societies emerging out of war and violence. Her efforts to bring peace between the divided Hindu and Muslim communities in Gujarat laid the foundation for her passion in social justice. She continues her activism work in her new home, the United States, through programs designed to fight racial inequity, discrimination, and violence in higher education institutions and beyond. As Associate Professor of Conflict Resolution in the Graduate School of International Policy and Management, she teaches courses related to conflict, development, peace, and race. As the first Chief Diversity Officer of the Institute (2018-2020), she coordinated various efforts to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in the school. A project she started in 2016 and continues to coordinate is Allies at MIIS, a research-cum-activism project to build allies for racial equity on campus. Outside of the Institute, she served as the co-chair of the Dean’s Committee for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at her alma mater, the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR) at George Mason University for 2019-2020 and is a member of other associations working for racial equity. She is the founding Director of the Center for Conflict Studies, where she plays the role of editor, trainer, researcher, and organizer. Dr. Iyer has published articles and chapters in various newsletters, journals, and books.
Conflict is universal, inevitable, and even desired. Conflict is a complex phenomenon, and its study requires a systematic analysis of its elements and its context. This includes identifying and understanding the root causes, attributes, and dynamics of conflicts. Strong analysis lays the ground for the resolution and transformation of conflict and the development and choice of intervention processes and tools. Conflict and (in)security are linked. Conflicts happen in situations of insecurity, and conflict creates insecurity. This insecurity is usually a combination of traditional security (protecting borders and boundaries and war) and human security (a human centric idea of security). To resolve conflict and reduce insecurity, many argue that development is the answer; in fact, they would say that development can end conflicts and bring peace. A further argument that has been disproved a lot but still a popular myth is that developed societies do not have conflict. However, the biggest question is, how does development happen in the context of insecurity, which is linked closely to conflict.
In this course, students will study the linkages between conflict, (in)security, and development. They will learn to analyze conflict contexts and explore the role of development as an intervention strategy. The course will also introduce them to various skills and tools available to navigate conflict and insecurity.
Using the reflective practice model and through classroom simulations, students will develop their personal ‘toolkit’ for intervening in conflicts. Importantly, the course will connect theory to practice through the application of models and frameworks, research, and case studies analysis of events and interventions from all over the world.
It is hoped that students will leave class with more questions than answers. If this happens, the course will have met its intended goal of provoking inquiry into issues previously unquestioned.
This course is a combination of remote teaching and face-to-face instruction.
Fall 2021 - MIIS, MIIS First Half of Term, Fall 2022 - MIIS, MIIS First Half of Term
Stories are an integral part of human life; they inform people’s emotional lives and are a cultural and social expression for societies around the world. Stories can reflect and help individuals and communities to examine their values, stereotypes and prejudices. The ability to tell stories can be empowering for marginalized communities by giving them the space to tell the truth and to put on record their demand for justice. For communities in conflict, stories often serve as an opportunity to deal with their past and as a platform to raise awareness about their suffering. As much as telling stories is natural to humans, storytelling skills to improve communication and listening can be learned. When storytelling is effective, it functions as a creative tool to transform conflicts while providing a voice to those who are voiceless. In this class, students will learn to use stories (telling, listening and developing) to build greater understanding and respect among individuals and communities in conflict and thus lay the foundations for effective change – social, cultural, institutional and political.
Western colonization gave rise to Eurocentric, patriarchal, capitalist, Christian, and heteronormative paradigms that lead us to believe, advocate for and retain an epistemic hegemony. Today, these centuries-old epistemic hegemonies dictate our pedagogy, inquiry, and praxis when it comes to the acquisition, management, and dissemination of knowledge. This is because knowledge, more often than not, is generated by and within these systems of global inequalities and they, in turn, reinforce various forms of hierarchical, unequal and discriminatory structures built on race, gender, class, sexual, caste, ethnic, religious, linguistic and other identities. The implications of learning under hegemonic epistemologies (for example, in institutions of higher education) on various careers - such as development, peace and conflict, education, environment and related disciplines - is that we start with the belief that we have the answers to the world's most pressing problems leading us to re-colonize the colonized through our impositions. In this course, as a first step, we will question our own epistemologies. Then, we will use decolonial (understood as going beyond post-colonial) theories to understand how knowledge is acquired, legitimized, and disseminated. Further, we will explore how decolonized knowledge can challenge power structures, whether in the classroom or when working in the field.
There is growing acceptance to the argument that alienation of non-state armed groups does not bring an end to violence. A question being increasingly asked by third party interveners, policy makers/ analysts and scholars is: ‘how to effectively engage with such groups?’ ‘Understanding’ groups is the first step when attempting to intervene in the conflict. In order to do, one must examine the leadership of the group. This is central to any political analysis. The leader and the nature of leadership creates and to a large extent influences every other aspect of the group such as ideology, goals, leadership, structure, culture and commitment. Students will examine the nature of leadership in one non-state armed group and comment on the implications for those choosing to engage with that particular group. Specifically, the students will research on: (1) Profile and Personality of the Leader/s; Origins of Leadership (2) Type of Leadership (3) Source of Power (4) Maintaining Authority and Control/Ensuring Follower Compliance and Commitment (5) Dealing with threats, change and Crisis Management (6) Negotiating with Leadership/Group - Implications for Practitioners, Policy Makers and Scholars.
An “ism” is a philosophy with its distinct sets of practices and which is often understood as a shared ideology of a group. The ideology or the “ism” provides identity to a group and to the individuals of the group. Not surprisingly, identities stemming from “isms” via for the loyalty of its members and turn into a source of identity-based conflicts. Identity conflicts rooted in these philosophical “isms” are naturally intractable conflicts making it crucial for conflict interveners to identify the sources and process of formation of “isms” and the causal role it plays in the creation of shared identities.
This course will prepare students to conduct in-depth analysis of “isms” (including but not limited to nationalism, fundamentalism, classism, racism, sexism, ageism) by looking into the formation, development and maintenance of group identities. By conducting an in-depth analysis of the “isms” and the related conflicts, intervention strategies will be discussed. Case studies and current events will provide materials for class discussion and assignments.
Dr. Iyer is passionate about social justice, which she understands as navigating social change through creative approaches. Specializing in understanding and analyzing social change and developing tools to manage the process, she believes that students should follow their heart but balance it with strategic knowledge and skills. She takes a value-based approach to teaching and learning. Her more recent efforts are focused on getting students and colleagues to consider how our colonized minds impact knowledge acquisition and dissemination.
PhD in Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University
MBA (International Management), University of East London, UK
Post-Graduate Diplomas in Human Resources Management, Organizational Behaviour, Sacred Heart University, Luxembourg and Academy of Human Resources Development, India
Bachelor of Law (Labour Laws), Gujarat University, India
India Bachelor of Commerce, Gujarat University, India
Middlebury Institute Professor Pushpa Iyer shares how, as a response to the Covid pandemic, she recreated an intense storytelling course with personal connections between faculty and students at its heart, to fit the new reality of remote learning.