News & Events
Visiting Professor Maria Raquel Freire, November-December 2013
Researcher, Centre for Social Studies
Professor of International Relations, School of Economics,University of Coimbra
Could you share your story or biography with the Kroc School?
I completed my first degree at the University of Minho in Portugal, and then my MA and PhD in International Relations at the University of Kent, UK (PhD in 2002). I returned to Portugal and started lecturing. In 2005, I began a position with the School of Economics at the University of Coimbra, where I coordinated the Department and Undergraduate Program in International Relations, and co-coordinated the PhD Program in International Politics and Conflict Resolution. I will begin a new challenge as a vice-dean of the School of Economics.
What brings you to the Kroc School and how has your visit been with faculty and students?
I’m on sabbatical leave and was awarded a one-month scholarship from Fundação Luso-Americana para o Desenvolvimento (FLAD) in Portugal to come to the Kroc School. I chose this institution because of its dynamism and engagement with the field, and because I already knew the work of some of the professors. Professor Necla Tschirgi was fundamental in this regard, for the excellent work she has been developing, and for hosting me here at the Kroc School. This has been a wonderful experience. I’ve been discussing some of the issues I’m working on with colleagues and students whom, by the way, are very active and motivated. It has been a most enriching time. Basically, I’m learning a lot!
What are some of your teaching, research and current work projects?
I teach in the undergraduate International Relations, and in the Masters and PhD programs in International Politics and Conflict Resolution. My subjects cover the foreign policies of great powers, theoretical debates on international relations, conflict prevention and crisis management, and peacekeeping issues.
This all comes together in my research. A substantial part of it has been focusing on interventions, looking upstream at foreign policy motivations regarding decision-making processes (whether to intervene, when to intervene, how and why), as well as the processes in the field – with a multilevel look at relations between all actors involved.
In particular is East Timor where we are currently developing a research project. We have been focusing on various United Nations (UN) presences which took diverse shapes: from the transitional administration to an integrated mission, from election monitoring to the use of force. The way in which the UN presences contribute to peacebuilding in East Timor, what kind of peace is promoted, how the UN relates to the local dimension (grass-roots and communities’ level) are all issues we have been dealing with.
I’ve also done extensive fieldwork in the post-Soviet space, looking at areas of conflict and how dynamics of transformation of a negative rhetoric into a positive discourse and approach to peace might be promoted. Moldova/Transnistria, Georgia/Abkhazia and Georgia/South Ossetia are examples.
In a more overall security and stability approach, I’ve also conducted fieldwork in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia. In my last trip to Georgia, for example, I had the chance to discuss with EU officials the role of the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) regarding border assessment issues and how this contribute to stability building, a European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) mission deployed after the 2008 war.
What are your short and long term goals or thoughts for peace and justice?
Many things could be said, but I’ll probably highlight three main ideas with a focus on peace.
First, we should have a careful look at the role of peacebuilders at the local level in violence settings (be it direct or structural) in the way they mobilize local capacities to manage differences in the building of sustainable peace.
This leads me to a second thought on how we should problematize and challenge relationships, in order to understand the transformative role these might play – be they promoted by states, organizations or individuals. The issue is how to promote a transformative peaceful discourse that is socialized in daily relations, where the role of language is fundamental. In fact, discourse might assist in this transformative process in a positive way, or instead contribute to perpetuate and replicate dynamics of difference and exclusion. Therefore, a normative approach to peace, inclusive in nature and able to advance with a transformative approach to violence is fundamental for change to take place.
And finally, that peace as a concept and peace as a practice need not be distant. The evolution in doctrinaire documents of the UN, for example, is very much clear on how much we have learned from doing. Building peace is a learning and continuous process, with many ups and downs, but which end-goals should be pursued through inclusive policies and practices. From words to deeds there is a long way. But this should not be understood as a one way; instead we have multiple ways of working for peace – be it at a more theoretical level or in the field, be it with an international organization or among a local community, be it through the active diplomacy of a state or engagement with a NGO.
Thus, and surely I want to finish on a positive note, despite all obstacles on the way, the transformations we have had this far and the building blocks we have managed to put together might be only small steps in a big endeavor, but they are all worth it.
Do you have any advice for our faculty, students, alumni or community members?
I would just like to invite everyone to look at the work we have been developing at our research center, the Centre for Social Studies (CES), especially the research work by the members of the Group on Humanities, Migration and Peace Studies – and which, to a great extent, overlap with work being developed here at the Kroc School.
I’d also like to draw attention to a Newsletter on Peace Studies that we publish at CES – the Bulletin P@x with the most recent editions focusing on issues such as ‘“Third Party” Intervention into Violence and its Reproductions’ or ‘Peace, power and empowerment’, as well as one of its latest issues specially dedicated to East Timor, ‘Perspectives on Timor Leste: from historical memory to the state’s consolidation’. If you are interested in contributing, you’re most welcome.