Theoretical Framework

Posting a Theoretical Framework

By Cynthia Cohen with Lesley Yalen

A set of questions inquiring into the relationship between the arts, culture, and reconciliation was at the foundation of the 2003-2004 Brandeis International Fellowship and informed the Fellows' year-long reflections on their peacebuilding practices. These questions, along with an initial theoretical framework were put forth in the call for fellowship proposals and expanded upon and discussed at the first institute. The framework is not a static assertion or a rigid prescription. It is, rather, an evolving and flexible description of the ways in which aesthetic experience generally, and engagement with specific artistic and cultural forms, may be uniquely suited to support the work of reconciliation in communities and regions damaged by violence. This description is based on years of facilitating and observing arts-and-culture-based peacebuilding projects as well as on an analysis of literature on reconciliation and on the aesthetic domain. It continues to become richer, more complex, and more precise as we observe and learn about more practices in the field. In turn, arts-and-culture based peacebuilding practices evolve and become more effective as the description - the theory - illuminates the concepts and relationships underlying the work.

What we present here, then, is the theoretical frame articulated at the beginning of the fellowship program, as it has been considered, discussed, challenged, and expanded upon in an ongoing dialogue of theory and practice. It begins with and stems from particular notions of reconciliation and aesthetic engagement, which we define and discuss here. (For a more in-depth discussion of this theoretical framework, as well as more examples of peacebuilding practices that draw on culture and the arts, read Cynthia Cohen's article "Creative Approaches to Reconciliation," which was written during the course of this fellowship program.)