Building peace

Gilberto Algar-Faria (PhD 2018) studied civil society and Western peacebuilding through an analysis of post-war Sri Lanka.

'I was introduced to the Sri Lankan context by a professor who had been a peace negotiator during the war. During my MSc degree I went on a fieldtrip to the island state and learned a remarkable amount, and yet I still wanted to know more. At that time I was also really enjoying my studies and engaging with the case and the theory at once: I happened to be working on an essay about civil society actors at the time. Pursuing a PhD seemed the obvious next step.

'As much as I love taking novel theoretical approaches to empirical evidence (a key element to any PhD), academia also allows for an incredible level of engagement with the contexts I work in, with other people thinking about similar issues and with the wider public. When I work with people in Sri Lanka, they put a huge amount of trust in me and in what I do. I feel a responsibility to them to keep my research going and to disseminate my findings as far as possible, while of course keeping their identities confidential in most cases.

'There are lessons to be learned across the world from Sri Lanka’s post-war environment; indeed, there would be little point in doing the research if there were not. How do elite state and society actors interact in a post-war environment? And how do internationals and locals relate? But more importantly, what meaning do these externally-imposed categorisations of ‘state’, ‘society’, ‘local’ and ‘international’ have on the ground? These are interesting questions, not only for Sri Lanka but for other countries in similar positions too.

'Of course, my research does not and cannot address everything in the areas highlighted above, and my PhD has formed a small component of a much wider field of study, but I do want my work to have bearing on how people view post-war situations. Because Western engagement and statebuilding around the world isn’t working how the West might want it to. I hope the research I conducted toward my PhD has had an impact on the way conversation about peacebuilding in post-war environments.

'For some time before I received an offer to start my PhD, Bristol had been my first choice university because it housed the supervisors I wanted to work with, themselves part of the renowned Global Insecurities Centre (GIC), of which I am also a member. Many of the people who really influenced me during my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees had studied at Bristol’s GIC in the past.

'I would never have started my PhD without alumni funding. Fieldwork is expensive, especially when it takes place overseas as mine did. The funding I received also helped me to share my research at international conferences, which proved incredibly rewarding. Travelling has to be the best part of my research, not just to conduct interviews in Sri Lanka, but also to deliver papers at conferences at other universities. Engaging with so many different people, from such diverse walks of life, is really amazing, and I would not have been able to do this during my PhD without alumni funding.

'Now that my PhD is completed, I’m working full-time for a Horizon 2020 project called EU-CIVCAP, which is hosted by the University of Bristol’s Global Insecurities Centre, and focuses on EU civilian capabilities in conflict prevention and peacebuilding. The next step for me, which I have already begun, is the important move to postdoctoral research.'

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