Part Four--

Applied examples in the Peacebuilding Process 

Having gained an understanding of how to detect the identities at play within conflict and how cohesion can be brought about. Let's look at the tools for analysis and techniques discussed in previous sections and apply it to concrete examples of conflicts around the globe.

Ethnographic Observation and Interviewing

Beyond using discourse as a means to access how identities are structured or expressed in a given context, we can also observe how people act out, or otherwise embody, identity in their daily lives. Understanding how identity is integrated into everyday life through people’s own lived experiences is a key means to reveal critical identity features and configurations. This is a strategy employed by many social researchers using ethnographic methods. Social or cultural anthropology resources such as the Handbook of Methods in Cultural Anthropology can provide guidance in conducting such research and analysis. Such resources also introduce a range of methods that can help us build up a picture of how identity is structured in a given context, through ethnographic interviews and other related conversational and observational techniques.

Research Spotlight:Taking Everyday Experience Seriously Through Ethnography Sandra Obradović, Psychological and Behavioural Science, LSE

This research example focuses on the case of Serbian identity. Understanding what it meant to be Serbian required ethnographic study of everyday experiences of Serbianness:

  • What it meant to be Serbian could vary depending on place, with those in the capital having a different sense of the boundaries of the nation than those living in proximity to the Kosovo region. 
  • Everyday notions of identity could frame whether political change was seen as positive or negative, as in the case of Serbian accession to the EU. Many Serbians wanted to be part of the EU, but did not want the restrictions it imposed on their way of life. For example, activities such as making local brandy and parking their car conflicted with EU standards. When those banal, everyday expressions of identity were threatened, it became a threat to Serbian identity: “We can’t be Serbian [if we are European].”

  • Other strategies of identity-making were “the compatibility effect” and “the recognition effect”, which were both about how others perceived their identity. For example, the more that Serbians thought that Germans (the prototype of the ideal European) did not see them as being European, the more they identified with Serbianness.

The key lesson is to find ways of framing new identities that do not undermine existing embodied and historically embedded identity frames. 

Applying Cohesion Strategies in Practice 

Once we have developed strategies that can target identity-based division, these must be transformed into real world projects. The below examples demonstrate ways in which identity-based strategies can be turned into practical applications to counter division and build peace and cohesion.

This example from Burundi in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide highlights the importance of building public dialogue. In Burundi challenges continue based on a lack of trust in the political system. SFCG tries to facilitate public spaces for people to speak about these issues. They also work with the media and public figures to encourage responsible reporting that does not reignite division or negative narratives.

Search for Common Ground is a peace-building NGO operating in 35 countries around the world. An example of how they approach peacebuilding through identity comes from Burundi. In Burundi, though a peace accord was signed between ethnic groups, challenges continue based on a lack of trust in the political system.

SCFG have been involved in creating platforms for dialogue,  communication and diplomacy in the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide.  SFCG focuses on using perceptions and narratives to shift social norms. Being an external body offers impartiality, which can be useful for the people they work with.

SFCG has implemented the following strategies: 

  • Focused in a long-term sense on struggles that everyone has in common: such as economic issues and lack of access to education. 
  • Facilitated public spaces for people to speak about these issues together. 
  • Worked with the media and public figures to encourage responsible reporting that does not reignite division or negative narratives.
  • Tried to strengthen intergenerational links in the community to foster long term change.

This example of working with marginalised communities to create photographic representations illustrates the importance of self-identification and agency. Communities whose identities have been fixed or thrust upon them by external labels or categories use photographic images to undermine and challenge these labels, as a strategy to create counter narratives and to reassert and define themselves.


Dr Fairey looks at the role of art and imagery in simplifying as well as pluralising identity, and the role of art and images in mediating identity. Her work is concerned with how art makes identities messy, and how it allows identities to be reimagined. 

Dr Fairey works with marginalised communities whose identities have been fixed or thrust upon them by (often negative) external labels or categories. The main problem for communities is being defined by a single identity. For example, when a community was defined as “starving” through the use of famine imagery, they had less of a problem with the imagery and more of a 

problem with being defined only through this lens, reducing them to being a hungry person and nothing more.

The capacity for self-identification is important and can be achieved through art-based mediums. Dr Fairey has implemented the following strategies: 

  • Encouraging communities to create their own photographic images to undermine and challenge these labels. Here images are a strategy to create counter narratives and allow those identity groups to reassert and define themselves.
  • Fostering a youth project in the post-conflict Balkans, including the development of an online platform for youth driven citizen journalism, and a youth culture magazine. 
  • Working with London-based migrant youth who took their own photos to represent their journey from their own perspective, focusing on relatable elements of their everyday life such as shopping or studying. 

Toolkit Spotlight: The EMIC Method 

OICD EMIC and this Toolkit +

Many of the toolkit methods are derived from and/or reinforce aspects of the OICD’s Engagement Methodology for Identities in Conflict (EMIC). The EMIC Method (the word itself is Latin for “understanding from within”) is an evidence-based tool that utilises the positive potential of identity to combat division, reduce the risk of extremism, and create lasting positive change. Its key strength is in identifying and highlighting positive and protective identity factors that combat division. 

EMIC works to counter and mitigate division through identity engagement that sets out to: 

  1. Amplify and regenerate self-other linkages
  2. Re-pluralise in-group membership.
  3. Protect and expand narrative optionality and the diversity of self-society linkages.

The EMIC Method provides a toolset that consists of six stages and a workflow that is designed to delineate, track and counter techniques of division. The EMIC Method begins by gathering detailed data on a population’s use of cultural symbols and narratives. This data is plotted and modelled (mapped) in accordance with the latest knowledge on identity dynamics. 

An EMIC practitioner then proceeds to analyse and to develop and test strategies that counter root causes of division. EMIC strategies are distributed in the form of capacity building initiatives and interventions. 

The focus of EMIC is to regenerate cultural connections that allow people to build on their unique skillsets and interests and increase their options to find a diverse set of ways to express their personalities within their cultural environment. Rather than returning clients to a state of neutrality, EMIC aims to create solutions that provide populations with narrative optionality, assuming that significant narrative loss has (or is at risk of) occurring as a result of division and identity weaponisation.