2021 Peace, Security and Conflict Other

The Invisibility Cloak – How ‘Internationals’ Emotions Affect Their Listening in Peacebuilding Partnerships

Pernilla Johansson

Effective peacebuilding requires international actors to listen to local partners, which often fails in practice. Through interviews with practitioners, donors and researchers, this DDB-report identifies how everyday emotions help or hinder the receptivity to local perspectives.

The results were presented during the seminar Listening to Locals in Peacebuilding – Experiences from Bosnia, Myanmar and International Peacebuilding Partnerships.

Main findings

  • The findings challenge the conventional wisdom that peacebuilding should focus on local partners.
  • Emotions do orient internationals’ attention towards partners, which is important for receptive listening, but how they do so has the opposite effect.
  • Both positive and negative emotions orient internationals towards success in the existing peacebuilding “game”, which is still characterized by a colonial hierarchy where internationals themselves become invisible.
  • To re-orient from existing norms and hierarchies to explicit goals of receptive listening, internationals must pay more attention to themselves. They must expose themselves as political actors with stakes in the game, as part of the partnership.

Pernilla Johansson defended her dissertation The Emotional is Political: Analyzing Listening Practices of ‘Internationals’ in Peacebuilding Partnerships in June 2018 at the Department of Political Science, University of California, Irvine. She has extensive experience as a peacebuilding practitioner at an INGO and works at Sida Partnership Forum from April 2021. Her focus areas in research and practice involve learning and culture issues in organizations working for social change.