International peacekeeping works better when the people trying to do that job pay attention to local conflicts in the countries they are trying to help.
So says Severine Autesserre, a Barnard College political scientist who has won the 2012 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order for the ideas set forth in her book, “The Trouble with the Congo: Local Violence and the Failure of International Peacebuilding.”
Drawing from more than 300 interviews and 18 months of field research, Autesserre analyzed a global effort from 2003 to 2006 to curb widespread violence in the Congo. She found the attempt failed because international workers trying to restore peace overlooked the importance of local disputes over land, resources and political power.
Her message that lasting conflict resolution must take place from the bottom up as well as from the top down “holds great promise for the pursuit of peace,” said award jurors.
Autesserre, who joined Barnard’s faculty in 2007, teaches and does research on civil wars, peacebuilding and peacekeeping, humanitarian aid and African politics. She also conducts a senior research seminar on civil wars and peace settlements at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.
She has traveled to the Congo regularly since 2001 and has worked with international humanitarian and development agencies in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Nicaragua, India and the United States over the past 12 years.
UofL presents four Grawemeyer Awards each year for outstanding works in music composition, world order, psychology and education. The university and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary jointly give a fifth award in religion. This year’s awards are $100,000 each.
Severine Autesserre has spent years visiting some of the world’s most dangerous trouble spots with an eye on how to bring about lasting peace in those locations.
An assistant professor of political science at Barnard College, Columbia University, she has quickly become a respected scholar in the areas of peacekeeping and peacebuilding, African politics, international relations and the politics of humanitarian and development aid.
Autesserre’s research in the Congo culminated in her Grawemeyer Award-winning book, “The Trouble with the Congo: Local Violence and the Failure of International Peacebuilding,” published by Cambridge University Press in 2010. The book also won the International Studies Association’s 2011 Chadwick Alger Award.
Besides working in Barnard’s Africana studies program, she is affiliated with Columbia University’s Salzman Institute for War and Peace Studies and Institute of African Studies. From 2006 to 2007 she studied and taught about civil wars, international intervention and African politics as a post-doctoral associate at Yale University.
She has been consultant or adviser to a variety of humanitarian groups such as Doctors Without Borders and Action Against Hunger.
She holds a doctorate in political science from New York University, two master’s degrees—one in international affairs from Columbia University and another in political and social sciences from Sciences-Po in France—as well as a bachelor’s degree in political science from Sorbonne University.
The U.S. Institute of Peace, Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, Mellon Fellowship in Security and Humanitarian Action and Fulbright Fellowship all have funded her research, and her insights have appeared in academic journals such as Foreign Affairs, African Studies Review and Journal of Humanitarian Affairs.
For the past two years, she has been studying how shared cultures and practices influence peacebuilding interventions on the ground, an effort that has included a primary case study in the Congo and comparative research in South Sudan, Burundi and Cyprus.