“To survive the Borderlands
you must live sin fronteras
be a crossroads”
How do you know you are alive?
I have asked myself and others this somewhat unusual question, and “breathing,” “thinking,” “feeling one’s heartbeat,” and “relating to others” are among the answers I have received. These empirical responses align with Descartes on the importance of thinking to human experience, summarized in his famous quote “I think therefore I am” (2005:51). However, they also show a larger spectrum that includes sensorial, somatic, and relational aspects. As vital as thinking is for human existence, it is also important to acknowledge that it does not encompass life in its fullness.
Descartes’ famous saying, and the way subsequent generations have appropriated and developed it into what is referred to as modernity, poses many problems for peace. Using rationality as the main premise for identifying life prioritizes beings and things that can be rationally understood. In modernity, this rational understanding is restricted to things susceptible to mathematical or logical explanation, employing a conception of science that is mechanistic, quantitative, Eurocentric, and secularized (Martínez Guzmán 2000: 52). Peace, therefore, is understood as a singular and absolute concept, a predictable outcome of calculated steps. This leads to the troublesome view of peace as a product of universal applicability, developed by neutral experts, which could be exported to supposedly unpeaceful people in civilizing and development projects. The violent consequences of such projects attest the problematic premises upon which this concept of peace is based.
A modern understanding of peace, based exclusively on rationality, falls short in offering multifaceted perspectives of the world and appropriate tools to navigate it. This understanding stems from the observation that there are opposites in the world (Dietrich 2012). From the need to make sense of and thrive among these oppositions emerges the strategy of categorizing opposites and evaluating them. One is given precedence over the other, resulting in distinctions such as good and bad, right and wrong. Repression and suppression of difference results in the grueling effort to reach a self-referenced yet delusional ideal of goodness, righteousness, and purity.
One consequence of this logic is the exclusion of others who do not think like “I” do. Modernity’s use of reason as the premise to identify life, or to acknowledge the right to existence, lays aside a whole range of beings which do not correspond to its definition of thinking. Nature is seen as devoid of consciousness and therefore exploitable to serve the lives of beings who think. Furthermore, this logic lays aside all those human beings who do not share “my” thinking or abide by “my” worldview. Considering that this “I” is restricted to a normative combination of identities, it devalues groups considered as others, such as women, LGBTQ+ people, people of color, some ethnicities and nationalities, and lower income classes. Intersectionality shows even more complicated nuances of this logic of exclusion. The consequence then is similar to that befalling nature: exploitation and an existence that serves the normative “right” identity, the one against which all other existence is referenced.
In the same vein, when thinking is elevated as the only valid source of knowledge, other ways of knowing are suppressed. Sensing, feeling, intuiting, and witnessing (Koppensteiner 2018) are denigrated as irrational and unscientific. Besides losing touch with the richness of human experience, the supremacy of thinking prevents balancing and complementing reason with insights coming from the body, the heart, intuition, and spiritual inspiration. Such balance contributes to an awareness of relationality and the interconnectedness of life. Without balance, the problematic combination of the claim to absolute truth, a rejection of otherness, and the striving for purity may reach extremes and threaten difference altogether (Koppensteiner 2009).
Scholars and practitioners of feminist, gender, and critical race theory have long engaged in questioning the self-righteousness and rigid categorizations of dominant discourse, denouncing violent structures and calling for change. They have developed deep reflections on the causes and structures of violence, questioning systems of oppressive power, and holding violent narratives accountable. This has been of vital importance for peace work. They have called attention to deeper dynamics of violence going on underneath mainstream conflict intervention models and contributed to breaking the modern monolithic interpretation of peace. This rupture found echo in the field of peace studies with the acknowledgment of many and imperfect peaces (Dietrich and Sützl 1997, Muñoz 2006).
Authors such as hooks (1984), Crenshaw (1995), and especially Anzaldúa (1999), to name a few, delved into the exploration of the uncertainties, fears, and suffering of human experience on the margins. My experience with these texts has been painful but also inspiring, as they showed that an investigation of the power dynamics and potentialities within them may open space for tapping into power contained in vulnerability and in the intersections of difference and belonging. In this process, alternatives develop, revealing a potential for different forms of relating, anchored to the vulnerability of an open-ended and constantly shifting subject (Echavarría 2008).
This call for exploring relationality in the processes of changing and being changed that accompany human interaction resonates with a transrational understanding of peace (Dietrich 2012). The transrational approach does not deny or transcend rationality, but crosses through it, integrating reason while weakening its harmful tendencies of absolutism with an emphasis on relationality. Therefore, it invites a twist, a reworking of modernity’s split between nature and culture, body and mind, observer and observed, us and them (Dietrich 2012). Twisting this split involves more than simplistic inclusion. It is not about a work of goodness, of integrating people from the margins to the center, while divisive dynamics remain untouched. It involves enlarging the landscape of perception, engaging with people in open relationality, and questioning the different roles that perpetuate violence, including one’s own. It involves shifting the ways power, love, and politics are understood and enacted. It involves acknowledging not only the academy as a locus of production of knowledge, but also schools, political and communal gatherings, and personal experiences. It involves dialogue among thinking, feeling, sensing, intuiting, and witnessing, and dialogue among people with different worldviews.
Twisting this split and healing the wounds derived from it requires hard work, and a profound change in structures and cultural behaviors that perpetuate it. However, this is not an endeavor that is out of reach. It begins with changes in the way each person perpetuates violence, transforms her conflicts and relates to others, and more frequently opens and holds spaces that enable experiences of intra- and interpersonal peace. In a transrational perspective, peace is available as a potential within human beings, who are embedded in the pulsating relationality and connectedness of life. Therefore, while acknowledging the gifts and risks of rationality, it is important also to sustain the energetic remembrance of interconnectedness, or as Anzaldúa suggests: being crossroads in the borderless fabric of relationality.
 Wolfgang Dietrich derives the term twist from Gianni Vattimo’s verwindung. Distinct from overcoming, twisting refers to a process of deriving reflections while recollecting, taking into consideration earlier experiences (201).
Anzaldúa, G. (1999) Borderlands = La frontera. The new mestiza. 2nd edition. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books.
Butler, J. (1999). Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge.
Crenshaw, K. W. (1995) ‘Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color’ in Crenshaw, Kimberlé, et al. Critical Race Theory: The Key writings that Formed the Movement. The New Press: New York
Descartes, R. (2005). A Discourse of a Method for the Well Guiding of Reason, and the Discovery of Truth in the Sciences. [Ann Arbor, Mich.]: Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership
Dietrich, W. (2014) ‘A Brief Introduction to Transrational Peace Research and Elicitive Conflict Transformation’ in Journal of Conflictology 5 (2), 48-57. Campus for Peace, UOC.
Dietrich, W. (2013) Elicitive Conflict Transformation and the Transrational Shift in Peace Politics. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
Dietrich, W. (2012) Interpretations of Peace in History and Culture. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
Dietrich, W., Sützl, W. (1997) A Call for Many Peaces. Peace Center Schlaining
Echavarría Álvarez, J. (2014) ‘Elicitive Conflict Mapping: A Practical Tool for Peacework’ in Journal of Conflictology 5 (2), 58-71. Campus for Peace, UOC.
Echavarría Alvarez, J. (2008) ‘Telling Different Stories: Subjectivity and Feminist Identity Politics’. Paper presented at the Panel Gender Theory, Subjectivity and Security’. International Studies Association, Annual Convention. San Francisco, 26-29 March.
hooks, b. (2013). Writing Beyond Race: Living Theory and Practice. New York: Routledge.
hooks, b. (1989). Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black. Boston, MA: South End Press.
hooks, b. (1984). Feminist Theory from Margin to Center. Boston, MA: South End Press.
Koppensteiner, N. (2018) ‘Transrational Methods of Peace Research: The Researcher as (Re)Source’ in Transrational Resonances. Echoes to the Many Peaces edited by Josefina Echavarría, Daniela Ingruber and Norbert Koppensteiner, 59-81, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Koppensteiner, N. (2009) The Art of the Transpersonal Self: Transformation as Aesthetic and Energetic Practice. New York: Atropa Press.
Martínez Guzmán, V. (2000) ‘Saber Hacer las Paces. Epistemologías de los Estudios para la Paz’. Convergencia n° 23 Toluca: UAEM, 49-93.
Muñoz, F. (2006) ‘Imperfect Peace’ in Key Texts of Peace Studies/ Schlüsseltexte der Friedensforschung/Textos claves de la Investigación para la Paz, Dietrich, W., Echavarría Alvarez, J., Koppensteiner N. (eds.). Vienna: LIT-Verlag, 241-282