Allegra Chen-Carrel explores how groups can coexist peacefully
As a biracial individual, Allegra Chen-Carrel has long been interested in the relationships between people belonging to different ethnic, racial and socio-economic groups.
Chen-Carrel joined the Earth Institute’s Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict and Complexity (AC4) as part of an internship program in 2018. After working on the centre’s Sustaining Peace project, she moved to been hired as a program manager. As part of the project, she works with an interdisciplinary team of mathematicians, anthropologists and social psychologists led by Peter T. Coleman to learn what it takes to maintain long-term peace in a society.
At the same time, she is also pursuing a doctorate. in Social and Organizational Psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University, where his research focuses on workplace social justice and conflict resolution.
In a conversation with State of the Planet below, she talks about her observations of her research projects in the United States and Mauritius.
Which countries have you focused on, as well as the Sustaining Peace Project, that have been successful in keeping and maintaining the peace over the past decades?
Recently, one country we researched is Mauritius. It is a small, highly multicultural island nation off the coast of Madagascar in Africa. Although the country ranks at the top of several world peace indices, it has a history of colonization, slavery and new waves of immigration, with legacies that continue today.
Mauritius does not have an indigenous population. It was an uninhabited island which was successively colonized by the Dutch, the French and the British. During colonization, people from Madagascar and other parts of Africa were brought into and enslaved to work mainly on the sugar cane plantations in Mauritius.
Later, when the British outlawed slavery, they began bringing in contract laborers, mostly from India, to work in the fields of the sugar cane plantations.
So over time Mauritius has become an ethnically and religiously diverse country, and it has been interesting for me to learn how it grapples with this story, and how it now ranks very high on several indexes. world peace.
In partnership with the University of Mauritius and Dr Naseem Aumeerally, we conducted field research, talking with public figures and members of different communities in Mauritius to better understand what they think contributes to peace in Mauritius. their company today.
How has Mauritius been so successful in keeping the peace, despite its history of colonization and slavery?
Even though Mauritius is a peaceful country, there are legacies of colonization and inequalities that persist. It is not a utopia. Mauritius launched the first Truth and Justice Commission dedicated to the legacy of colonization and slavery. In this way, he takes steps to examine how history influences the present.
People also recognize that peace is fragile in Mauritius. During the interviews and focus groups we conducted, something that came to the surface was how much intentional peace is in Mauritius. For example, there are many social norms that prohibit expressing oneself or having a conflicting speech. There are also rules and laws that prohibit talking about things that could incite violence or lead to deeper divisions.
It was a discovery that was interesting to me as an American. High priority is given to promoting harmony at different levels, from government to interpersonal level. But these non-conflicting values ââof Mauritian government and society can, in some ways, also serve a darker side due to the taboos on talking about issues.
From our research, we observe how complex this all is and how there are so many factors intertwined to create this system that has remained stable and peaceful for so long.
What lessons can other countries learn from Mauritius in terms of peaceful coexistence?
There is no magic recipe for peace, but there are several things that people have mentioned as important, such as the transversal links between groups, the truly explicit valuation of peace and the pride that comes with that reputation. peaceful, and the virtual absence of firearms – the country has no standing army. In fact, many different factors combine to contribute to the sustainability of peace. But at the base is what many Mauritians who participated in this research call “living together,” or how members of different religious, ethnic and religious groups have generally created a harmonious way of life within. a community. Appreciating this complexity, the history of the relationships between groups and future goals and expectations can help to understand why things are as they are in the present.
What other research projects are you currently working on?
Much of our focus in the Sustaining Peace project right now is on a data science project where we are trying to understand the fundamental differences in the language used in different peaceful societies.
There is a lot of research on hate speech. We know that hate speech used in social media, news and blogs can not only reflect violence and division in a society, but can also have the potential to incite violence and division. Yet there is comparatively very little research on the speech of peace or the language that is used in more peaceful contexts.
We use natural language processing techniques to show that there are distinct differences in linguistic characteristics evident in news media in more or less peaceful contexts. But since that’s often a limitation with some of these data science methods, they can show you there’s a difference, but they don’t tell you what those differences are.
Thus, we are currently starting a project where we are trying to decipher what these differences mean and what the linguistic specificities of more peaceful contexts may be.
For my doctoral studies, another research project I have focused on is the work of organizational activists or people who are committed to promoting diversity, equity, inclusion and justice in the workplace. job. We interviewed 27 Organizational Activists in various organizations in the United States and surveyed approximately 120 people who identified as Organizational Activists. They shared different strategies they use to take advantage of the tension in order to achieve their goals, such as increasing the tension by expressing issues and advocating for change; network and use the power at their disposal to disrupt and resist a damaging status quo; use strategies related to mediation and dialogue processes to open the space to a variety of perspectives; and healing and learning to address and prevent burnout associated with workplace tensions around issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and justice. This kind of work is often unpaid and unrecognized within organizations and very emotionally draining. It can also be risky for people to take on this job, and even put their jobs at risk. It is important for organizations not only to recognize and recognize organizational activists, but also to support, promote and reward them for their struggle for diversity, equity, inclusion and justice.
Something I really appreciate about the Sustaining Peace Project, which I hope to incorporate into my own research, is the importance of not only focusing on what is not working, but also recognizing the positive and learning from systems. that support prosperity and growth.