The professor wanting to contribute to peace on Earth


25 January 2021

Portrait of Isak Svensson

Questions about peace and conflict resolution are a life-long passion for Svensson. Before he began studying peace and conflict sciences, he was involved in the Peace Movement.

Isak Svensson is, as he describes it, a product of the Department of Peace and Conflict Research. Since his undergraduate studies, he has stayed true to his path, and now he is a professor in the subject. His research helps us understand why mediation decreases during armed conflicts.

Can research contribute to peace on Earth? If you ask Isak Svensson, professor of peace and conflict research, the answer is yes. Not only can research help us understand why conflicts occur, it can also help us understand how we can solve conflicts.

Svensson, together with Associate Professor Desiree Nilsson, from the same department, and Magnus Lundgren from the University of Gothenburg, has received a research grant to answer the question: Why does mediation decrease during armed conflicts?

“We want to try to understand something mysterious. The capacity to mediate has increased, there are more people who want to and can mediate, while the number of mediated conflicts has decreased. It is bewildering,” says Svensson.

To understand why mediation has decreased, the research team is assuming that the ability to mediate has been made more difficult because conflicts around the world have changed in character.

“Based on this, we have three theories. The first one is internationalisation. External actors are becoming involved in civil wars.”

The second theory, fragmentation, is that rebel groups have become more divided and in many cases consist of different warlords. The third theory is radicalisation. That more groups, particularly in Muslim conflicts, have become more radical.

“More than half of the all the world’s conflicts involve rebel groups connected to al-Qaida or IS.”

At the moment, he is in the final phase of a large research project that has been ongoing since 2016. This project has dealt with radicalisation and the path to peace in Jihadist conflicts. He believes that he can build on this research in his new project.

The research team will also use constructed conflict scenarios to analyse different parts of decision-making processes and delve deeper into studying the conflict in Syria.

Isak Svensson believes that the results of the research can be meaningful for future mediation efforts.

“It can help decision-makers to understand how these types of conflicts influence mediation and how to become better at mediating.”

Questions about peace and conflict resolution are a life-long passion for Svensson. Before he began studying peace and conflict sciences, he was involved in the Peace Movement.

“When I began studying peace research, I discovered that the approach to addressing these problems fit me well. The research asks open-ended questions and tries to understand the processes behind the conflicts.”

And perhaps an academic career was an obvious choice from his childhood.

“When I was small, I said I wanted to be a professor of animals and nature.”

In 2021, peace and conflict studies turns 50 in Uppsala, something that will be celebrated at the department in the autumn.

“Leading international researchers in the field will come to Uppsala for discussions. We will also have a podcast series during the year where we will speak with different people connected to the field.”

Using statistics from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), a world-leading conflict database, the department usually summarizes each year from a peace and conflict studies perspective. In many ways, 2020 was a special year and was naturally also impacted the world’s conflicts.

“In the beginning of the pandemic, the UN Secretary General began an initiative to promote a global truce that was well received. So, at the beginning of the pandemic, we were at the most peaceful point in a long time.”

Rivalries between the superpowers of China and the United States ended the truce, and now we are to some extent in a worse position than before the pandemic.

“We had a unique opportunity to turn the crisis into an opportunity.”

On the other hand, he is optimistic by how the research community has collaborated during the pandemic.

“Perhaps this shows that research can show the way forward on global issues.”

Agnes Loman

Facts: Isak Svensson

Name: Isak Svensson

Title: Professor of Peace and Conflict Research

Leisure time activities: I enjoy cooking for my family

Most recently read book: “Wolf Hall” by Hilary Mantel

When or where do you get your best ideas: Before the morning coffee break at 10; when I write

Your motivation as a researcher Helping to develop evidence-based knowledge on peace and conflict issues

People that inspire you: My wife Kristina

What are you hoping for in 2021? In addition to a change of direction for global climate efforts (which impact everyone), I hope for peace agreements in the Ukraine, Yemen, Libya and Afghanistan.

Subscribe to the Uppsala University newsletter

Last modified: 2022-12-22