Transforming by Encountering ‘the Other’

Daniela Fazio Vargas, Sociology, University of Manchester (2021 Cohort)

From the 17th to the 21st of April, the British Council organised a series of cultural events as part of their “Peace and Beyond” to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. They invited delegates from over ten different countries to discuss the role of arts in polarised societies and examine how artists and creative grassroots communities have contributed to the transitional process of Northern Ireland. I was invited to participate in the panel Diverse Voices Shaping Positive Peace through Socially Engaged Arts where, together with Carlos Pineda Ramos (PhD student at the University of Bristol), we had the opportunity to present and talk about our essay with the Artistic Director of the Kabosh theatre, Paula McFetridge, a Colombian musician and social leader, César López, and some British Council members interested in arts and culture.

In our essay, “The Recognition of Divergent Voices: The Role of Artistic Expressions in Shaping the Conditions for a Long-Term Positive Peace”, we argued that peacebuilding requires a change that allows for ‘thinking the unthinkable’, in other words, the existence of a society based on equality that does not deny the difference but ‘recognises’ it and ’embraces it’ as a way to repair the damage. As such, we referred to artistic expressions in Colombia and Northern Ireland to stress the art’s role in setting the conditions for a long-lasting positive peace. We referred to movies, murals, architectural interventions, performances and music to show the role of arts in handling ‘the wrong’ that damages universal politics by denying fundamental equality amongst subjects and setting the conditions where multiple (and sometimes contrasting) voices can co-exist in a democratic scenario.

The opportunity to write this essay was not only awesome because the British Council awarded us a prize for their 2023 iteration of the Cultural Relations Collection; it also represented an opportunity to be enriched by encountering the ‘other’. For me, knowledge occurs in a fusion of horizons, as it is possible to learn and come back enhanced by exposing oneself to others. Indeed, an akin idea is at the core of our essay since we emphasised that recognising the other is essential for repairing the damages and enabling a shift to welcome the ‘unthinkable’. 

In this experience, I did not only learn from my PhD colleague but also from a team of experts with whom we had the chance to discuss our ideas –the Head of Arts in the UK of the British Council, the British Council Colombia Arts Manager, and the British Council Director in Northern Ireland, to name a few. However, the writing process was also revealed to be an amazing opportunity to ‘encounter’ our history; not only the history of our country -since Carlos and I are Colombian- but also to get familiarised with the country’s history, which welcomed us to do the PhD.

The essay and the event are tuned to the topic at the heart of my PhD research: that arts can help transform societies. I was -and still am- thrilled to be part of an initiative that specifically promotes what motivates me and my thesis. Collaborating with the British Council and my colleagues was a wonderful opportunity to take the knowledge outside the academia to discuss and make all the people part of transforming our societies. This is why I am also pleased to be writing this entry for the newsletter since I am aware of the effort by the NWSSDTP to share our experiences so we can learn from the encounter with each other, but also because it was precisely for this newsletter that I came to know about this opportunity!

  • If you missed the event, you can find the recording here!

  • If you are interested in reading our essay, click the following link

Click to access the British Council’s Cultural Relations Collection



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: