Dealing with the review process – The artist and the PhD

Thijs WillemsBy Thijs Willems / Reading Time: 6 Minutes

Imagine you’re an artist. You’re a painter currently carefully transforming an empty canvas into a magical landscape. No less than eight months you spent inside your musty little attic room to paint. But without complaining for a second, as you believe to be creating what will become your masterpiece. Autumn passed, as you were convinced that the colors of the leaves falling off the tree would be inspiration enough to turn the white canvas into a mosaic of playful colors. Winter was spent inside, to reflect the shadows and contrasts in the sky onto your painting in order to give it that necessary touch of drama. The summer passed and, instead of enjoying warm, long evenings in the park with your friends and a bottle of wine, you spent hour after hour to capture the right hue of color for the sunbeams behind the clouds.

Picture1

Eight months passed and, after much deliberation, you decide the time has come to show your masterpiece to the public. You invite an eclectic bunch of experts, big names and hotshots in the world of art, to give their initial thoughts and suggestions. They seem to love it! “Amazing colors, I can see you put your heart in it”, says one. “This is really interesting, it tells the Big Story of Life”, another adds.

The conversation continues for a while, and after all the compliments have been shared, the Cubist starts: “But…” As an artist you’re used to critique, so you recognize this word as the start of some, hopefully constructive, commentary.

“But… you really need to add some straight lines to make it more contemporary.” The others nod. The Minimalist: “I agree, but I also think you’ve painted way too much. Too much is happening on the sides of the painting, way too much.” Finally, the Impressionist adds: “I agree with the aforementioned comments. And yet… You haven’t captured the true essence of the sun. There’s too much detail and I’d rather see short, thick strokes of paint.” The experts leave and, slightly blown away, you start redoing your masterpiece with care. To satisfy the Minimalist, you cut off three inches from the sides of the painting; for the Impressionist to be happy, you transform the subtle colors of the sun into thick, broad patches of yellow and red; to make your painting more contemporary, as the Cubist requested, you fill the sky with random squares. You slowly step back to ponder your masterpiece and in awe you come to realize that this is not your work anymore.

This story could easily be told in a different context, where the PhD is the artist, the painting his/her paper, and the experts the reviewers of a journal. Getting your work published may be a daunting task, especially for new scholars. You spent a great deal of time, energy, and sometimes even love, in writing about your research. You are the proud artist of this text and you feel it is a worthwhile read for others in your field. You know you will have to reach this broader public by getting your paper published in one of the journals in your field. You finish the paper, submit it to a journal, wait, wait some more, wait a bit longer, and then you finally receive the review reports. It may be a desk rejection (the most common response of journals), a major or minor revision, or a straightforward acceptance (that seldom happens).

In my opinion, the major revision is the most challenging kind of review report to deal with. It often implies the editor and reviewers see, somewhere hidden between the lines of your text, the merits or contributions of your paper. The reviewers, then, often ask questions, critique your argument or provide suggestion on how to make the still implicit contribution of your paper more explicit. This may often involve serious and even impossible requests: “You position your paper in the context of Theory A, but we think it is more appropriate for Theory B, C or D. Please write a new paper”; “The theoretical point is really interesting, but the research is not convincing enough. Do the research again”; “We need much more detail in the theoretical and empirical part of the paper. Also elaborate your discussion further and include points 1 to 7. Oh… and please shorten the paper with at least 2,000 words”; “I don’t like your chosen methodology. Can you make a survey study out of your ethnographic data?”

I exaggerate a little bit, but the point I’m trying to make is that the review process is challenging, especially when you realize ‘your’ paper turns into a text that is different than you had intended. Below are some suggestions that may help you deal with this process:

  1. Even in case of a major revision, realize the reviewers and editors see considerable potential in your paper. Congratulations!
  2. In case of truly rigorous revisions you need to deal with a dilemma: re-write your paper to satisfy the reviewers with a chance on publication, re-write the paper and still end up with a rejection and a paper that only remotely looks like yours anymore, thank the journal and find another outlet (although the chances are pretty high the process at the other journal might be quite similar)
  3. When do you submit your paper? It might be easier to re-write a paper that was good enough but not yet perfect than a paper in which every word or punctuation mark has been deliberated at least three times. Maybe write a paper that is good enough to be taken in review? The perfect paper does not exist and reviewers will always have certain demands for a revision
  4. Make a careful choice about the fit between your paper and the journal you plan to submit to. Be aware of the current debates, what interests the readers of this journal, what is their writing style, etc. The reviewers need to understand why they should publish your paper instead of one of the other 50 submissions.
  5. Turn the problem around: journals have a ‘problem’ too (see Hollenbeck, 2008). They often have very limited space to publish interesting work, so the role of editors is to find the right paper to attract readers.
  6. Use footnotes. Sometimes, the reviewers want you to expand on certain concepts while you simply do not have the space to do so. You can still acknowledge their comments (and show the readers of your paper you have considered alternatives), without taking up too many valuable words.
  7. Treat the reviewers as experts, as in most cases they will be (provided you chose a respectable journal). So, their suggestions are not meant just as critique but are actually potential ways to make your paper more interesting.
  8. However, do not follow all suggestions religiously. Show some guts and refuse certain points of critique if you do not agree with them. However, always write an extensive cover letter when you submit the revision. Here you can explain choices made, how you went about revising the paper, and carefully argue why you did not follow some of the reviewers’ suggestions. In the end, this is all of help in constructing a more convincing argument.
  9. Leave the review report for a while. The moment you receive a report that contains more pages than your initial submission, it is quite difficult to digest it all at once. Read it, leave it, and then read it again after a week or so.
  10. Read the reports together with colleagues. They are a little more distanced than you are and will probably be able to distinguish the reviewers’ main points from only minor remarks.
  11. If all still does not go well, ventilate your aggression. I highly recommend the Facebook page ‘Reviewer 2 Must Be Stopped
  12. There may be many more tips… Please share your tips below!

In the end, the goal is to end up with a paper that has become better. A part of becoming a scholar is, perhaps, to learn how to deal with critique and use it to your own advantage. Even Albert Einstein’s applications have been rejected.

2

 _____________

Thijs Willems is a Phd candidate in the Organizational Science department. His research projects focuses on ‘The role of collaborative routines during disruptions in the Dutch railway system’.

References:

Hollenbeck, J. R. 2008. The role of editing in knowledge development: Consensus shifting and consensus creation. In Y. Baruch, A. M. Konrad, H. Aguinus, & W. H. Starbuck (Eds.), Journal editing: Opening the black box: 16 -26. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Social information: using the crowd to crowdfund a project

claire_teunenbroekBy Claire van Teunenbroek / Reading Time: 4 Minutes

In figure 1 you can see the famous Cloud Gate of Chicago designed by Anish Kapoor, or as it is more commonly referred to ‘the Kidney Bean’ at the Millennium Park. I took this picture during my conferences-attending in Chicago and I was personally quite impressed by this picture. It looks really ‘arty’, doesn’t it? At first, I felt really foolish taking a picture of a giant bean while trying to maneuver the camera is such a way that you could see me in the reflection of the bean. You could also say that I felt uncertain if it was appropriate to be so self-centered. However, when I looked around I concluded that it was more than ok since everyone was doing it. In other words, the behavior of others decreased my uncertainty and I, therefore, felt more comfortable with my one behavior.  Essentially, this is a very practical explanation of the effect of ‘social information’.

claire_1
Figure 1

Social information is simply described as any information concerning the behaviour of other individuals and tells you about what is normal in a given situation. For example, think again about the situation of the Kidney Bean. The individuals around me were also taking selfies, which informed me that it was normal to do so. The Kidney Bean has served a nice example which will help us move onto the main theme of this blog: philanthropic crowdfunding. Philanthropic crowdfunding is a funding method that uses an online context, meaning that donors can make their donations online. Crowdfunding is more that this, but for now we will keep  this description and explain it in more details below. Philanthropic crowdfunding is not as successful in assembling money as it should and could potentially be. My goal is that of using social information ton increase the success of philanthropic crowdfunding. I have opted to focus  on one specific type of social information: the donation behaviour of previous donors.

Before I explain more about social information, I will first define what I mean with philanthropic crowdfunding. Philanthropic crowdfunding is a way of assembling money online using an open call, meaning that anyone can make a donation. Crowdfunding builds on a large group of individuals, who each make a small donation, ultimately contributing to assembling a larger amount. If you make a donation at a philanthropic crowdfunding platform like Voordekunst, you will not receive a financial return. However, you might receive a small token of appreciation, but the value of the token is smaller than your donation. Meaning that you give more (in money terms) than you receive. In other words: it is philanthropic. But ultimately, can we increase the donations by adding social information?

I would like to live-test my idea with you! So, let’s see how you would react to social information on the donation behaviour of previous donors. Please imagine the following situation: after looking at my inspiring picture and description of the Kidney Bean art sculpture you are persuaded to make a donation to an art project. You have heard about a site called Voordekunst, which assembles money for art projects. On this site you find an interesting art project and start reading the project description.

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 11.50.44

You notice that the project’s information mentions that the average donation amount of this project is 80 euros (depicted in figure 2). Based on previous research, (e.g. Shang & Croson, 2009, Martin & Randal, 2008) we expect you to increase your donation amount, to more closely resemble the social information the website has provided you with (mention of 80 euros). What do you think, would you be persuaded by the crowd? Be honest, would you have changed your donation amount?

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 11.51.05

By using social information I would then use the social power of the crowd to increase the success of crowdfunding. Researchers have also found that if you are a woman you are likely to be more influenced by social information, while men are less affected (Klinowski, 2015). Additionally, if you are a new donor you are also more likely to be affected by social information (Shang & Croson, 2009), since they are assumed to be more uncertain about the amount they should/would donate. However, the effect of social information is not unlimited. What I mean by this is that if the amount mentioned (in our example it was 80 euros) is too high (for example 300 euros), you would most likely not be influenced by this amount (Croson & Shang, 2013; Shang & Croson, 2006).

To sum it up, I want to use social information to increase the donations individuals donate at a philanthropic crowdfunding platform. I expect that confronting (potential) donors with the donation behaviour of previous donors increases the success of crowdfunding projects.

What do you think, is adding such a small amount of extra information enough to increase one’s donation amount?

___________
Claire van van Teunenbroek MSc is a PhD Candidate at the Department of Organization Sciences and works closely together with the Department of Philanthropy. Her research project is about developing and testing multiple techniques to increase the success of philanthropic crowdfunding. 

References

Croson, R., & Shang, J. (2013). Limits of the effect of social information on the voluntary provision of public goods: Evidence from field experiments. Economic Inquiry, 51(1), 473–477. doi:10.1111/j.1465-7295.2012.00468.x

Klinowski, D. (2015). Reluctant donors and their reactions to social information. Retrieved from http://spihub.org/site/resource_files/publications/spi_wp_120_jasper.pdf

Shang, J., & Croson, R. (2006). The impact of social comparisons on nonprofit fund raising. Research in Experimental Economics, 11, 143–156.

Shang, J., & Croson, R. (2009). A Field Experiment in Charitable Contribution: The Impact of Social Information on the Voluntary Provision of Public Goods. The Economic Journal, 119(540), 1422–1439.

 

Congratulations to Dr. Victoria Galán-Muros

By Socializing Science / Watching Time: 7 Minutes

On April 1st, 2016 Victoria Galán-Muros successfully defended her Phd thesis entitled “Universities at a cross-road – how European universities can engage business in research, education and valorisation to the benefit of all”. 

European universities are at a crossroad. Modern societal demands mean that governments are pushing universities to undertake more ‘usable’ research that solves societal problems and to better educate students for the world of work. These demands push universities closer to markets and businesses, which are eager to access talent and cutting-edge research. However, the university culture and structure are often not aligned to this new paradigm and thus cooperation and its management remain challenging.

In her thesis, Galan-Muros Victoria tackles this complex topic to increase the understanding of how European universities engage with business in education, research and valorization.In he dissertation, a comprehensive framework is developed: the University-Business Cooperation Ecosystem, which supports research and practice.

Socializing Science would like to congratulate her and invite you all to watch her defense in this clip.

 

Congratulations to Dr. Adina Nerghes!!

By Socializing Science / Watching Time: 10 Minutes

On March 29, 2016 Adina Nerghes successfully defended her Phd thesis entitled “Words in Crisis: A relational perspective of emergent meanings and roles in text.. In her own words, Adina explains her research: Can we infer rich information from `big text data’? And how can we use text-analytical methods to infer such rich information from large text collections with different characteristics? These are some of the questions that guided the aims and outcomes of her research.

For more information on Adina Nerghes, visit her website   at : http://www.adinanerghes.com

Socializing Science would like to congratulate her and invite you all to watch her defense in this clip.

Reveal the voice of people with intellectual disabilities through a camera

testBy Tessa Overmars-Marx / Reading Time: 5 Minutes

‘It is important that people see us as normal people and recognize us. We are part of the community as well!’

This quote symbolizes the importance of recognizing people with intellectual disabilities as part of our community. Being part of the community means being able to tell your story in everyday life but also in research. So we – as researchers – need to seek for ways to incorporate the voices of people with intellectual disabilities in our studies. Involving people with intellectual disabilities, however, brings many challenges. In my quest to overcome these challenges and to provide people with intellectual disabilities a platform to tell their story, I think I have found a promising method. So, read on….

tessaHow to involve people with intellectual disabilities

People with intellectual disabilities often have difficulties on a communicative, cognitive and conceptual level. As a researcher, this meant I had to look beyond usual interview and focus group methods to productively involve people with intellectual disabilities in my study. By exploring the literature and sharing thoughts with colleagues, I came up with the idea of using photography to enable their involvement. People with intellectual disabilities are often better able to express themselves if they are supported by visual content. After reading other promising experiences with the use of the photovoice method, I became enthusiastic and decided to test it out.


The photovoice methodphotovoice

What exactly does the method involve? It enables people to tell their stories through photographs they have taken themselves. In my study, I wanted to obtain more knowledge about the perspective of people with intellectual disabilities concerning their neighbourhood. So, I asked participants to photograph people and places in their neighbourhood which are important to them. I walked together with the participants through their neighbourhood. I had no active role, but instead I was ‘guided’ by them. In some cases participants found it difficult to take the photos themselves because they had difficulties in handling the camera, so I took the photo for them. However, the participants always determined the topic of their photos themselves. After taking the photos, we planned interviews to discuss them.

The advantages

Photovoice enabled my participants to share their stories about how they feel in their neighbourhood by talking about their (self-taken) pictures. Using photography as an activity made participants feel involved in my research. They were able to naturally tell their personal story without having to refer to the cognitive skills they lack. During the interviews I asked open questions only, for example: what/who is on the picture?; why did you take the picture? And, if necessary, I asked for explanatory examples, like ‘could you tell me when you visited this place or could you give me an example of a joint activity you have carried out with your neighbour?’. By using this technique, I didn’t need any abstract concepts. These advantages provide people with intellectual disabilities an opportunity to explain their neighbourhood experiences and they were able to tell more about the daily contact they exchange with neighbours. This, in turn, was valuable in my research because it provides me with the possibility to distinguish important neighbourhood characteristics from the perspective of people with intellectual disabilities. This information is useful to advise care organisations in their way of working with people with intellectual disabilities who live in regular neighbourhoods.

pic2
An example of pictures taken by the participants

pic

My experiences

Walking with the participants through their neighbourhoods meant gaining an insight into their lives. This was really great! The participants provided so much more information that, in my opinion, I would never have been able to elicit by means of conventional face-to-face interviews. The combination of walking together and discussing the photographs worked really well. In my research I want to find out how do people with intellectual disabilities feel in the neighbourhood and what neighbourhood characteristics contribute to this ‘neighbourhood-feeling’?’. To answer this questions their own personal and direct perspective is crucial! Perhaps equally important, caregivers and participants suffering from cold feet overcame their initial skepticism or fright and became enthusiastic! Moreover, since I started the ‘guided photovoice’ I am in a really good shape: I walked for hours with the participants and sometimes I almost had to run to keep up with them.

Would you like to know more about photovoice or do you have any other alternative strategies in interviewing people with intellectual disabilities or other groups, please contact me!

______________

Tessa Overmars-Marx works as a PhD candidate  in the Sociology department. Her PhD Research focuses on the relationship between the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities and neighborhood characteristics.  The research project is conducted in partnership with four care organizations working with people with intellectual disabilities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A plea for boring research (and how to make it interesting)

Thijs WillemsBy Thijs Willems / Reading Time: 8 minutes

 

A widely cited article from 1971 by Murray Davis starts as follows:

“It has long been thought that a theorist is considered great, not because his theories are true, but because they are interesting[1] (p. 309).

Although Davis’ claim might be provocative to some, I will not throw down this gauntlet here in this blog. Instead, I want to show how I discovered in my research that the interesting stuff is sometimes found in what at first sight may seem utterly boring or mundane. By means of pursue and persistence, the interesting can be found in the boring.

My research is about collaboration between the different railway organizations in the Netherlands. These organizations have had a rather turbulent history (see, for just one example out of many: http://bit.ly/1HVeJ2X) and with all the current media-attention and public opinions about the performance of NS and ProRail, it is hard to see what exactly is boring about my research. Nonetheless, not long after I started my fieldwork I took interest in the work of train dispatchers, who are responsible for the safe and efficient coordination of trains through stations. In practice, however, most of their work is automatized and dispatchers are mostly busy with the task of monitoring. Monitoring means: lean back in your chair and watch the computer systems do your work.

this3At first sight, I hardly considered to study these monitoring practices into more detail. It was difficult for me to believe that it would be of any significance for my research. However, after observing the dispatchers for quite some time and hearing them talk about their own work, I soon realized that perhaps it is exactly these apparently boring practices that may reveal  a very interesting world of railway employees. In the end, monitoring actually became one of the topics of my research*.
Instead of ‘doing nothing’, monitoring revealed how dispatchers, by means of their computer screens, ‘see and sense’ the railways. Whereas I saw dots, numbers and lines that apparently supposed to represent the actual train service, dispatchers saw an actual, concrete railway world.

This seeing and sensing is based on the fact that many dispatchers have been working for the railways for decades and gained a massive amount of practical knowledge. This may be knowledge ranging from how railway switches work to contextual details of the landscape adjacent to the tracks. John, one of the dispatchers I studied, told me how he once guided  the police (by phone) to a location very close to the tracks where one train driver saw a group of children playing with a ball. At first instance, the police could not find the exact location, but John was able to tell them that “they had to approach the area from the other side, just in front of the sawmill, as there’s a big viaduct blocking easy access”.

Claire, another dispatcher, told me stories about her previous work as a train driver,and how this helped her in being a good dispatcher. Every other day, someone in the Netherlands commits suicide by jumping in front of a train. This can have a tremendous impact on train drivers. The dispatchers are a drivers’ first point of communication after witnessing such a horrible situation. According to Claire, she is capable of having this conversation with the driver in an efficient way (to reduce the impact of this incident for other trains) because she does so emphatically. In other words, her experience as a train driver and witnessing what it means to see someone ‘jump’, is of great influence how she does her job. These stories that lay beneath the ‘boring’ practice of monitoring, taught me how collaboration between the different organizations during disruptions is much more than what I would ever read in handbooks or manuals.

Boring stuff may make you yawn in the first instance.But, there are several strategies through which you can possibly make the boring more interesting:

  • Persist! Whenever you notice something boring, don’t walk away. It may take some time before you can appreciate your observations as more than dull. Always remember the saying: ‘Ambition is the path to success, persistence is the vehicle you arrive in’.
  • Zoom in! From a distance, boring stuff is boring. Make it more interesting by getting up and close. I can guarantee you that even the 50 most boring things in the world will eventually reveal some very unexpected insights.
  • Breach! There have been numerous scholars studying the boring and mundane after Garfinkel’s Studies in Ethnomethodology (1967), ranging from how people queue in supermarkets to how people greet each other on the streets. One of the ways these scholars reveal the interesting in the mundane, is by breaching the social norms and implicit rules to which these actions are organized. So, the next time someone asks you ‘How are you doing?’, do not reply with the standard ‘Great’ but try the following: ‘What do you mean, how am I doing? Do you mean mentally? Physically?’. I can assure you an interesting conversation will emerge.

Here you have it, my plea for boring research. I highly recommend Davis’ somewhat provocative article and hope that you will value the generation of ‘interesting’ new theory as much as the testing or verification of ‘uninteresting’ existing ones.

References

Garfinkel, H. (1967). Studies in Ethnomethodology. Prentice-Hall.

Davis, M. S. (1971). That’s interesting. Philosophy of the social sciences, 1(2), 309.

[1] Garfinkel, H. (1967). Studies in Ethnomethodology. Prentice-Hall.

* The paper I wrote about monitoring was presented at the Process Symposium on Kos, Greece. I would like to thank the Graduate Fund for the financial support to go there.

 _____________

Thijs Willems is a Phd candidate in the Organizational Science department. His research projects focuses on ‘The role of collaborative routines during disruptions in the Dutch railway system’.

 

 

 

The Avengers and philosophy – Peace in the age of Ultron

Gijsbert ItersonBy Gijsbert van Iterson Scholten / Reading Time: 6 Minutes

Why would anyone interested in peace (like me) go and look at a violence-packed superhero movie for inspiration? Doesn’t violence in movies lead to real world violence? Well, the evidence on that question is still inconclusive and Avengers: age of Ultron, when viewed with the right kind of questions in mind, offers insights into peace you just won’t find in arthouse beauties such as One day after peace.

Avengers - image retrieved from www.savethecat.combeat-sheetavengers-age-of-ultron-beat-sheet.com

Sure, most people going to watch the movie will do so because they enjoy the highly stylized violence, the beautifully choreographed fights, the exploding buildings or the testosterone packed jokes by the main characters. But the film also explicitly deals with the victims of the Avengers’ violent way of solving conflicts and the plot is driven to a large extent by various desires for peace going awry. Moreover, in the lulls between fights, the protagonists inadvertently end up having quite philosophical conversations on the meaning of peace, coming up with no less than five different conceptualizations of the term.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, you might find this post contains either spoilers or things you totally don’t understand. I apologize for the former and try to make up for the latter by explanatory hyperlinks. That said, here are the five concepts of peace that drive the plot development and make Age of Ultron one of the most interesting peace-related films I have seen in a long time.

  1. Tony Stark (Iron Man): Peace as the absence of any and all threats
iron-man-3-theatrical-poster-tony-stark
Tony Stark/ Iron Man “Stark’s vision of total security necessarily remains Utopian.”

The first view of peace present in Age of Ultron reminded me of what I heard from people working at NATO: peace means the absence of any and all threats to human life. It is this drive for total security that leads Tony Stark, one of the heroes, to build Ultron, who then turns into the main villain of the movie (see below for his idea of peace).

Stark’s vision of total security necessarily remains Utopian. As Anthony Giddens pointed out a long time ago, there will always be threats to humanity’s existence, and trying to control for all of them inexorably leads to new dangers. Or to a totalitarian dictatorship, the central message of Captain America: the Winter soldier, another Marvel superhero movie.

  1. S.H.I.E.L.D.: Saving civilian lives
sokovia evacuation
Evacuation of citizens of Sokovia

On a much less ambitious reading of peace, the rebuilt employment agency for superheroes, SHIELD,  limits its role to saving civilians from the combat zones where the Avengers do their job. Even if the town of Sokovia is annihilated by Ultron, at least the people living there get out of it alive and thus might be able to find peace again elsewhere. This echoes the Just War criterium of discrimination, the idea that armies ought to distinguish between innocent civilians and enemy combatants, and only target the latter. In the real world, it also seems to mirror (highly dubious) efforts by the Israeli army to get civilians out of the way before moving in to fight with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

However, we can rightfully ask whether the refugees in question would agree that this is a form of peace. Taking their cue from Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, some present-day critics of liberal peacebuilding point out that safeguarding the ‘bare lives’ of civilians does not really suffice to speak of any kind of peace ‘worth having’. Even though in mainstream academic literature, armed conflict is only defined in terms of how many people die as a result of the conflict: as long as nobody dies, there is peace. I have criticized this view in a previous blogpost.

  1. Dr. Banner (the Hulk): inner peace
hulk
The Hulk : “This idea of inner peace as a tranquil state of mind is found both in Eastern philosophy and in St. Augustine’s musings on the subject”

Back to the movie. Dr. Banner, Tony Stark’s superhero partner also known as the Hulk, tries to come to grips with his (and mankind’s?) violent nature. Already in the first Avengers movie, Banner was found taking yoga classes in India, trying to control the violence in himself. At the end of Age of Ultron he flees his companions and sends a postcard from Fiji, supposedly having found peace there by sitting on a beach watching the sun set.

This idea of inner peace as a tranquil state of mind is found both in Eastern philosophy and in St. Augustine’s musings on the subject. It does have one major drawback though, as Natasja Romanov, a.k.a. Black Widow, points out in the movie while shoving dr. Banner off a cliff: “I adore you, but I need the other guy right now”. In order to save the world, the Hulk has to give up his inner peace and engage himself with the world, through violence if need be. This is the same criticism pacifists have received ever since the term was first invented: in a bad world, you have to make dirty hands.

  1. Ultron: harmonious balance with all of nature
ultron
Ultron: “His conclusion that mankind can never learn to live in peace and thus should be ‘saved from itself’ is a step too far”

The theme of peace is running so strongly through the film that even the bad guy, Ultron, is driven by a desire for peace. Built by Tony Stark with the aim of creating ‘Peace in our time’ (a rather obvious reference to Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler), cinematic logic demands that Ultron decides the best way to achieve this peace is the eradication of mankind. Our violent nature means we will never be able to live in peace, so perhaps we should just die out and make room for another, more peaceful species. Ultron sincerely cannot believe the Avengers, with their violent way of dealing with conflicts, are in any way agents of peace. He is probably right about that. His conclusion that mankind can never learn to live in peace and thus should be ‘saved from itself’, however,  is a step too far for even the most radical eco-hippies. It does mirror the idea of peace as ‘living in harmony with all of creation’ though, adding another layer to the movie’s philosophical dealing with peace.

  1. Hawkeye: peace as normality
"As long as his family is safe from physical harm, he knows both inner peace and lives in harmony with his environment"
Hawkeye: peace as normality: “As long as his family is safe from physical harm, he knows both inner peace and lives in harmony with his environment”

One of the big surprises of this movie comes approximately halfway, when Hawkeye, a side character famous for shooting explosive arrows, turns out to have a family living in an idealistic mid-West cottage, apparently without 21st century technology. This cottage is the counterpoint to all the violence in the movie and the viewer is left with the distinct impression that Hawkeye is best off of all the superheroes. As long as his family is safe from physical harm, he knows both inner peace and lives in harmony with his environment. Which might be a lame conclusion for a superhero movie if you are a testosterone-filled 21-year-old comic geek, but it is the kind of peace your parents will definitely identify with.

 

 

So what have we learned from this brief exploration of Avengers: age of Ultron? I would say three things. First, peace and security are not the same thing, and the desire for total security threatens all other forms of peace we might be after. Secondly, if all we want is to safeguard our own inner peace, we leave the world to the bad guys. Sometimes we just “need the other guy.” Even though his violent acts might stand in the way of more durable solutions to the world’s problems. Finally, I would say that Hawkeye understands peace best of all. It is a lived experience, not some Utopian dream.

_____________

Gijsbert van Iterson Scholten is a PhD candidate at the department of Political Science and Public Administration. His research focuses on how different peacebuilding professionals define peace.