Elise Boulding, famed peace scholar and mother of five children, once wrote that we “still don’t know much about producing children who will irrepressibly dream about a better society than the one we have, and obstinately work for its realization.” The irrepressible dreams of Dr. Boulding herself for a better world and her amazing ability to accomplish a lot of work enrich Mary Lee Morrison’s new book Elise Boulding: A Life in the Cause of Peace. It is a compelling book, in large part because the life, works, and ideas of its subject are so moving.
Since Dr. Boulding has focused on so many issues relating to peace, justice, networking, women’s studies, and child-raising, readers will probably be captivated by different sections and passages of the book, depending on their own interests. This reader often paused while the meanings of Boulding’s work resonated personally. For instance, with flood waters threatening Boulder, Colorado, in May 1969 and her children helping lay sandbags downtown, Elise Boulding wrote, metaphorically, “our job is to create the institutions and conditions for prevention of the social floods which threaten mankind (p.92).” The best word for this lady is “inspiring.”
The book effectively reflects the wide range of Boulding’s interests. Morrison presents her subject partially in chronological chapters, and partially in chapters and sections about her subject’s wide-ranging interests. The early portions of the work show how important family has been to Boulding—she has always taken pride in the fact that she spent several decades dedicated to raising five children and being a homemaker. Her career as a peace scholar grew out of her experience as a mother.
The family, to Boulding, is really the ground for peacemaking. Her children have commented to Morrison that they appreciate their mother’s quality of careful listening, of “being taken seriously.” The obvious respect she feels for others, including children, would certainly resonate very well with the members of any peaceful society.
Throughout her life, Boulding has been a tireless networker. She started joining Quaker, women’s, and peace groups while her children were young, frequently volunteering to write organization newsletters, a role that she felt very comfortable with. She believes that reaching out to others via networking, especially through international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), is the essence of peacemaking. It establishes the essence of a civic culture of peace. She feels that women are particularly skilled at fostering NGOs because of their comfort with decentralization and peacefulness.
In the late 1960s, as her children grew up, she decided to earn a Ph.D., focusing on the sociology of women and peacefulness. Throughout her life she has celebrated the ability of women to envision peacefulness, a skill she believes derives from their mothering. In fact, they may find it easier than men to affirm connectedness and reject exclusion. Boulding believes that the idealized family could be the basis for creating a culture of peace. She sees the family as the “partnership between the young and the old,” in the words of Morrison (p.105), the space where macro issues and local events intersect to foster new futures.
Boulding’s work in the 1990s to help foster the “Cultures of Peace” initiative, and her involvement with the growing UNESCO Culture of Peace program, represent, according to Morrison, the culmination of her lifelong ideas and work linking peace activism, research, and education. Her most recent book, Cultures of Peace: The Hidden Side of History (2000) points out, in the words of Morrison, “that there are and have historically been places where peace cultures may be found both locally and globally (p.139).”
Boulding evidently changed the title of that 2000 book from the singular to the plural, “Cultures,” because she realized that peaceful societies exist as isolated cultures in the midst of larger state societies that are sometimes focused on violence and war. The close alignment of the Culture of Peace program and the rich scholarship about peaceful societies highlighted in this website is exemplified by Boulding’s 2000 book, and summarized effectively in Morrison’s chapter 8.
Boulding, of course, goes far beyond the peaceful societies literature in her book to analyze a range of peace cultures and such issues as the role of women in peace-building, the potential for children to reinvent the world, the social values and behavioral traits that foster violence, and so on. Morrison argues that the central argument of the book is “the idea that to promote peacefulness it is important … to recognize and capitalize upon the peaceful behaviors that go on all the time in most societies (p.142).” She points out that cultures are successful in achieving peacefulness because they manage conflict effectively. Morrison concludes that Cultures of Peace “was the culmination of Elise’s lifework (p.142).”
A receptive spirit needs to read Morrison’s biography slowly and carefully in order to reflect on the activities, research, causes and ideas that Boulding has championed throughout her life. The genius of Boulding has been her unpretentious—and perhaps unintended—inspiration to others to commit their lives to advancing a peaceful, just world. This biography is published at an opportune time, since Boulding has just accepted the role of Website Patron, as reflected now on the “About This Website” page. The book, and her life, complement and augment what we are trying to do with the website.
Morrison, Mary Lee. Elise Boulding: A Life in the Cause of Peace. Jefferson, NC and London: McFarland, 2005.