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Johan Vincent Galtung: A Trailblazer of Peace and Hope
By Valentina Bartolucci ([email protected])

Johan Vincent Galtung, pioneer of Peace Studies, died on 17 February 2024 at the age of 93. A man of tireless energy, he was an academic, a peace worker, an activist and a tireless self-promoter. Trained as a Mathematician and Sociologist, he devoted his entire life to the issues of conflict and peace from an international perspective. 

In 1959 he founded the Oslo Peace Research Centre (PRIO) and five years later the Journal of Peace Research. In 1969 he became the first professor of Peace Studies at the University of Oslo. In 1993, he founded, with Fumiko Nishimura, the Transcend International network, a conflict mediation organisation dedicated to building peace through peaceful means, and in 2011, the Galtung Institute in Basel. 

Given the vastness and the variety of his intellectual production, it is not easy to summarise in a few lines the most important contributions of his complex (and in some respects controversial, see Boulding 1977) intellectual path (Galtung, 1985; 1996). Among his happiest intuitions are his conceptualisation of “positive peace”, his reflections on “structural violence”, and his vision of conflict as something potentially positive (Bartolucci, 2013). An extremely prolific writer, he was also a keen student of Gandhian nonviolence, to which he was introduced by Arne Naess. His commitment to peace journalism is also remarkable.

A tireless traveller, he visited many countries, including Italy. From 1956 to 1957, he stayed in Sicily at the invitation of Danilo Dolci, the “Italian Ghandi”, as the philosopher Aldo Capitini used to call him. It was in this violence-torn land that Dolci had launched an ambitious programme to combat the mafia-driven violence and to build peace alternatives from below. The encounter with Dolci would leave a deep impression on the young Norwegian peace researcher, both on a personal level—with Dolci he would forge a bond of friendship that would endure – and on an intellectual level – it was thanks to Dolci that Galtung would experience first-hand the importance of emotions and the crucial role of imagination in peace-building processes. 
Always fascinated by Medical Science, he liked to compare peace workers with health workers: just as the latter have to operate to cure diseases, peace workers have to deal with violent conflicts, underdevelopment, systemic violence and the "evils" of the world.

Galtung made the decision to dedicate himself body and soul to preventing war and building peace when his father, a Norwegian doctor, was taken to a Nazi concentration camp (fortunately he survived). Always radical in his ideas, when the Norwegian government refused to allow him to complete the additional alternative service (six months longer than military service) by doing peace work, he willingly accepted to spend six months in prison. He dedicated these precious months to the study of Gandhian non-violence.

Contrary to the assumption of the neutrality of Science and the excessive specialisation of disciplines, he hoped for “trans-disciplinarity”, considering it necessary to understand the various components of the “world system”. A protagonist in numerous mediation processes (in Northern Ireland, Kashmir, Latin America, the Balkans, Myanmar, Virginia (USA) and many other places), he became even more involved in the field in the last decades of his long life, defining himself as a “citizen of the world”. Among his various interventions as a peace-builder around the world, it is worth mentioning the agreement reached between Ecuador and Peru, thanks to his mediation, for the joint management of a disputed area as a natural park.

As the years went by, his public interventions became more and more polemical and earned him a lot of criticism. Among experts, he is remembered not only for his fundamental contributions to the field of Peace Studies, but also for his strong ego (he often reminded his interlocutors that he was a genius, which he probably was, and he is arguably the most self-quoted author in the world!). He was gifted with a biting irony. 

The Norwegian scholar did not take criticism well and was reluctant to admit his mistakes, but the tenacity with which he fought throughout his life to broaden the concept of peace and separate it from that of (armed) security is admirable. In the 1980s, for example, he argued for “trans-armament”, a gradual transition from offensive defence to defensive defence and finally to non-military defence, inspired by the strategic doctrines of neutral countries such as Switzerland.

Galtung (1984) used to repeat: “There are alternatives!” to violence and war. To “find” them, he taught us to think “outside of the box”, to swim against the current, to think the unthinkable and to imagine the impossible. He was an unusually inspiring mentor for all those engaged in Peace Research. Gifted with great rhetorical skills and a strong charisma, he found it easy to surround himself with students and supporters. In this role, he was always generous and encouraging. Even scholars who have over time distanced themselves from his thought and taken other paths cannot fail to recognise his crucial role as a pioneer and his tireless commitment to promoting peace through peaceful means.



Bartolucci, Valentina (2013), “Italian Peace Studies”, Scienza&Pace Research Papers No 18.
Boulding, Kenneth (1977), “Twelve Friendly Quarrels with Johan Galtung”, Journal of Peace Research, vol.14 no.1, pp. 75-86. 
Galtung, Johan (1984), There Are Alternatives, Spokesman.
Galtung, Johan (1985), “Twenty-Five Years of Peace Research: Ten Challenges and Some Responses”, Journal of Peace Research, vol 22, No2, pp. 141-158.
Galtung, Johan (1996), Peace by Peaceful Means, Sage Publications.

A shorter version of this article has been published in Italian by the Centro Studi Sereno Regis, at