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Positive Peace, Peacebuilding and Entropy

Updated: May 28, 2021


Human nature and the societies we have built over the past 50,000 years is a marvel not seen anywhere else on earth and the known universe. It is hard to believe a species on this earth has created languages, systems of governance, a global banking system, and many other systems we take for granted today. Humans are creatures that have been granted rational thought and an unending desire to socialize and create groups that better our personal selves and society as a whole. This idea of grouping individuals is seen across society in the form of countries, ethnic groups, political parties, high school friends groups, and many others. Through this natural human reaction to ensure we don’t feel alone, it also has inherent negative aspects that have been felt since the beginning of humanity. Humans seek groups to find positivity in their life or to improve one's community by grouping individuals which can also lead to othering and ignorance. In extreme cases, it can lead to prejudicial laws and violence. Most wars are fought due to a group or groups identifying another group as negative and associating all interactions as negative. The idea of organizing one's positive, neutral, and negative interactions based on group affiliation will be a major focal point of this paper. No one knows more about peace theory and human interactions to peace than Joha Galtung. Johan Galtung is a Norweigan Sociologist who is credited with founding the discipline of peace and conflict studies. He is a renowned peace theorist and is also known for founding the Peace Research Institute Oslo.

Johan Galtung tackles this topic along with other topics in the goal of creating sustainable peace through peacekeeping, peacemaking, and peacebuilding. Peacekeeping and peacemaking are largely addressed through actions seen within the UN and other state and multilateral actors but the idea of peacebuilding and entropy are strategies that involve everyone and is the key to unlocking positive peace which is what creates peace that lasts. I will be explaining positive peace today and how peacebuilding and entropy help identify and harness the natural human tendency to group and utilize in an attempt to establish sustainable peace.

Negative and Positive Peace

Negative and positive peace are keystone theories utilized by Johan Galtung. Galtung is ultimately credited with coining the term of positive peace but it has been utilized in the past by scholars such as Jane Addams and Martin Luther King Jr. Negative and Positive peace go hand in hand. To have sustainable positive peace you must first have negative peace. This idea carries when you define the two terms. Negative peace is the absence of violence. This could be a ceasefire, or an end to political or racial repression, or many other forms of physical or structural violence. To many, this is what peace truly means. Once a war ends and there is no more violence, peace has been achieved. In Galtung's eyes, this is only half of the battle because peace achieved through negative peace does not create structures that promote sustainable peace and positive improvements among all people. Negative peace must also be complemented with positive peace. Negative peace needs to be established before positive peace can make the necessary changes within society to create long-lasting peace.

Positive peace is the absence of violence in all its forms (negative peace) plus social justice indiscriminately across all people. It intends to not stop at just ending violence but improving society. In Galtung's work, he describes it as a reality beyond “passive peaceful coexistence”(1) and a “Process of Life Enhancement”.(2) Positive peace will likely include a range of relationships up to a state where nations (or any groupings in conflict) might have collaborative and supportive relationships. Positive peace can come in many forms but its ultimate goal is to improve the lives of everyone and take down the structures and norms that lead to hate, violence, and war. Positive peace and the actions required to achieve it can be broken down into 3 distinct groups: Direct Positive Peace, Structural Positive Peace, and Cultural Positive Peace.

Direct Positive Peace

Direct Positive Peace is the most self-explanatory and simple of the three definitions. It involves physical acts of kindness or words that cultivate positive and peaceful communities and the world. Galtung states, “Verbal and physical kindness. Includes good words and actions that benefit the body, mind, and community addressed to all basic needs, survival, well-being, freedom, and identity. Love is the epitome of this: a union of bodies, minds, and spirits.”(3) The idea of direct positive peace can involve training in peace education and nonviolent conflict resolution. Training and other forms of education can help individuals and groups pull from a pool of nonviolent strategies instead of resorting to violence.

Structural Positive Peace

Structural positive peace is when the theories become more complicated because it has to do with the inner structures of society both relating laws and social structures. It replaces tools of conflict like marginalization and penetration with tools of peace and justice. These systems assure justice and the rule of law. The social structure would work for good not towards violence and it includes inner peace or peace with oneself “you can escape other human beings but you can’t escape yourself”(4) This can involve Intra and interpersonal peace. It can also involve development, equity, and cultural coexistence. The UN would play a larger role in society through each country's laws by maintaining sustainable peace. Galtung summarizes it thus, “...substitute freedom for repression and equity for exploitation, and then reinforce this with dialogue instead of penetration, integration instead of segmentation, solidarity instead of fragmentation, and participation instead of marginalization. Some large, vertical (alpha) structures may be necessary, but small, horizontal (beta) structures are more beautiful (avoiding too much structuration). This also holds for inner peace: the task is to bring about the harmony of body, mind, and spirit. Key: outer and inner dialogue with oneself.“(5) In a sense, structural peace requires mankind to change their ways especially relating to the marginalization of specific groups. By creating equity across all people we can stop all forms of violence at the root of the issue.

Cultural Positive Peace

Culture has a goal to legitimize and delegitimize aspects of our daily lives. This is equally true with Cultural Positive Peace. Just as there are cultural aspects that legitimize or incite violence, hate, and war, there are cultural norms that legitimize peace and nonviolence, and equality. If we implement a culture of peace throughout our media, interaction, and style, we can legitimize the idea of establishing sustainable positive peace. In Galtung’s eyes it, “would substitute the legitimation of violence for the legitimation of peace; in religion, law, and ideology; in language; in art and science; in schools, universities, and the media; building a positive peace culture. In the inner space of the Self, this means to open for several human inclinations and capabilities, not repressing”(6) By expunging violence in hate from our culture it will stop the legitimization of hate and violence as well as keep it off our minds. This ideal can be seen through the signing and implementation of the UN General Assembly Resolution 53/243. The document called for eight areas of action to create a culture of peace: “Culture of peace through education”, “Sustainable economic and social development”, “Respect for all human rights”, “Equality between women and men”, “Democratic participation”, “Understanding”, “tolerance and solidarity”, “Participatory communication and the free flow of information and knowledge”, and “International peace and security”(7). These actions are creating a culture of positive peace and ensuring that it's sustainable for generations to come. Cultural positive peace can come in many forms and can be implemented across society but its ultimate goal is simple, to improve everyone’s lives and create sustainable peace across the globe. Though we can marvel over how Galtung groups positive peace into different categories, the strategies used to create lasting peace are equally as important.


Three different categories are useful to understand how the peace is created in a society. Peacekeeping helps sustain peace after a conflict, peacemaking attempts to create equitable power structures between nations to ensure peace is lasting. This can be considered restorative justice. Though these tools are useful they are reactionary measures to a conflict, where peacebuilding establishes to create sustainable peace before conflict even arises. Peacebuilding requires a major change in societal structures to address the root causes of violence in society. By addressing the root causes of violence we can stop it before it even begins. NGOs, states, and multilateral organizations partner with each other in the peacebuilding process to ensure sustainable peace. It is easy to interpret this work as meaning top-down action from multilateral organizations but Galtung actually sees peacebuilding as a bottom-up action deriving from a local or community level.(8) The strategy attempts to identify and quell the structural issues seen in society. This could involve resolving intergroup conflict which is producing hate, violence, or even war. According to Galtung in his 1996 book, Peace by Peaceful Means, “ peacebuilding underpins the work of peacemaking and peacekeeping by addressing structural issues and the long-term relationships between conflicting parties.”(9)

By addressing these issues, sustainable peace can be established by stopping violence before it even begins. Tools can even be developed so when an indication of violence is identified a society can find a way to preemptively stop it using non-violent means, “The mechanisms that peace is based on should be built into the structure and be present there as a reservoir for the system itself to draw upon, just as the healthy body has the ability to generate its own antibodies and does not need ad hoc administration of medicine. More particularly, structures must be found that remove causes of wars and offer alternatives to war in situations where wars might otherwise occur.”(10) In a way it is almost like a body’s immune system fighting off a virus. It identifies the issue and neutralizes it. Galtung sums up peacebuilding the best in his book Peace by Peaceful Means, “Peace-building activities can be identified with building structural and cultural peace. Ability to identify the non-articulated structural conflicts throughout society is needed, not necessarily trying to solve all of them (which would be impossible anyhow), but to recognize them - a very important step toward positive transformation. This means identifying exploitation, repression, and marginalization (vertical structural violence) as well as groups that are too close to be comfortable with each other, or too far apart to interact symbiotically (horizontal structural violence). The vertical should be made more horizontal, and the horizontal more optimal.”(11)

Peacebuilding directly relates to peacemaking and harnesses the power of the people to knock down the negative.

Six Keys to Successful Peacebuilding

There are six elements that make up the infrastructure for Galtung's Peacebuilding theory. These ingredients are needed to ensure a sustainable and peaceful society. Galtung states, “Peace has a structure, and it is an infrastructure”(12) and, “To be of any value in the fight against violence it must be built within nations as well as between nations”(13) Galtung emphasizes that a peaceful future must be structured too. The infrastructure comprises six elements: Equity, Entropy, Symbiosis, Broad Scope, Large Domain, and Superstructure(14) These six points have different origins as equity, entropy and symbiosis derive from the development theory while broad scope, large domain and superstructure derive from Galtung’s conflict theory. The first three are complete opposites of the respective exploitation, elitism, and isolation theories of Galtung.(15) Equity describes the idea of fair and symmetric interactions between nations, not the exploitation of one another.

Entropy focuses more within a state structure and not the interactions between states. It begs the question how might we disperse the actions and decisions of the state on itself and abroad across all people not just the elites. This is especially true in the highly elite dominated fields like foreign policy. In a perfect world, equal weight would be placed across the spectrum. Entropy can be a difficult term to define. Even the word seems relatively out of place.(16) Galtung's uses the word to describe the idea of maximum disorder within society. This does not mean anarchy but a call for the normal barriers that prohibit decision-making throughout the people to be knocked down and equal weight to be given to all people, not just the elites.

Symbiosis - the final term derived from development theory is the idea of symbiosis. This is the direct foil to isolation. Though isolation can be an effective tool for establishing equality it should never be a permanent option. Galtung states that “a man needs a man and a nation needs each other”.(17) Symbiosis involves both parties understanding the value of diversity and it being directly tied to their self-interests. Broad Scope and Large Domain - the idea of broad scope, large domain, and, in some ways, superstructure are based on basic conflict resolution methods. In Galtung's eyes, “The broader the scope and the larger domain, the more conflict channels and actors, the better.”(18) This idea allows parties the opportunity to give and take and consult a larger pool of people. Galtung understands that the worst kind of conflict is when two parties are fighting over a single issue, like land or a law.(19) The idea of broad scope and large domain claim one proposition each. Galtung presents them as follows, “Proposition 1: The broader the scope, the more conflicts may the two actors have in common; and the more conflicts, the more possibilities for conflict resolution by trading one against the other.” and Proposition 2 states, “The larger the domain, the more possibilities of cyclical conflicts, the more possibility of multilateral clearing.”(20) Both of these propositions understand that the more actors at play the higher the possibility that things can be exchanged or deficits can be cleared due to matching self interests. These two ideas are especially useful with trade agreements. Galtung references three European multilateral groups: The Common Market, The Coal and Steel Agency and Euratom as examples of organizations that managed to resolve ongoing conflicts through widening the scope of trade and barter options.(21) Broadening the Scope and Enlarging the domain are key ingredients to peace theory because they cultivate an environment where physical conflicts can be solved through trade and clearing of deficits and not through physical violence. With two party single issue conflicts it can be hard to resolve the conflict through peaceful means because a popular alternative is physical conflict. Proposition 1 and 2’s goal is to stay as far away from that scenario as possible.(22)

Superstructure - once all these ingredients are present and an infrastructure is created a superstructure can lay over the top of the infrastructure. Galtung understands that the state of each nation under the blanket of superstructure has wildly different context and the strength of each nation can be different reading to a dominance and submissive nature between nations. The idea that multiple nations are not in a correct form to clear the market or find common ground creates a perfect environment for superstructure.(23) There are multiple ways the nations under a superstructure can be aligned. There can be a hegemonic power with weaker nations or a superstructure where there is more equity between nations. Galtung states the issue is that the first examples lead to more protection against physical violence at the expense of structural violence where the latter is opposite. We can see both examples through a variety of multilateral organizations seen throughout the world. In Galtung's view of peace theory these ingredients are needed to ensure sustainable peace. These terms in my mind can be considering peacebuilding because you are creating an infrastructure that takes both human nature and governmental structures into account. Society pulls from existing nonviolent ideas to ensure that physical violence can be avoided at all cost.

More About Entropy

I wanted to focus a section on entropy because it is not a self-explanatory term like some of the others. It is also one of the most confusing. It is hard to tell where the idea is a literal strategy or a guideline that humans should live by. Galtung's uses the word to describe the idea of maximum disorder within society. As it relates to positive peace and peacebuilding, it is a strategy that calls for all Positive, Neutral, and Negative interaction to be randomized to dissolve polarization between different social structures. Within that structure there are a myriad of positions with all kinds of interaction relations. Into those positions we fill different actors, “individual and collective, from different groups where age, sex, race, nation and class are concerned and collective, territorial and non-territorial, actors of all kinds."(24) These groups both act positively and negatively towards one another. By randomizing every positive, neutral, and negative interaction we have throughout our lives we can dissolve groups and the connotations we hold towards the groups. It's a breakdown of order. In Galtung’s eyes, order is what keeps two groups enemies and two allies as friends. In Galtung’s perspective “... there will be no polarization. Given to neighboring countries governments will interact with governments, people with people, and people with governments, and not only with their own. They should also interact with the government on the other side, filling the slot for potential interaction with empirical content.”(25)

The idea of entropy is a tool that requires society as a whole to throw down their bonds and interact randomly and it seems to only be successful when everyone is involved. This seems like a very difficult feat and Galtung is aware of that. He identifies undeniable issues that will arise with the idea of maximum disorder. Galtung says the idea may work better as a guideline not as an actual rule. This is due to the fact that when there is “Maximum Entropy” the energy is low and the potential for a structure for work, especially jobs that have to be done for society, is low. He identifies the criticisms that different political groups within society would have towards the idea of entropy. Galtung states that the liberal would say: I cannot organize economic growth under conditions of total disorder; a corporation, national or transnational, it’s some kind of order. There are highs and lows in this order; I cannot allocate people to positions in the organization and nations to positions in the trans national organization randomly, it has to be according to certain rules for the division of labor.”(26) This criticism along with many others convey the idea that this is a guideline not an actual rule. It's an idea that identifies how social structure within our society can lead to a lot of negative results, be it prejudice, violence, war, etc. By hypothetically showing the maximum disorder or randomization of groups and their interactions with one another in society, Galtung proves his point that social structure can be a major barrier to peacebuilding and positive peace.


Social structure plays a large role in society as a whole. It may play a larger role in our daily lives than many think. Every aspect of our lives is dictated by one or more social structures. Galtung’s major point is that this bastion of society can be either a vehicle of, or a major roadblock to the development of sustainable peace, especially the idea of peacebuilding. Through Galtung's work society needs to on the one hand restructure social structures to support sustainable peace while also identifying the negative aspects of social structures that lead to conflict and violence and neutralize them. It is not possible to completely randomize every person’s interaction within society, but it is useful to understand how social structures can be both positive and harmful and that society can harness them to manage conflict and disorder and create lasting and sustainable peace.


  1. Galtung (1996) p.61.

  2. Galtung (1996) p.30.

  3. Galtung (1996) p.32.

  4. Ibid.

  5. Ibid.

  6. Ibid.

  7. UNGA p.2

  8. Galtung (1976) p.298.

  9. Galtung (1996) p.??.

  10. Gatung (1976) p.298.

  11. Galtung (1996) p.271.

  12. Galtung, (1976) p.303.

  13. Ibid.

  14. Galtung, (1976) p.298.

  15. Galtung, (1976) p.299.

  16. Galtung, (1976) p.300.

  17. Ibid.

  18. Galtung, (1976) p.301.

  19. Ibid.

  20. Ibid.

  21. Ibid.

  22. Ibid.

  23. Galtung, (1976) p.302.

  24. Galtung (1986) p.16.

  25. Galtung (1986) pp.16-17.

  26. Galtung (1986) p.18).


Galtung, Johan. Peace by Peaceful Means: Peace and Conflict, Development and Civilization. Sage, 1996.

Galtung , Johan. “Peace Theory: An Introduction.” Transcend International , 1986.

Galtung , Johan. “Three Approaches to Peace: Peacekeeping, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding.” Three Approaches to Peace: Peacekeeping, Peacemaking, and Peacebuilding | University of St Andrews, 1976,

United Nations General Assembly. “53/243 A. Declaration on a Culture of Peace.” A/RES/53/243 A - Declaration on a Culture of Peace , United Nations , 1999,


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