Time, Space and the Global Imaginary: Reflections on Elise Boulding’s Contribution to a Global Civic Culture and a Peaceful World.

Time, Space and the Global Imaginary: Reflections on Elise Boulding’s Contribution to a Global Civic Culture and a Peaceful World.

 Elise Boulding

Kevin P Clements.

(Not for quotation. This is the draft of a short piece  to go in a festchrift edition of  the National Conflict Management and Research  Journal. Russell Boulding, Elise’s son and  archivist  is pulling contributions from me, Mary Lee Morrison and Andrea Strimling Yodsampa. We only had 1,400 words to say what Elise meant to us and to focus on what we thought were some of her most notable achievements. This is my very rapid response. I’d be grateful for any reactions from    Elise’s  friends and others who know  her work as there is still time to revise and resubmit!). 

Time, Space and the Global Imaginary: Reflections on Elise Boulding’s Contribution to a Global Civic Culture and a Peaceful World.

Kevin P Clements.


Elise and I first met in the early 1980s. We were both sociologists, Quakers, peace researchers and pacifist activists. These commonalities, however, were not what brought us both together. We were united more by a shared concern to ensure that our religious and ethical beliefs, theory, research and practice were consonant and that our academic work had positive practical consequences and vice versa. Along with Marx we were united in a desire “not just to understand the world but to change it”!! I had always been impressed by Elise’s quiet desire to make sure that her work had a positive impact and when we met finally that impression was confirmed.


We developed a warm, positive and loving friendship for the next 28 years. We were bound by common academic concerns but, perhaps more importantly, by an easy rapport, a meeting of minds and spirit. An example of this was in her final years of life. I visited her after she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I had expected a truncated one sided conversation but she engaged me with some deep philosophical questions about  life and death. After exchanging normal pleasantries, for example, she asked me “ Do we leave life or does life leave us? !!” This is a question that goes to the heart of how we live in the face of death. She then followed that up by stating “ I used to be a doer like you now I just am. What is the point of just being?” She then smiled at a nurse going by and said “ I know I can bring joy and happiness to the people around me”. Even in adverse circumstances she managed to pose deep existential questions and look for meaningful action while grappling with the challenges of memory loss. I was fortunate enough to visit her a few days before she finally died in 2010 and, despite a prompting from Russell that I was sitting beside her holding her hand, I was astonished that she opened her eyes and said “Kevin, how kind of you to come”. She was a relationship builder to the very end.


As she did with many others, Elise encouraged me to assume leadership positions within the International Peace Research Association. So, I was variously Secretary General of the Asia Pacific Peace Research Association; a co-President of IPRA and then President of the IPRA Foundation when Elise felt she had to lay down that responsibility. Finally, I was Secretary General of IPRA from 2008-2010.

All of these positions gave me, as they had given her, connection to a vast global network of scholars, practitioners and change agents . All of us were and are united by a common concern to ensure that cultures and structures of violence are replaced by cultures and structures of peace . To this end we focused our attention on the diverse origins and sources of violence and how these might be replaced by processes and institutions that would guarantee stable peace, inclusion and social justice through time.

Elise and Kenneth Boulding were both committed “Futurologists” and “Systems theorists” (Boulding, 2001). This meant that they were always focused on the ways in which location in different cultural, geographical, social and linguistic spaces shaped and conditioned what was seen and understood. Time and space were, therefore, important dimensions in determining their thinking. Long before it was fashionable,they were concerned to anticipate future global challenges and think about how to respond to these at national, regional and global levels. They were both globalists, universalists and cosmopolitans trying to make sense of the particular in terms of general systems thinking.


But they were always thinking about temporality as well. Neither felt that we were doomed to keep repeating the negative behaviour of the past and both believed strongly in the power of education and imagination as critical drivers of progressive change. Kenneth was fond of saying that “Everything that is thinkable is possible”. Both he and Elise resisted being confined by the limits of their own minds and were always thinking of ways in which the future could  contribute to personal and systemic well being.


They also understood, however, the importance of paying attention to the past ( not just to learn from its mistakes) but to ensure that the wisdom of those who had devised practical solutions to past problems could be tapped and shared with those making decisions in the present. Once again, however, it was Elise rather than Kenneth who made the conceptual   leap enabling us to capture cross generational wisdom in the building of a peaceful future.


Her concept of a two hundred year present, for example, is was personally embodied, elegant and practical. (Boulding, 1988). In this concept she asks each one of us to place ourselves in time and to remember that there are people alive today who were born a hundred years ago. We have a responsibility to learn from them and to devise ways in which we can listen to and engage with them so that we might benefit from their wisdom and understand how they responded to problems, many of which continue to afflict us today. At the same time, however, she reminded us that there will be a baby born today who will live for another hundred years. The challenge, therefore, is how to ensure that we capture the wisdom from the past to enliven and inform   our present and then ensure that the decisions we make in this present enable the new born baby to realise its potential a 100 years from now.


Thinking in terms of a 200 year present is a way of creating a strong ethical and practical framework for decision making. It means, adhering to the moral principle of reversibility and never to do anything that cannot be reversed. We should not make any irreversible decisions   because we don’t know what the future will hold and its important to preserve adaptive resilient capacity. So we need to work, wherever possible to ensure that our decisions can be changed modified and adapted by future generations.


The 200 year present, therefore, is critical to ensuring sustainable development and an eco system that is able to nurture life. It is also a profound call to nonviolence because violent decisions are always irreversible and generate pain, brokenness, death and destruction.   They fail the ethical test of reversibility and prevent us from living in a 200 year present.


In addition to this lovely insight about time and place, Elise and Kenneth Boulding, both understood that there would be no movement from a violent and unjust status quo unless what was, could be replaced with a more positive vision of what might be. (Boulding & Boulding, 1995). Both understood the cognitive and emotional power of a compelling image of the future. Both wrote about the power of the image and how to be curious and inventive in the development of positive images.  It was Elise rather than Kenneth, however, who focused attention on ways in which individual and group imagination could be nurtured and liberated in order to shift possibility boundaries in progressive, radical and non-violent directions. (Boulding, 1995).


The futures imaging workshops that she developed with Warren Zeigler, for example, demonstrated  her desire to make sure that she not only understood the power of a future image in social change, but was able to link this insight to an experiential process within which individuals could learn how to imagine and realise their “imaginaries” in concrete terms. (Boulding, 2001). In these workshops the process that she described as “Futures Remembering”, was her effort to ensure that people gave specific shape and meaning to their images of a “world without weapons” while devising concrete plans for realising them through time. This attention to the future is a very important tool in any conflict transformer’s toolbox. If there is no willingness to imagine and vision a positive future, actors in conflict will always be caught in a paralysing past which will immobilise them politically in the present.


Elise wanted to understand space, time and imagination in order to build a Global Civic Culture   capable of generating a new and more peaceful world order. She wanted to challenged taken for granted patterns of power, authority and responsibility at national, regional and global levels. In her book , Building a Global Civic Culture, (Boulding, 1988), Elise focused on the diverse ways in which the world was becoming more globally interconnected and interdependent. She documented the ways in which civil society actors ( in national and International Civil Society Organisation (CSOs) these were her preferred terms for NGO and INGO) were expanding and becoming more critical to political decision making. She wanted to explore how these CSOs could make governments, regional organisations and multilateral institutions more accountable and ensure that they directed their attention to developing policies and programmes that served the common good and advanced the human interest rather than national and sectional interests. Elise was a strong supporter of the United Nations, all her life and her work on the Governing Board of UNESCO was catalytic in the development of her global consciousness and in the evolution of this book.


In all this work on developing a functional global system she promoted  integrative rather than dominatory power(power with others rather than power over others). She was not a naïve idealist and understood the importance of challenging taken for granted hierarchies and political arrangements where these were generating inequality, subjugation and violence.


She also wanted  a world where diversity was celebrated, where there was equality between men and women , adults and children. She wanted a world within which all 6.5 billion people on the planet would be able to have their needs for recognition, security and welfare met and where they could all realise their deepest human potential. She advanced all of these causes with integrity, passion, intellect and a deep commitment to the welfare of others. I miss her every day but her ideas sustain me and others as we grapple with the follies of the 21st century just as she grappled with the tragedies of the 20th.






Boulding, E. (1988). Building a global civic culture : education for an interdependent world. New York: Teachers College Press, Teachers College, Columbia University.

Boulding, E. (1995). A journey into the future: Imagining a nonviolent world. 51.

Boulding, E. (2001). Designing Future Workshops as a Tool for Peacebuilding. Peacebuilding. A Field Guide. Boulder/London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 373-375.

Boulding, E., & Boulding, K. E. (1995). The future : images and processes. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.





About kevinclements2012

Short CV Professor Kevin P Clements. I am the Foundation Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies and Director of the New Zealand Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago, Dunedin New Zealand and Secretary General of the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy. Prior to taking up these positions I was the Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies and Foundation Director of the Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Queensland, Brisbane Australia . I went to Queensland from International Alert where I was Secretary General from January 1999 to September 2003. International Alert is one of the world’s largest NGOs working on conflict transformation. It pioneered innovative policy and practical approaches to conflict prevention and transformation in Africa ,Eurasia and Asia . It has also made a major contribution to the mainstreaming of conflict prevention within European Foreign and Development Ministries, the EU and a variety of UN institutions. During his time there I was on the Board of the European Centre for Conflict Prevention and past President of the European Peace Building Liaison Office in Brussels. Prior to becoming Secretary General of International Alert I was the Vernon and Minnie Lynch Chair of Conflict Resolution at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University Fairfax Virginia USA 1994-2000 and Director of the Institute from 1994-1999. My career has been a combination of academic analysis and practice in the areas of peacebuilding and conflict transformation. I was, for example, formerly Director of the Quaker United Nations Office in Geneva and Head of the Peace Research Centre at the Australian National University in Canberra .Prior to this I was Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Coordinator of Peace Studies at Canterbury University, Christchurch New Zealand . My first academic position was as a lecturer in Sociology at Hong Kong University . I took up this position from a Post Doctoral Fellowship at Oxford University where I worked on development issues with Paul Streeten and others. I have been an advisor to the New Zealand, Australian , British , Swedish and Dutch governments on conflict prevention , peace, defence and security issues and advised the German Government and the OECD on States and Violence. I was, a member of the New Zealand Government’s Defence Committee of Enquiry in 1985 and I currently conducting Problem Solving Workshops in North East Asia with high level participants from Japan, China and Korea. Iwas President of the International Peace Research Association (IPRA) from 1994-1998, President of the IPRA Foundation from 1995-2000 and Secretary General of the Asia Pacific Peace Research Association. I was Secretary General of the International Peace Research Association 2008-2010. I got my B.A, B.A Hon ( First Class) and Ph.D in Sociology from Victoria University of Wellington New Zealand. and held a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the University of Oxford from 1970-1971. I have been a regular consultant to a variety of non governmental and intergovernmental organisations on disarmament, arms control, conflict resolution, development and regional security issues and I have written or edited 7 books and over 160 chapters /articles on conflict transformation, peacebuilding, preventive diplomacy and development with a specific focus on the Asia Pacific region. Research Expertise 1. Peace Research Theory- Conflict and Conflict Resolution Theory . Preventive Diplomacy , Development and Peacebuilding 2. International and Regional Regimes-APEC, ASEAN, the ARF, ECOWAS 3. Political Sociology-International Organisations. Multilateral/bilateral negotiating processes. 4. Fragile States, Legitimacy and Political Hybridity 5. Alternative Defence and Security Policies-Peace and Security in the Asia-Pacific region. 6. The politics and ethics of international humanitarian intervention 7. Altruism and Compassion In my spare time I like to paint with acrylics or pastels, go to the theatre, listen to classical music, visit art galleries etc!
This entry was posted in Building Peaceful Community, Conflict Transformation, Development and Peacebuilding, Feminist and Christian Objections to War, Futurology, Global Civic Culture, Humility of learning, Imagination, Love and Mutuality, Non violent responses to Violent Politics, Pacifism, Relationship Healing, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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