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Amartya Sen, renowned economist and Nobel laureate, speaks about pivotal global issues.

“War and violence are constantly in our eyes and ears,” acclaimed economist and Harvard professor Amartya Sen told a full house in Campbell Hall last evening.


Over 800 people attended Sen’s free lecture on “Peace, Violence and Development in Modern Society.” The Nobel laureate focused his discussion on the complexities of human identity and the causes of violence.

Sen discussed steps to reducing global aggression, emphasizing the multiplicity of human identity and association.

“Reductionist views of identities have been the cause of a great deal of bloodshed around the world,” he said.

Sen referenced Hindu-Muslim and Hutu-Tutsi clashes as examples of sociopolitical strife. Although he noted that economic destitution and conflict go hand-in-hand, Sen encouraged the audience to “go beyond the obvious” when analyzing violence.

According to Sen, “The claim that poverty is responsible for group violence is far too crude.”

Sen cited Calcutta as an example of the complexity of violence, as the city has a very low homicide rate — approximately one-fourth of Tokyo’s — despite its exceptional degree of poverty.

The professor critiqued Samuel Huntington’s perspective on the clash of civilization, calling it an “artificial view of history.”

The 50-minute lecture was followed by a short question-and-answer session during which Sen tackled issues ranging from extremist readings of the United States Constitution to the correlation between inequality and violence.

“I always think it is flattering when people think I know the answer to things I would like to know myself,” Sen joked.

Sociology professor Kum-Kum Bhavnani introduced the lecture, calling Sen her “economist of choice.”

“Development has failed the third world,” she said. “Conditions for peace and security remain illusive.”

According to global studies teaching assistant Chris Hortinela, Sen’s approach to social issues is radically different from that of many other economists.

“He frames the concept of freedom differently for people in the developing world,” Hortinela said. “Economists [tend to] look at whether people have money or can do this or that. [Sen] said it’s about access.”

Nicole Patchi, a fourth-year global studies major, said reading Sen’s articles in class piqued her interest in the event.

“The things he outlined were basic, but the way he critiqued them was interesting,” Patchi said of the lecture. “He didn’t say violence was always wrong … but it has to be well-founded, and the violence we’ve been perpetuating has to do with a lack of understanding of the other.”

Sen’s lecture is the first in a series of talks about the global economic crisis. For more information visit: artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu.