Chapter 2 Conflict Resolution: Foundations, Constructions and Reconstructions

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4 Structure of the book

The structure of the book is based on the idea that, having described the evolution of the conflict resolution field (chapter 2) and characterised the nature of contemporary conflict (chapter 3), broad distinctions can then be made between the tasks of preventing violent conflict (chapter 4), mitigating or alleviating violent conflict once it has broken out while at the same time searching for ways of terminating it (chapter 5), ending violent conflict (chapter 6), and ensuring that conflict does not subsequently regress to violence but is lastingly transformed into peaceful processes of political and social change (chapter 7). We are not suggesting that conflicts necessarily go through these phases, but think that this is the simplest expository structure to adopt.

Chapter Two: Conflict Resolution - Foundations, Constructions and Reconstructions

The reasons which have led us to this enterprise may be summed up in two propositions. The first is that by far the most important practical problem facing the world today is that of international relations - more specifically the prevention of global war. The second is that if intellectual progress is to be made in this area, the study of international relations must be made an interdisciplinary enterprise, drawing its discourse from all the social sciences and even further.

Kenneth Boulding on the publication of the first issue of the Journal of Conflict Resolution, 1957.

The threat of nuclear holocaust remains with us and may well continue to do so for centuries, but other problems are competing with deterrence and disarmament studies for our attention. The journal must also attend to international conflict over justice, equality and human dignity; problems of conflict resolution for ecological balance and control are within our proper scope and especially suited for interdisciplinary attention.

Journal of Conflict Resolution, 1983, 27(1), 5

The two extracts from the Journal of Conflict Resolution quoted above give a good idea of the way in which conflict resolution, constituted as a distinct field of study through the setting up of formal centres in academic institutions and the publication of professional journals, first defined itself and then expanded its remit during what we are calling its foundational period in the 1950s and 1960s and its period of further construction and expansion in the 1970s and 1980s. In this chapter we describe the historical evolution of the field, some of whose classic concepts we have already outlined in chapter 1. We do so mainly by identifying individuals who have contributed strategically to the subject, whom we take as exemplars of key developments in order to avoid giving a dry list of institutions and publications. They include Mary Parker Follett among the precursors; Kenneth Boulding, Johan Galtung and John Burton among the founders; and Herbert Kelman, Roger Fisher, William Ury, William Zartman, Adam Curle and Elise Boulding among those who carried the subject forward thereafter. Needless to say, many others also played important roles. Any selection will be indicative rather than comprehensive and will reflect authorial perceptions. When we reach the 1990s, what we call the period of 'reconstruction', we encounter further creative inputs, critical as well as constructive, including perspectives from development theory and practice, from critical social theory, from gender and cultural analysis, and not least from the voices and experiences of individuals and frequently small groups of people who have struggled in conflict affected communities to affirm values of justice, peace and reconciliation.

1. Precursors

The failure of the variety of peace, socialist and liberal internationalist movements to prevent the outbreak of the First World War motivated many people after that war to develop a ‘science’ of peace which would provide a firmer basis for preventing future wars than what were regarded as the frequently sentimental and simplistically moral responses of pacifism. Early attempts were made in France, Germany, Holland, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, the United States and other countries, as described by Peter van den Dungen (1996). However, most proposals in this period were isolated and individualistic, where, in van den Dungen’s words, 'exhortations far outnumbered realisations' (27), and the sustained development of peace and conflict research in the form of institutional growth had to wait until the post 1945 world, when the added threat of nuclear weapons added a new urgency.

Meanwhile, although not known to many of those calling for a new science of peace, some of the necessary empirical evidence was already being gathered and analysed. Prominent here were the early empirical studies of war and conflict conducted in the interwar years by the Russian, Pitrim Sorokin, the Englishman, Lewis Fry Richardson, and the American, Quincy Wright.xvii

In related but as yet unintegrated fields other important pioneering work was being done which would later be drawn upon to enrich the conflict resolution field. Prominent here was the thinking of Mary Parker Follett (1942) in the field of organisational behaviour and labour-management relations. Advocating a 'mutual gains' approach to negotiation associated with what would be called 'integrative bargaining', as against the traditional concession/convergence approach associated with 'distributive bargaining', she anticipated much of the later problem-solving agenda as outlined in chapter 1. Whereas distributive bargaining assumes concealment, inflated initial demands and zero-sum contexts, the integrative bargaining advocated in the mutual gains approach tries to redefine the negotiation as a shared problem to be resolved. Pooling knowledge and resources and looking to maximise mutual gain is seen to yield greater payoffs to all parties.

Initiatives in three other fields would also prove of importance to the future interdisciplinary study of conflict resolution - psychology, politics and international studies. For example, in the field of psychology, frustration-aggression theories of human conflict (Dollard and Doob, 1939) and work on the social-psychology of group conflict conducted by Kurt Lewin (1948) would be influential in future conflict resolution studies. Similarly, in the field of political studies, Crane Brinton's approach to the analysis of political revolution (1938) - that revolution takes place when the gap between distributed social power and distributed political power reaches a critical point - can be taken as exemplary of what was to prove another significant strand (carried forward later in Dahrendorf (1959), Gurr (1970) and Tilly (1978)). In international studies, David Mitrany's (1943) functionalist approach to overcoming the win-lose dynamic inherent in realist analyses of competitive inter-state relations via a progressively denser network of cooperative cross-border frameworks made necessary by the advance of technology - seen by some to have previsaged the evolution of the European Union - would inspire similar ideas for sustaining peace through cross-border institution-building in future conflict resolution circles (complemented by Karl Deutsch's analysis of the development of 'political community' in the North Atlantic area (1957)).

Finally, despite some of the criticisms of peace researchers, accounts and analyses of pacifist and nonviolent objectives and strategies are clearly of relevance to conflict resolution, and have done much to influence and define the formation of the academic field. The work of nonviolent theorists such as Gene Sharp (1973), and the persistence of historical traditions and practices of pacifism such as those contained in the beliefs of Quakers and Mennonites, or in the ideas of Gandhi, have cross fertilised with academic enterprise to enhance understanding of violent political conflict and alternatives to it. The the objectives of Gandhi’s satyagraha ('struggle for truth') were to make latent conflict manifest by challenging social structures which were harmful because they were highly inequitable, but to do this without setting off a spiral of violence. In the Gandhian model of conflict, which contains within it built-in inhibitors of violence, the objective is not to win, but, through what Bondurant called the Gandhian dialectic, ‘to achieve a fresh level of social truth and a healthier relationship between antagonists’ (Wehr, 1979, 64). In the teachings of Buddha (the Dhamma), on the other hand, John McConnell (1995) has shown how the doctrine of the middle way and the four noble truths locate the deepest roots of conflict in the perceptions, values and attitudes of conflictants: while this does not ignore what Gandhi would have seen as oppressive structures, it does direct the peacemaker to focus on changes in self awareness and the development of self-knowledge.

2. Foundations: the 1950s and 1960s

The first institutions of peace and conflict research appeared in the twenty year period between 1945 and 1965. The Peace Research Laboratory was founded by Theodore F. Lentz at St Louis, Missouri, after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Science, according to Lentz, 'did increase physical power but science did not increase physical harmony ... the power-harmony imbalance has been brought about by science in misorder' (Lentz, 1955, 52-53). Lentz argued not only that people had a capacity to live in harmony, but that 'humatriotism' was a value which would emerge from rigorous research into human attitudes and personality. One of the first attempts to follow up this lead was taken by a group of pioneers of the new conflict resolution field at the University of Michigan.

2.1 Kenneth Boulding, Michigan and the Journal of Conflict Resolution

Kenneth Boulding was born in Liverpool in the north of England in 1910. Motivated personally and spiritually as a member of the Society of Friends (Quakers), and professionally as an economist, he moved to America in 1937, married Elise Bjorn-Hansen in 1941, and began with her a partnership which was to make a seminal contribution to the formation of peace and conflict research. After the war he was appointed as Professor of Economics at the University of Michigan. Here, with a small group of academics, which included the mathematician-biologist Anatol Rapoport, the social psychologist Herbert Kelman and the sociologist Norman Angell, he initiated the Journal of Conflict Resolution (JCR) in 1957, and set up the Center for Research on Conflict Resolution in 1959. Inspirational to what Boulding called the 'Early Church' of the peace research movement (Kerman, 1974, 48) was the work of Lewis Richardson, brought over on microfilm by his son, Stephen Richardson, and not yet published at that time.

Boulding's publications focused firmly on the issue of preventing war, because, partly because of the failures of the discipline of international relations, ‘the international system is by far the most pathological and costly segment of the total social system’ (Kerman, 1974, 83). Conflict and Defense advanced the thesis of the decline or obsolescence of the nation state, while Perspectives on the Economics of Peace argued that conventional prescriptions from international relations were unable even to recognise, let alone analyse, the consequences of this obsolescence. If war was the outcome of inherent characteristics in the sovereign state system then it might be prevented in Boulding’s view by a reform of international organisation, and by the development of a research and information capability. From this capability, data collection and processing could enable the advance of scientific knowledge about the build up of conflicts, to replace the inadequate insights available through standard diplomacy. In the first issue of the JCR in March 1957 Quincy Wright had an article proposing a 'project on a world intelligence centre', which showed the influence of Richardson from the past, whilst anticipating what has more recently come to be called early warning and conflict prevention. For Boulding, in these formative years of conflict theory, conflict resolution meant the development of a knowledge base in which ‘social data stations’ would emerge, forming a system analogous to a network of weather stations which would gather a range of social, political and economic data to produce indicators 'to identify social temperature and pressure and predict cold or warm fronts' (Kerman, 1974, 82).

2.2 Johan Galtung and Conflict Resolution in Northern Europe

While the developments at Michigan and the interest of the Bouldings in peace as well as conflict research provided one polar point for the emergence of peace research, its main elaboration was to be defined in developments in Europe. Lawler makes a distinction between the more limited agenda of conflict research (seeking to reduce the incidence and extent of war) and the emergence of peace research whose origins were not in North America but in Scandinavia, and most remarkably in the work of Johan Galtung (Lawler, 1995). We have already introduced Galtung's concept of the conflict triangle, and his distinction between direct violence, structural violence and cultural violence, in chapter 1. To this can be added his further distinction between negative and positive peace, the former characterised by the absence of direct violence, the latter by the overcoming of structural and cultural violence as well. Negative peace can be associated with the more limited but better defined 'minimalist' agenda of preventing war, and in particular nuclear war, as advocated by what might be called the North American pragmatist school. Positive peace encompasses the broader but vaguer 'maximalist' agenda insisted upon by the European structuralists.

The medical analogy, which seems to have occurred to so many of the peace science pioneers, was also at work in Galtung’s background. His father was a physician and Galtung absorbed the ethic, transforming it into the notion of the peace researcher as a 'social physician' guided by a body of scientific knowledge. He studied philosophy, sociology and mathematics, and as early as 1951, at the age of 21, he became influenced by Gandhian ideas, which formed a persistent theme in his peace research.

In 1958 he became visiting professor of sociology at Columbia University, returning to Oslo in 1960 to help found a unit for research into conflict and peace, based within the Institute for Social Research at the University of Oslo and the precursor to the International Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO). The further development of peace research institutions in Europe in the 1960s was vigorous: thus, in 1962 the Polemological Institute was formed in Groningen, Holland; in 1966 the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) was opened to commemorate Sweden’s 150 years of peace; and in 1969 the Tampere Peace Research Institute was formed in Finland. Galtung was also the founding editor of the Journal of Peace Research which was launched in 1964.

This is not the place to attempt a summary of Galtung’s work. His output over the past 35 years has been phenomenal and his influence on the institutionalisation and ideas of peace research seminal. He saw the range of peace research reaching out far beyond the enterprise of war prevention to encompass study of the conditions for peaceful relations between the dominant and the exploited, rulers and ruled, men and women, western and non-western cultures, humankind and nature. Central here was the search for positive peace in the form of human empathy, solidarity and community, the priority of addressing ‘structural violence’ in peace research by unveiling and transforming structures of imperialism and oppression, and the importance of searching for alternative values in non-western cosmologies such as Buddhism.xviii

The struggle between European structuralists and North American pragmatists to define the peace research and conflict resolution agenda was at times hard-hitting. In an article in the Journal of Peace Research in 1968, for example, Herman Schmid castigated many of those working in the field for failing to engage critically with issues of social justice. Absence of war on its own (negative peace) can obscure deep injustices which make a mockery of peace, and, if unaddressed, contain the seeds of future violent conflict (217-32). On the other hand, as Lawler’s conclusion to his study of Galtung’s ideas suggests, although the constant expansion of the peace research and conflict resolution agenda may be seen as a sign of its dynamism, 'it may also be seen as acquiring the qualities of an intellectual black hole wherein something vital, a praxeological edge or purpose, is lost'. This was a criticism made, among others, by Boulding.xix The second quotation from the Journal of Conflict Resolution (1973) cited at the head of this chapter may be seen to represent an uneasy compromise between the maximalist and minimalist poles, which has more or less persisted to this day. In our view, the central core of the conflict resolution approach described in this book does represent the 'praxeological edge or purpose' of peace research. As both an analytic and normative field, conflict resolution takes violent or destructive conflict as its topic, and aims to gain an accurate understanding of its nature and aetiology in order to learn how it can best be overcome. This implies, not only the treatment of symptoms, but work on conflict causes as well.

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