Marta Martinelli Quille
COPRI Guest Researcher
A Response to Recent Critiques of Conflict Resolution:
Is Critical Theory the Answer?
Acknowledgements .......................................................................................................... 2
What is the matter anyway? ............................................................................................. 4
The Resolution and Settlement Paradigms in Conflict Resolution Theory and in the
Practice of Third Party Intervention ................................................................................ 7
The work and writings of Adam Curle .......................................................................... 11
John Paul Ledereach and the principle of Empowerment ............................................. 16
Problem Solving Workshops under Fire........................................................................ 19
a)Urgency ...................................................................................................................... 19
b) Sustainability ............................................................................................................. 23
Reconciliation: Where Curle, Lederach and Modernity Meet ....................................... 25
References ..................................................................................................................... 31
I wish to thank Professors Oliver Ramsbotham, Tom Woodhouse and Håkan Wiberg, for
contributing to this paper with their critical insights.
I am grateful to the Sasakawa Peace Foundation (Japan) for providing the material
support that has allowed me to research and engage in the writing up of the present
A Response to Recent Critiques of Conflict Resolution:
Is Critical Theory the Answer?
Peace Research has gone a long way in its fifty years or so of existence. In particular it
has come to include positive and negative definitions of peace which encompass
economic, human rights and ecological concerns and which cross the international,
national and individual spheres of action . It has certainly succeeded in widening and
deepening our understanding of situations of lack of peace and in doing so it has
originated a quest for differentiating tools enabling us to deal with different types of
conflict in different settings. The need for devising comprehensive peace strategies has
originated a move from peacemaking to peacekeeping and most recently peacebuilding.
As a necessary corollary recent research efforts have tried to understand how a bridge
between theory and practice can be built and, unsatisfied with the many settlements that
left the inherent triggering causes of a conflict intact and have brought about renewed
conflicts, they have focused their attention on the concept of sustainable peace processes.
The purpose of this paper is to offer my impressions on the recent debate generated by
critical theorists in their approach to understanding Conflict Resolution. The articulation
of such critiques is in fact contributing to the construction of a framework of
understanding which might direct future peace research and conflict resolution
investigations as well as prescriptions.
This essays wishes to contribute to the debate outlined above by presenting an overview
of the evolution of Conflict Resolution theory and in particular of the idea of Track II or
informal diplomacy as described especially in the works of two of its major theorists and
practitioners, John Lederach and Adam Curle although others will be named in the
process. In particular Curle’s thought has undergone a shift in emphasis from the
importance he originally attributed to a third party intervener to the greater relevance he
now places on the validity of local initiatives. Lederach, on the other hand, offers with his
works the most convincing answer to those that criticise CR for its lack of reference to
the concept and praxis of “empowerment”.
It will highlight the contemporary critical debate and try to reply to its raising exponents
in the field of Conflict Resolution with particular reference to the work of Betts
Fetherston at the Centre for Conflict Resolution, University of Bradford. Thus, it does not
purport to be a critical study of critical theory literature but only to portray my
understanding of what critical theorists mean by engaging in a discussion of Conflict
Resolution theory and practice.
Finally, the essay wishes to discuss those merits inherent in Conflict Resolution (CR)
theory and critical theory with a view at maintaining the richness of both but also re-
evaluate the much criticised “deficiencies” of CR assumptions. The validity of such an
exercise lies in the fact that any attempt to map the fields of conflict and conflict
resolution becomes more than an intellectual exercise as one contemplates conflicts
where the parties seem more intent on continuing and escalating their violence and
destruction than taking advantage of efforts by third parties, who try to broker cease fires
initiating a process of conflict resolution or who address their action at a more grass-root
level with the ideal in mind that when civilians “are helped to envisage another future in
concrete ways, they will stop providing legitimacy to those social forces who profit from
What is the matter anyway?
In the literature on Conflict Resolution, those that advocated more space for citizens’
initiatives in international mediation, did so on the ground that official diplomacy had
ignored the human dimension of conflict for too long. Their suggestion was and still is
that psychological and cultural aspects of human behaviour in conflict do matter and that
the traditional legal way of dealing with it was in fact only perpetuating power structures
that were taken for granted and that promoted order instead of justice and positive peace.
The emphasis that traditional diplomatic means place on interests, bargaining and
rational actors, clashes with the dynamics of modern conflict in that it overlooks values,
K. Schultz, Building Peace from the Ground Up. About People and the UN in a War Zone in Croatia, The
Trasnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, Lund, Sweden, 1994, p. 11.
feelings, and psychological aspects, as well as questions of empowerment and resources
The fact is that structures are slow to change and in fact resist change in that they
represent the foreseeable part of our lives where much of our psychological safety rests.
On the international scale this meant that in the old world order, dominated by paradigm
of terror between the two superpowers old type conflicts could afford to remain
unresolved and in fact perpetuated by the overarching balance of power. For those, like
us and the majority of the western world, that were living in a safe area this meant
absence of war and a comfortable niche where matters of justice, development, and
access to resources and power were seldom questioned. Even in the academic circles
were such matters were debated little attention was paid to the cultural assumptions that
were shaping the debate.
With the end of the Cold war the nature of conflicts emerging from multi-cultural and
multi-ethnic societies has changed leading to a situation of world disorder where
conflicts cannot be managed on a permanent basis without deep solutions. In fact some
authors have gone so far as to say that they cannot even be solved but they have to be
transformed. As Schultz states “The paradigm of the Cold War is irrelevant now”2 power
relationships have changed and although this gives origin to new clashes it also allows for
more space for peace researchers and practitioners to practice what can be termed “soft
power”, not resting on military might but on ideas, suggestion, inventiveness and a vision
of the future that would have been impossible to express before 1989 with the richness
Nevertheless Conflict Resolution theory is itself undergoing a time of trial and what I
would term “theoretical fatigue”. After a time of enthusiasm and a flourishing of ideas
many scholars are questioning its underlying cultural assumptions (often associated with
a western view of peace, social order and justice) and its working methods. Many of the
modern conflicts that are shaking the international arena happen in places and within
cultures about which the West knows too little, or it seems to only “transfer” its
knowledge into arenas that are not ready to fully profit from it, or that reject it and rightly
oppose its assumptions with those typical of their different settings.
Kerstin Schultz, cit., p. 5.
What seemed valid answers are not working in practice if we keep as our reference the
highly visible political environment. Those that had been successfully practising informal
mediation of inter- and intra-state conflicts using those tools devised by Conflict
Resolution over more than 50 years of literature production had to re-invent themselves
and their roles at different levels of the affected society and different stages of the
interested conflict. Its limits are being highlighted almost with a sense of disillusion and
help is sought from other disciplines to provide those answers that are seen as still
missing in spite of a huge body of literature. In fact much of the criticism that was
addressed to traditional state diplomacy is now being directed at Conflict Resolution
theory and especially at its problem-solving approach.
The theory and its working methods are being reviewed by a new generation of critical
theorists who assume that Conflict Resolution has originated and rests on unchallenged
assumptions of social order, thus perpetuating those structures that had originated the
conflict in first place. In the views of these scholars the resistance to imagine and produce
different structures ( at an institutional and relational level) means that instead of looking
for radical solutions, and almost fearing the change that these would demand, Conflict
Resolution is “stuck” with ad-hoc answers that reinforce this unchallenged order3.
I maintain with critical theorists there is a substantial difference between research which
seeks to clarify social meanings and practices and empirical research aimed at gaining
knowledge over a phenomenon in order to be able to control it. Nevertheless they fail to
convince me that Conflict Resolution as a discipline, has got as its programmatic end,
“control over phenomena such as conflict” leaving aside the “clarification of social
meanings and practices”.
Fetherston and Parking comment on their paper “Transforming Violent Conflict:
Contributions from Social Theory” that conflict analysis and conflict management (the
descriptive and prescriptive facets of Conflict Resolution) have serious inadequacies and
they consists of a “minimal grasp of the “field reality” of violent conflict” thus they set to
“bridge the gap between abstract models of conflict management and the everydayness
Hugh Miall, Oliver Ramsbotham and Tom Woodhouse, Contemporary Conflict Resolution. The
Prevention, Management and Transformation of Deadly Conflicts, 1999, p. 75-78.
and “groundedness” of field reality”4. As they themselves admit their critique is
addressed particularly at parts of the theoretical foundation of International Relations and
the consequences of this foundation on conflict analysis5. What they seem to forget, in
my opinion and as I will highlight below, is that conflict analysis has also widely felt the
influence of a more “Utopian” thinking which has impacted on descriptive as well as
prescriptive practices of Conflict Resolution and not only to “console”6 researchers but to
The Resolution and Settlement Paradigms in Conflict Resolution Theory and in the
Practice of Third Party Intervention
Different paradigms, that is different descriptions and explanations of the same thing,
and a different sense of problems related to that thing as well as of the methods relevant
to solving them, mean different realities. That there may be multiple and even competing
conceptions of reality makes the concept of paradigms particularly relevant to conflict
and conflict resolution where parties are quite prepared to die and to kill to defend their
There are many paradigms relevant to that stream of CR theory that deals with the
management of conflict but two of them seem dominant in that they shape much of the
methodological approach that is chosen when dealing with conflict situations: they are
the Resolution and Settlement ones and in my opinion they seem to relate respectively to
the Realist and Idealist approaches characterising the view about actors in the
international arena7. I do not want to force a comparison between assumptions that
belong and work in two different schools of thought, namely International Relations and
Conflict Resolution, but it seems to me that one can draw some underlying similarity
when discussing them.
A.B. Fetherston and A.C. Parkin, “Transforming Violent Conflict: Contributions from Social Theory”, p.
20, in: Lee-Anne Broadhead (ed. by), Issues in Peace Research 1997-98. Theory and Practice., Dept. of
Peace Studies, University of Bradford, 1997.
Lee-Anne Broadhead, “Beyond the Traditions”, in Lea-Anne Broadhead (ed.by), cit., p. 15
I am much indebted to David Bloomfield’s essay “Towards complementarity in conflict management:
resolution and settlement in Northern Ireland”, for his synthesis of the two concepts. Journal of Peace
Research, Vol.32, no.2, May 1995, pp. 151-164
From the Realist perspective the world is always a potential and often an actual
battleground. This is due to the fact that the units that compose the world system, i.e. the
states, are all competing in the international arena for the obtainment of finite resources.
The same can be said at the inter-personal level if our unit of analysis becomes the
The reasons for a state of latent or overt violence at all levels (individual, societal and
global) are various and the prescription that follows is one of preserving those structures
capable of producing a stable framework within which we can peacefully leave our
everyday life: from the realist perspective thus peace has a negative connotation in that it
identifies with lack of violence and a resistance to change8. In this view, which claims to
see conflict as an essentially objective event, negotiation and bargaining are seen as
allowing for a rational control of policy, thus the multitude of works on decision making
and a focus upon crisis management techniques. In CR theory it is associated with those
that advocate the value of conflict settlement. As Bloomfield states, in this approach “The
feelings of the parties are subordinated to the issues; their relationship is addressed only
in so far as it is pertinent to the bargaining process”9.
Critics of the Settlement paradigm claim that although it may offer an immediate answer
to a violent situation, its approach is superficial in that it overlooks the parties’ underlying
attitudes, feelings, perception or misperceptions and its efficacy is bound to be only
temporary. The third party that best fits this approach is a strong one, capable of
practising power and pressure and of initiating the settlement process. Although one
cannot generalise, this approach seems best for inter-state disputes where power is a
salient issue and a valid resource.
On the opposite side representatives of political idealism might agree with the Realists
counterparts about the alarming frequency and intensity of violence but disagree with
them on the reasons for it and on how we should respond to the problem. For the idealists
violence can be the result of many factors including learned responses to frustrating
situations which can be generated by inequality in the economic distributive processes
and injustice in the societal structures . The responses to be adopted in these
Michael Banks, “Four Conceptions of Peace”, in : Dennis J.D. Sandole and I. Sandole-Staroste (ed. by),
Conflict Management and Problem Solving: Interpersonal to International Applications, New York, New
York University Press, 1987, p. 261.
circumstances may include counter-violence (in self defence) but also non-violent means
for bringing about political, social and economic change in order to eliminate the causes
and conditions of violent conflict. In Conflict Resolution Idealism tends to be associated
with constructive approaches, promoting non-adversarial, non-zero-sum, win-win
solutions, that is to say resolution proper. The emphasis is, contrary to Realism, on the
changeability of the environments (shaped by institutional and social structures) and also
of the behaviours. In research the idealists’ focus has been on evolutionary change
whereby the inequalities of the system can be eliminated.
In its prescriptive mode, resolution is based on a more subjective view of conflict
whereby the parties work together to change their perceptions of each other and of the
conflict which is seen as a common problem they share and have an interest in
resolving10. The third party’s role is one of facilitation without coercion aimed at helping
the parties to review their relationship in a co-operative role in order to generate a
sustainable resolution. Resolution aims at removing not only the manifest causes of the
conflict but also the underlying ones having as its ultimate scope the reconciliation of the
parties with each other.
Critics of the Resolution paradigm stress its unrealistic expectations and the enormity of
the task of fostering a deep and broad solution. They also point out to the fact that
“objective issue-based disagreements do not necessarily disappear as positive
All the above refers to those activities relevant to CR that pertain to intervention at a high
political level by a third party external to the conflict situation. These are performed by
diplomats (acting in an official or unofficial capacity) or experts that are willing to offer
their experience and knowledge to the parties in conflict to help them unlock the issues
that prevent them from reaching an agreement.
Nevertheless CR theory has also been concerned with activities performed at other
D. Bloomfield, cit., p. 153.
Probably the most famous amongst its advocates is John Burton and his idea of the “problem-solving
workshop” which has amply been used by practitioners in the field. John W. Burton, Conflict and
Communication, The Use of Controlled Communication in International Relations, London, MacMillan,
1969, London, p. 157.
D. Bloomfiled, cit., p. 152.
spheres of civil society and aimed at increasing the level of shared values both in a
conflict prevention and a conflict resolution setting. In this context it is perhaps more
appropriate to speak of “multi-track” diplomacy, meaning not only activities that
resemble those performed by official diplomats (such as negotiation, mediation,
arbitration etc.), but any kind of action aimed at influencing decision makers and at
increasing the level of shared values in the international community. Broadly speaking, it
is possible to talk of multi-track diplomacy referring to cultural relations’ programmes
among states, or to the work of ad-hoc groups of experts or businessmen, as well as
international non-governmental organisations and opinion groups.12
To exemplify even better an interesting list of activities that could fall within the
definition of multi-track diplomacy is given by Vincent Kavaloski in his article entitled
“Transnational Citizen Peacemaking as Non Violent Action” that he defines as “direct or
mediated contact and communication between private citizens of two or more countries
with a general intention of increasing mutual understanding and world peace” 13. The
author argues that the term citizen diplomacy with its inherent state-centric assumption is
considered inadequate as it entails an insufficient appreciation of the variety of scope of
TCP initiatives. He lists then ten types of TCP initiatives:
Citizens delegations and socially responsible tourism: defined as a type of tourism
committed to cultivating ongoing cultural ad political contacts with host nationals.
Sister cities: they provide a framework for their citizens to make contacts with foreign
nationals through letters, delegations, joint projects, and exchange of information and
cultural events about their towns.
Co-operative peace projects: are realised when citizens of different countries not only
talk about peace but work together to “create” peace. For instance the International
Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, organisation lead by US and Soviet
physicians, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 for joint research and public education on
the medical effects of nuclear war. On a more grass root level various people belonging
to Non Governmental Organisations provide aid and solidarity to populations enduring
John McDonald has added more “tracks”. He speaks of: Track III referring to the business community;
Track IV referring to citizen to citizen exchange programs of all kinds; and Track V referring to the media.
After 1991 he has added four more tracks: Education and Training, Peace Activism, Religion, and Funding
for a total of nine tracks. John V. McDonald &Diane B. Bendahmane (ed. by), Conflict Resolution, Track II
Diplomacy, Foreign Service Institute, Washington D.C., 1995, p. 4. In reality this categorisation seems to
me to be too vast. In fact to the now familiar Track I and Track II diplomacies, we can now add a Track III
when speaking of grass-roots peacebuilding activities.
war or the effects of natural disasters.
Space bridges: are events broadcast transnationally thanks to the help of satellite TV
systems. They allow direct people to people communication even across thousands of
miles and enhance the possibility of breaking through the cultural sense of “the other as
Cultural and scientific co-operation: this kind of initiatives relates especially, but not
only, to shared research projects.
Trade and corporate diplomacy: whilst transnational corporations have almost
exclusively focused on profit and resource extraction and exploitation of low-cost
manpower in the so-called Third World, there is an increasing number of initiatives
aiming at introducing the concept of fair trading with the poorest countries of the world,
by paying their imported products at fair prices.
Home_Stay organisations: promote initiatives that link people together transnationally
through invitations to stay as guests in one another’s home.
International youth camps and work brigades: allow for brief experiences of international
co-operation for young people who engage in a joint restoration, construction or
environmental friendly project.
International humanitarian organisations: offer opportunities for international voluntary
Other International Nongovernmental Organisations (INGOs): there are many INGOs
that explicitly list global peace as their goal and that encompass many levels of
operativity form the grass root to the top diplomatic level.
Although useful to an understanding of the scope and variety of activities that are being
studied and performed in support of peace, in this essay I will refer to what has been
termed Track III with reference to initiatives that “build peace from below” and value
local capacities, rather than the role of external experts, for their enactment.
The work and writings of Adam Curle
Vincent C. Kavaloski, “Transnational Citizen Peacemeking as Nonviolent Action”, Peace and Change,
Above we have noted how there are different approaches to mediation depending on the
view one holds of the conflict. Nevertheless all the different practices can be grouped
around two typologies: “hard” and “soft” mediation, the first made effective by the use of
power and leverage on the mediator’s part, the second made effective by the amount of
appeal that a third party can impart on a peaceful outcome. For this second type of
approach a mediator’s “power” rests on his/her ideas, charisma, trustworthiness,
inventiveness, good connections and so on.
Adam Curle is amongst the most influential representatives of the second kind of practice
of mediation. Academically Curle has worked in the fields of psychology, anthropology,
development, education and peace studies (having held the first chair of Peace Studies at
the University of Bradford); as a practitioner he has been involved as a third party in
conflictual situations in Pakistan and Africa and in setting as diverse as industrial disputes
and civil wars.
Curle’s involvement with the field of Conflict Resolution and the mediation of disputes,
stems from his personal and moral stand on issues of development, justice and peace. His
Quakers belief and attitudes are present throughout his literary production and have
guided his approach to third party intervention: namely the belief that there is “that of
God” in all human beings.
In his book Making Peace (1971) he defines human relationships as peaceful and
unpeaceful and as balanced and unbalanced. Conflict is essentially a situation of
unpeaceful relationships where incompatibility of interests is dominant; it is not always
overt and it is present whenever an “individual’s potential development, mental or
physical, is held back by the conditions of a relationship”14 so much so that “in such cases
– whatever one may think of the desirability of the relationship – there is a potentiality
for overt, physical violence”15. By unbalanced relations Curle means all those relations
where one part has the power to impose conditions to the other. And where this power is
used by the advantaged party to exploit the disadvantaged one. Unbalanced relations are
Vol. 15 No. 2, April 1990.
By his own admission here Curle takes Galtung’s view on peace and violence. Development in Curle’s
view “involves he restructuring of a relationship so that the conflict or alienation that had previously
rendered it unpeaceful is eliminated and replaced by a collaboration that prevents it from recurring”, Adam
Curle, Making Peace, Tavistock Publications, London, 1971, p. 259.
Ibidem, p. 2.
not necessarily unpeaceful as he points out in the case of parent and child and
local/national governments. Nevertheless Curle notes that exploitative imbalance is a
particularly prevalent form of unpeaceful relationship. It can be re-addressed by an
increase in awareness on the exploited part which can lead in turn into a “revolution of
the under dog”16 generated by raised expectations; the confrontation that characterises a
growth in awareness of the unpeaceful relation marks the process towards a redistribution
of power and a more equal relationship.
In this view the process of peacemaking “consists in making changes in relationships so
that they may be brought to a point where development [of the under-developed human
In True Justice (1981) Curle elaborates on the previous concepts of peacemaking and
adds that it consists “of manifesting the truth and applying it to the disordered
relationships, relationships that are disordered specifically because they are not nurtured
by the truth. Thus peacemaking is not merely the removal of what is sick or ignorant,
smoothing out the crinkles and misunderstanding, but the stimulation of growth and the
unfolding of all out God-given capacities”18. He also defines the “seven pillars of peace
making as : recognise that of God in all with whom peacemakers deal with; listen to them
and give them attention; earn their acceptance; be persistent; furthermore in the stage of
“Quiescence”19 peacemakers must try to stimulate awareness; in the stage of
“Revolution”20 they must work non violently to stimulate change; and in the “Conflict of
Equals”21 they must work to establish communication.
In this work of his Curle places great emphasis on the concept of awareness of the self in
first place and of the other. Awareness of the self leads to see things in a different way
and thus to act different. It follows that awareness is at the root f any change and since
peace is a change of relationships from unpeaceful to peaceful, awareness is the very
source of peace22. Peace making should also consider as its ultimate goal the achievement
of reconciliation (that Curle sees in its etymological meaning as the re-establishment of a
Ibidem, p. 16.
Ibidem. Author’s emphasis added in brackets.
A. Curle, True Justice, Headley Brothers, London, 1981, p. 96.
Dealt with at page 72.
Dealt with at page 81.
Dealt with at page 86.
Ibidem, p. 44.
council) but accept in the process, also the existence of intermediate goals such as
resolution of the conflict and the removal of injustices.
In the Middle (1987) represents Curle’s attempt at systematising the practice of
mediation. He outlines the moral and professional attitude that should guide a third
party’s intervention by stating that “the sole mediator’s motivation is concern for the
suffering occasioned to both sides by the conflict, and determination to do everything in
their power to reduce it. They are not concerned with who wins or loses, they do not take
sides, considering the only enemy to be war and the waste and suffering it brings; they
are consistent in their honesty, concern and good will”. They would consider it improper
interference to promote their own solution; their job is to facilitate an acceptable one by
helping to clear away obstacles of prejudice and misunderstanding that impede the
protagonists in reaching an agreement together23. From this approach it is clear that the
third party’s role in Curle’s idea is one of re-addressing the misperceptions that do not
allow them to see a solution out of their conflict situation by themselves. It is not
necessarily what has originated the conflict, but it is what impedes it from turning into a
peaceful relationship. Thus Curle identifies four elements in the mediation process: acting
to restore communications and improve them; provide information that is not biased by
such feelings as anger and suspicion; “befriend” the conflict parties by offering
understanding of their positions and attentive listening; and finally, cultivate a
willingness to engage in co-operative negotiation24.
Curle’s idea of a good mediator is one of knowledgeable party well informed about the
specific conflict, preferably an outsider that can reassure the parties about his/her
impartiality and whose role is one of facilitation in that the main role would be one of
clearing away obstacles of communication between belligerents.
In 1995 Curle published his work Another Way. Positive Response to Contemporary
Violence. The book is divided in two fundamental parts (a third one representing a case
study) one dealing with the roots and manifestations of modern violence and the second
with contemporary peace-making. It is especially in this second part best elucidated by
the following case study, that Curle departs from his idea of a third party as
Adam Curle, In the Middle. Non-official Mediation in Violent Situations. Berg Publishers Limited, UK,
1986. Bradford Peace Studies Papers. New series, no. 1, pp.11-12.
O. Ramsbotham, H. Miall and T. Woodhouse, cit., p. 68.
fundamentally interposing between two political entities to move their relations towards
one of agreement, and he introduces the idea of working at the grass-root level to build
peace from below.
He reiterates the connection between peace making and development and enriches his
definition of the latter by identifying it with the enjoyment of four conditions:
Sufficiency: having enough for all to develop their human potential to the full: health,
food, education, housing and so on.
Safety: Not having to worry about violence derived from war but also from crime or a
corrupted or politicised police force, from torture, gang violence and also safety from
natural disasters as in Curle’s view these are associated with human action or lack of
Satisfaction: the enjoyment of safety and sufficiency in an ambience of flowing culture.
Stimulus: the possibility and encouragement to move on and improve in education, craft,
cultural activities, housing and so on25.
To help those involved in conflict to realise the above listed four conditions, Curle
discusses the importance of training. He defines training as “ to prepare people to play a
useful part in resolving conflict, to help those suffering oppression to resist or those
threatened by violence and chaos to survive, to protect those in danger of assassination, to
care where possible for the traumatised and the other victims of war” 26. He accompanies
this belief in training with a the consideration that mediation is grown into an industry
penetrating law, industry, schools, churches and family relations and has become a sort of
cure-all. Whilst teaching skills, training can be addressed also at changing attitudes of
mind by bringing people together and helping realise respect, concern and compassion27.
To better explain what he means by training activities dealt with in workshops and the
results of these, Curle tells the reader about the endeavours of a couple of private citizens
to set up a peace group in Osijek in Croatia. And this he takes as the exemplification of
peacemaking. He says “there is little it (the peace centre that stemmed from the peace
group) can do in relation to the existing state of war between Croatia and Serbia…What
seems to be extremely important however is that the work of the centre is to both
Adam Curle, Another Way. Positive Response to Contemporary Violence, Jon Carpenter Publishing,
Oxford, 1995, p. 107.
Ibidem, p. 115.
stimulate and preserve the values on which harmony can eventually be restored”28.
The novelty in Curle’s thought consists in his admission of the failure of known
institutions and practices to deal with modern violence that he sees as more desperate and
pointless that it has possibly been before. The book is a re-evaluation of the power of the
individual to heal from violence and set in place healed communities; people in general
and not only the influential ones, are treated as points of intervention in a fashion that was
absent in his previous writings. The relevance, here, is in building constituencies for
The idea of citizen peacemaking, is further developed in a previous article, entitled “New
Challenges for Citizen Peacemaking” (1994) where he in fact uses words of
disillusionment with the practices suggested by CR. “Since Conflict Resolution by
outside bodies and individuals has so far proved ineffective it is essential to consider the
peacemaking potential of the conflicting communities themselves”29.
I do not wish to discuss the implication of this strong statement here as I will do it in my
conclusion, I will instead try to highlight where Curle’s thought meets the work of
another well known practitioner in Conflict Resolution, namely John Lederach.
John Paul Ledereach and the principle of Empowerment
Like Curle, Lederach believes in the positive action a mediator can perform to help the
parties overcome communication problems and bargaining difficulties. Contrary to Curle
though he refers to the third party as an “insider partial”, someone from within the
conflict context, thus knowledgeable about it and familiar to the parties and nevertheless
trusted enough by the contendants so that he/she can act as an intermediary.
His observation stems from his experience in Latin America where more value was
placed on the idea of “confianza” (trust) than on impartiality and distance from the
Ibidem, p. 120.
Ibidem, p. 145.
Adam Curle, “New Challenges for Citizen Peacemaking”, Medicine and War, vol. 10, London, 1994, p.
Like Curle, Lederach seems to believe that much of modern conflict is due to an
unbalanced distribution of resources and similar to Curle his work is permeated by
attention to developmental issues. Like Curle, he advocates the necessity of building
awareness of the self and of the self-in-context. Mediation builds on the acute awareness
of the conflict and moves on to increase mutual understanding and reduce adversariness.
Lederach’s work also shows a more explicit concern with the impact that the cultural
assumptions of the third party can have on the people that are the reference of the
intermediary action31. He has highlighted this aspect with reference to the activity of
training that he has been performing extensively especially in Latin America and has
developed two models of training. He has termed the models: prescriptive and elicitive
and he differentiates them in such a way:
“ In the prescriptive model, training is conducted on the basis of transfer, of passing on to
the participants the approach, strategy and techniques mastered by the trainer. The event
itself is built around providing, teaching and learning a specific model of conflict
resolution. The elicitive approach…undertakes training as an opportunity and an
encounter for participants in a given setting to discover and create models of conflict
resolution in the context of their setting”32. The elicitive framework provides a process
for people to engage what they know and build from that knowledge so that both the
people and their knowledge become resources for the training. The third party role is one
of facilitation whilst the “expert” dimension is down played.
Lederach’s approach to training is different from the general Conflict Resolution theory
in that it is explicitly attentive to valuation of local capacities and resources. His
suggestion is that when a given conflict resolution approach is presented as a model and
without building from the context and the cultural settings that are the recipients of that
model, the very strength of it i.e. the expertise provided, proves its very weakness in that
it will not allow for a long term sustainability. He also warns the scholar/practitioner of
the danger of taking a purist approach to the elicitive model: if it does not encourage
Paul Wehr and John Paul Lederach, “Mediating Conflict in Central America”, Journal of peace
Research, 28, no.1, february 1991, pp. 85-98.
John Paul Lederach, Preparing for Peace. Conflict Transformation Across Cultures, Syracuse University
Press, New York, 1995, p. 38.
I. Lederach, cit., p. 64.
comparison and sharing of knowledge even with the facilitator and with other cultures, it
will disempower people and keep them ignorant in a sort of frozen setting33.
Ledarch’s most important contribution to the field of Conflict Resolution theory lies in
his elaboration of the concept of “empowerment”. His states: “…training across and in
other cultures should seek methodologies that create an encounter between people in a
given setting and their own rich but often implicit understandings about conflict and how
to handle it. I am advocating a proactive shift that suggests a people’s accumulated and
implicit knowledge is an extraordinary resource for developing appropriate conflict
strategies within their setting”34.
In his work Building peace. Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies (1997) he
suggests that Conflict Resoluton moves from a prescription of answers and modalities to
focus attention on empowering the resources, modalities and mechanisms for building
peace that exists within the context.
Lederach maintains that there are three approaches to peace building:
a) the top-level approach is constructed around high-level leaders and intermediaries and its
main implication is that 1) leaders can be approached and convinced to agree; and 2) the
other levels of the population wait for the accord to be reached and only then are they
engaged in its implementation35.
b) The middle-range approach is constructed around authoritative figures that do not
officially represent any party to the conflict but are generally highly respected as
individuals or are formally engaged in the fields of education, health, agriculture,
business or humanitarian organisations. They might also be identified as belonging to a
minority ethnic group or to a specific region but are also known and respected outside
that group or that region36. In this context third parties work through: problem-solving
workshops where they provide multiple functions (facilitate the meeting, helping in
analysing the conflict and so on). They can offer training aiming at developing the
participants’ skills rather than their understanding of the conflict; and they can help create
Ibidem, p. 40.
Ibidem, p. 120.
John Paul Lederach, Building Peace. Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies, USIP Press,
Washington, 1997, p. 46.
Ibidem, p. 41.
Peace Commissions where they act as insider-partials in the way explained above37.
c) Finally the grass-roots approach is constructed around people who are involved in local
communities, members of indigenous NGOs, health officials and refugee camp leaders.
At this level Conflict Resolution activities include training in dealing with community
violence and in reducing prejudice as well as increasing community decision making.
They also include dealing with the trauma produced by war especially amongst the
In essence Ledearch’s contribution rests in stressing the necessity of dealing with all the
above identified actors in a conflict setting. In particular he highlights the fact that CR
theory has been lacking a systematised approach to middle-level actors that he sees as
providing a strategic, valuable link between the top and grass-root levels, in favour of
external intervention oriented at the top-level.
Problem Solving Workshops under Fire
It seems to me that any Conflict Resolution approach should be guided by two
dimensional factors that can be read as having a temporal connotation: a concern with
urgency and one with long-term sustainability.
Urgency implies the need to stop the fighting as an action aimed at reducing the amount
of suffering produced by violence. From this point of view the main prescriptive element
suggests an intervention oriented at mediating between top leaders who have the power to
influence the process of violence. Together with mediation the suggested approach would
be through problem-solving workshops a technique whose efficiency has been verified in
many conflicts last but not least the Israeli-Palestinian one39. The aim of the intervention
is to stop escalation or helping de-escalation in the hope of reducing the amount of
polarisation in a conflict.
As noted above the most obvious shortcoming of this approach is that it tends to focus on
Ibidem, pp. 46-50.
Ibidem, p. 55.
negotiable issues postponing the question of relationships and structural change to a later
moment. It is also liable to critique in that it can be seen as producing “negative peace”
that is to say “absence of war” neglecting aspects of justice and resource distribution.
It is an approach that has been forcefully criticised by Betts Fetherston. She says:
“Problem-solving theory focuses on existing frameworks of institutions, social relations
and social meaning which are often taken for granted, with the goal of sustaining this
order to make it work efficiently. Critical theory starts by problematising this given
framework or social order with the aim of considering its origins and how it might be
changed, clarifying possible alternatives, and providing insights into ways of
From Fetherston’s criticism one can imply that even when the Conflict Resolution
technique chosen focuses on disentangling relationships that are permeated by suspicion
thus emphasising the subjective element of the conflict, it fails to tackle the long term
dimension of the resolution process. The reason for the failure rests on the fact that this
approach implies that transformation of the conflict is possible through transformation of
the disputants’ perceptions of each other and of the conflict.
What remains totally untouched, is the dimension of the underlying structures that have
allowed the conflict to rise in first place. Following this any solution would be only ad-
hoc and would fail to provide a framework for operationalising transformation that
would involve a challenge to the taken-for- granted order within which Conflict
Resolution activities take place.
This is made clearer in her essay: From Conflict Resolution to Transformative
Peacebuilding: Reflections from Croatia41. She states that “understandings of war
implied in the definitions, researches and methodologies of conflict settlement and
resolution lack connection to the everydayness of the war zone. These kinds of
descriptions of war and its aftermath fail to catch its complexity and deep effects on
Jane Corbin, Gaza First, The Secret Norway Channel to Peace Between Israel and the PLO, Bloomsbury
Publishing, London, 1994.
Quoted in H. Miall, O. Ramsbotham and T. Woodhouse, cit., p. 76.
Betts Fetherston, From Conflict Resolution to Transformative Peacebuilding: Reflections from Croatia,
Working Paper no 4, Centre for Conflict Resolution, University of Bradford, April 2000.
social space and meaning”42.
What she wishes for is that Conflict Resolution sets to analyse networks of institutions,
structures and social meanings in order to untangle the culture of violence, based on
domination, that pervades the state system and affects everybody’s ways of life in a kind
of self feeding way. Conflict Resolution should aim to do so not only at the site of war
but in all localities which , broadly speaking, perpetuate a culture of violence and
contribute to the re-emergence of war.
Nevertheless, she says, Conflict Resolution assumes that we can know, rationally and
objectively, about violent conflict and thus master it and solve it. She goes further to
suggest that “the modern project (in which Conflict Resolution is embedded, n.o.a.)
privileges the rational knowing subject and in doing so a world of “other” is both
generated and silenced. “Rational” is legitimised at the same time that everything else,
labelled “irrational”, is othered, delegitimised, and set outside the bounds of the
Fetherston’s criticism is born out of her consideration that the practice of problem-
solving workshops, which she sees as derived from John Burton’s analysis of conflict44
and further elaboration of his analysis especially by Loraleigh Keashley and Ronald
Fisher, essentially consists of an objectification process where the parties distance
themselves from the real situation to examine their conflict in an “academic
environment”. They should be able then to see their own “problematic communication
patterns and learn more appropriate ones...Ultimately application of consultation or
problem-solving leads to a resolution because the participants have been “corrected”
(however subtly) and armed with this new enlightened perspective, can together seek
In Fetherston’s opinion the outcome of the problem solving exercise is to make
participants re-perceive their war experience as irrational, thus rendering their
Ibidem, p. 11.
For a general theory of conflict see: Burton, John (ed.by), Conflict: Human Needs Theory, London,
Macmillan, 1990; Burton, John, Conflict and Communication, London, Macmillan, 1969; for an overview
of the techniques illustrated by the author see: Burton, John, Resolving Deep-Rooted Conflict: A Handbook,
Lanham London, University Press of America, 1987.
Ibidem, p. 12.
“experiences and practices illegitimate and irrelevant” her conclusion is that one potential
outcome is to delegitimise and disempower particular practices of survival and
From my point of view Fetherston’s arguments are unconvincing: firstly because for her
own admission there is a difference between “research that seeks to understand and
research that seeks to manage”. Conflict Resolution has tried to do both with regard to
conflicts but it was born especially with the prescriptive desire of devising ways of
handling conflicts. One could argue that one aspect has been developed to a larger extent
than the other which might be in need of catching up on this front. Nevertheless Conflict
Resolution seems to have a precise scope and analysis of the conflict situations is tailored
to finding the means to deal with them. In this sense CR has produced a wealth of models
of intervention that does not exhaust itself in the problem-solving model.
Furthermore the element of manipulation that she so vehemently denounces is not present
in Burton’s work (as it is for instance in Ury and Fisher’s47) ; as Mark Hoffaman states:
“Though it does spell out a series of techniques for the mediator, these are not techniques
for manipulation or control, but ones that provide a means of assessing the processes of
self-realisation by the parties to the conflict. The mediators do not impose or even suggest
a solution. To do so would run counter to everything Burton has tried to do in developing
Secondly: by Fetherston’s own admission the problem-solving workshop has been
elaborated (by Fisher and Keashley) to include together with the “objective” element of
unmet needs as Burton’s model demands, also the “subjective” element i.e. the
psychology of inter-group relations as the main problem to be resolved. Not only, but the
Fisher and Keashley have also developed the so called contingency approach whereby
conflicts are seen as a dynamic process in which both subjective and objective elements
are present and that have a trend towards escalation or de-escalation thus different
intervention will be used at different junctures. Thus an assessment is required on where
Fisher, R. and Ury, W., Getting to Yes: How to negotiate Without Giving In, Arrow Books, London,
Mark Hoffman, “Critical Theory and the Inter-Paradigm Debate”, in Millenium, Journal of International
Studies, Vol 16, No 2, Summer 1987.
and when to intervene and what to put in practice49. There might be also junctures where
intervention is not possible at all at none of the levels of conflict.
Furthermore in a problem solving workshop as well as in the “softer” consultative
approach, the analysis can encompass “social structures and institutions which are part of
the creating conditions where needs are frustrated”50. I fail to see how this whole process
would delegitimise the parties views of their war experience as well as disempower their
practices. Probably the best response here comes form Lederach’s work where the third
party intervention as described by him becomes minimal and as significant as if not less
significant than the parties’ own wealth of experiences and perceptions.
The second dimension of CR is more concerned with the long term implications and
sustainability of peacemaking. The emphasis is not only on changing relationships and
subjective perceptions but also on changing those conditions that have created the
conflict in order to produce “positive peace”. This means tackling also the structural
dimension of conflict. Nevertheless the structural dimension has not been dealt with by
CR in a systematic way.
The main advocate of this stream of thought is, of course, Galtung. In his works violence
is defined as a state where human beings’ somatic and mental realisations are below their
potential realisation51. This type of violence does or does not lead to overt conflict and it
is compatible with peace. Nevertheless it is built into societal structures (including
relations and institutions that govern social relations) and it shows in dominance, uneven
distribution of resources (and above all of the power to decide about the distribution of
resources), and lack of dynamism. He states “If peace is regarded as absence of violence,
then thinking about peace (and consequently peace research and peace action) will be
structured the same way as thinking about violence”.
Although the warning is clear CR theory has limited itself to what resembles, in my
opinion, to a denunciation of those structural aspects, as for instance poverty, lack of
L. Keashley and R. Fisher, “The Potential Complementarity of Mediation and Consultation Within a
Contingency Model of Third Party Intervention”, Journal of Peace Research, 28:1, 1991.
B. Fetherston, cit., p.6.
adequate judicial systems, lack of power distribution mechanisms and so on, without
really challenging the assumptions that lie at the root of them.
From this point of view, again, criticism of CR practices is offered by social critical
thinking. In 1996 Vivienne Jabri publishes her Discourses on Violence where “she
emphasises the importance of transformative counter-discourses in challenging the
dominance of public space by exclusionist hegemonic discourses which legitimate
violence and war”52. The implication of her thinking is that conflict and violent conflict
cannot be seen just as specifically located in time and space, instead war must be viewed
“as a social continuity having a historically central location in the constitution of society.
War is an option that has a perpetual presence in social and political life and that is
continually reproduced or reinforced through shared inter-subjective meanings and
images as well as social institutions...”53. She suggests that the meeting of self and other,
relational and structural, personal and contextual allows for the creation of new meanings
which challenge the dominant discursive and institutional frameworks.
All the above can be qualified as a lack of holistic thinking in CR literature which, one
can agree with Jabri, have helped to “legitimise negotiation and mediation as technical
and bureaucratic enterprises”54. In essence what has been missing is an imaginative
approach that takes it as its starting point the problematisation of the given framework of
institutions and social relations. Conflict Transformation, in this sense, would provide the
answer in that it would mean more than a shift in power relations and it would aim at
obtaining sustained structural and attitudinal changes which in turn would determine the
creation of new institutions. I will try to highlight below how there has already been a
move in this direction in the work of the two authors I have examined above and in their
advocating of reconciliation practices55.
Johan Galtung, “Violence, Peace and Peace Research”, Journal of Peace Research, no. 3, Oslo, 1969.
H. Miall, O. Ramsbotham and T. Woodhouse, cit. p. 77.
Vivienne Jabri, Discourses on Violence, Conflict Analysis Reconsidered, Manchester University Press,
Janie Leatherman, “Transforming Conflict in Democratising States” in: Haakan Wiberg and Christian
Scherrer (eds.), Ethinicity and Intra-state Conflict: Types, Causes and Peace Strategies, Ashgate,
Aldershot, 1999, p. 188.
gavin R., Beckett, cit., p. 79.
Reconciliation: Where Curle, Lederach and Modernity Meet
Above I have tried to highlight how Curle’s thought has changed over the years and
moved from one that believed in the strength of mediation by an external third party to
one that is prepared to admit that in recent conflicts this model of intervention both at an
official and unofficial level has proved ineffective.
The ethnic conflicts he talks about Yugoslavia are in fact not manageable because they
are characterised, in his words, by a “moral meltdown…a degree of desperation, anger
and irrational cruelty, that indicates in many cases a difference in kind rather than degree
from what is normal warfare”56. The constitutive element of these type of conflicts is
marked by “restrictive loyalty”. With the dissolution of the state people have rallied
around some narrow element, such as language, religion, historical myth, tribe, that has
become the constitutive element of their well being. Thus, Curle believes, the way in
which they protect or assert this identity is more rootless than that of people with “less
Lederach’ s perception of the changed nature of modern conflict agrees with Curle’s in
that he stresses how cohesion and identity in contemporary conflicts tend to form within
narrower lines than those that encompass national citizenship and people seek security
within narrower ethnic religious or regional affiliation.
Lederach suggests that peacemaking in such situations has to be rooted and responsive to
the traumatic experiences of people that are living as neighbours but are tied into a cycle
of hostile interaction. In his opinion the theory and praxis of peacemaking have to move
away from a pure model concerned with the resolution of issues and towards a frame of
reference that focuses on restoration and rebuilding of relationships and to be realistic
(i.e. to respond to the real nature of contemporary conflicts) have to do so they have to
work with the people who suffer real-life experiences of war.
Reconciliation has to be built on “mechanisms that engage the sides of a conflict with
A. Curle, “New Perspectives in Citizen Peacemaking”, cit., p. 100.
each other as humans in relationship”57. It has also to become an encounter not only of
people but also of a set of activities: it has to find ways to address the trauma of the past
offering people the space to face and compare with others the grief of loss. It has to come
to acknowledgement which represents the first step towards restoration of the person and
of the relationship. In essence, in Lederach’s words, reconciliation represents a “place,
the point of encounter where concerns about both the past and the future can meet”58.
Curle too, points to reconciliation although with different words and placing it as the
aimed end of peacemaking activities rather than at the centre of them as in Lederach’s
discurse. He says: “If a peaceful society is ever to replace one which is violent and
ethnically bigoted, the values of impartial compassion, non-violence, human rights, and
social justice must be the bedrocks on which it is built.”59 To prove this point he goes on
by saying that in Croatia the peace groups that have formed during and after the war are
the chief repository of these values and they considerably contribute to the strengthening
of forces that make for peace, justice and the restoration of an harmonious society.
The role of the third parties changes in such a context as the real experts are the local
peacemakers. The outsiders merely come as sharers and supporters rather than initiators
and avoid the people’s dependence on them.
Where all this meets with modernity is on the emphasis that both authors give to the fact
that reconciliation requires that one looks outside the main stream of international and
national political traditions, discourse and operational modalities to find innovation in
building peace. It shakes the taken for granted structures that have fed the conflict in that
it recognises the need to give time and place to both peace and justice as redressing the
wrong is connected with envisioning a common future. It also “reframes the conflict so
that the parties are not longer preoccupied with focusing on the issues in a cognitive and
direct manner”60 and in so doing it is applicable also in those culture where less value is
given to rationality and rational actors.
Finally in both authors I think I can recognise a tension towards demonstrating that it is
necessary to come reconcile the needs for urgency and crisis-oriented conflict
J.P. Lederach, Building Peace, cit., p. 26.
Ibidem, p. 27.
A. Curle, “New Perspectives in Citizen Peacemaking”, p. 103.
management (especially felt by practitioners and the people suffering from the conflict)
and the necessity to create a proactive process capable of regenerating itself thus
acquiring the character of sustainability, a process that is thus aiming attransformation.
The immediate necessity of achieving the cease fire has not been mistaken by the authors
(as critics of CR think) for replacing the broader framework of peacebuilding activity.
In Fetherstone’s opinion, derived from Robert Cox’s argument that problem solving
uncritically works from within the dominant framework of institutions and social
relations, the outcomes generated from problem solving research “offer analyses which
sustain the present social order”61 .
My impression is, instead, that the reconstruction of relationships does not overlook the
debate on structure and agency limiting itself to a general exercise of befriending the
enemy but it encompasses the psychological, spiritual, social, economic, political and
The perspective, in my opinion, has to be brought back to a matter of scale. In this sense
Adam Curle says that we can engage in a reactive as well as in a proactive thinking, in
particular the latter would help us not just to mend a broken society, but plant the seeds
for a new one. The level at which he thinks it is possible to start are the individual and
small groupings one. “Nonviolence...is a proactive force for healing. In any case the
change must also be psychological, within ourselves...The Hydra’s (what he terms the
Hydra is largely the product of globalisation...the interacting and increasingly world
wide forces of political, economic and military power: a global culture of violence which
is fuelled at every level from individual to national and international, by the hope for
profit and power, n.o.a.) power can be effectively modified by groups or even individuals
on a relatively small scale”62.
As long as the focussed on them we are given back the power to transform.
Ibidem, p. 35.
A.B. Fetherston and A.C. Parkin, “Transforming Violent Conflict: Contributions from Social Theory”, in
Lee-Anne Broadhead, Issues in Peace Research 1997-98, Theory and Practice, University of Bradford,UK.
Adam Curle, To Thame the Hydra, Jon Carpenter Publishing, Oxfordshire, 1999, p.89.
I wish to conclude by saying that the criticisms generated by social critical theory have
permitted a healthy debate on the limits of CR theory at a time where it was necessary for
the discipline to deal with its conceptual shortcomings. These consist in a failure to
systematise a critical review of those same structures that can generate conflict and to
encourage methods that work a-critically from within given contexts.
Not only, but Critical Theory insights must have a welcome place in the body developed
by Conflict Resolution as it is certainly true that, as Beckett posits, “the study of Conflict
Resolution appears to have cut itself off from the wider debates of social and political
theory...Whilst it has situated itself as an important strand of Peace Research....it has
arguably had no connections to the debates around critical theory, post-structuralism and
post-modernism, and has largely avoided even the more mainstream contemporary and
social political theory of the last two decades...”63.
Nevertheless my impression is that if concern is on the injustices and indirect as well as
direct violence that these structures can create than the issue of the necessity to change
them in order to allow for positive peace has been raised thirty years ago by Johan
Galtung. Maybe although his words have been repeated since, the very demanding and
uncompromising implications stemming from them have been overlooked until critical
social theory has become fashionable again. In the case of Curle’s and Lederach’s work
and writing it would seem fair to credit them with a profound understanding of what
needs to be changed to create sustainable peace. Both authors have in fact questioned the
giveness of the international system and Conflict Resolution in general, it seems to me,
has long ago renounced to accept the traditional theories of international relations that see
conflict as inevitable and the only possible response, its management.
A final word regards the gap that critical social theory can potentially place between
practitioners and scholars. Mark Hoffman states that critical theory is “both descriptive
and constructive in its theoretical intent: it both an intellectual and a social act. Is is not
merely an expression of the concrete realities of the historical situation, but also a force
Beckett, R. Gavin, “Social Theory and the Theory and Practice of Conflict Resolution”, in Lee-Anne
Broadhead, cit., p. 60.
for change within those conditions”64.
Although I find his arguments interesting I wonder how much of Critical Theory
assumptions do in fact affect practitioners that work at a middle- and grass root levels as
they have been defined by Lederach. By the encounters that I have had with a few of
them I gain the impression that they are all seriously concerned with making all the
changes that allow for peace to be restored within the framework where they work.
Besides, Lederach himself has expressed the wish that Conflict Resolution be concerned
with structural, cultural and relational aspects: my argument is that whilst conflict
transformation (that is an “handling” of the conflict that seeks to initiate a process of
change and social structures) has certainly introduced new elements for consideration, the
theory and techniques developed by Conflict Resolution are the background within which
conflict transformation can place itself and allow CR to “become the truly effective tools
that it aims to be”65.
I have asked to some practitioners what they think of the debate between theory and
practice that keeps on animating the field of Conflict Resolution and they have replied
“What do you think!” to imply that it does not help them in their job and it does not
constitute a reference point for them. In fact some of them have clearly replied that the
way they prepare themselves to understand the situation they are going to work in is by
studying the history and the protagonists of the country in question: it is against these that
they will have to measure themselves and it is these actors that have influence on the
space practitioners can move into. And it could not be different from this: just imagine a
field worker that stops in front of a situation to carefully ponder which given structures is
he feeding in now! Whilst it is auspicable that a practitioner is aware of the invisible net
of structures and relationships he is becoming a part of (and as far as I am aware they are
generally preoccupied with this), it would be overwhelming for them to address such an
issue at each instance.
Furthermore: as in the theory, even practitioners of Conflict Resolution, cannot afford to
write off interests as a source of some conflicts: when dealing with such a cause (where
other factors may come in the interplay but in a less relevant position) settlement
strategies may be the most applicable. And indeed, again from my contacts with
Hoffman, Mark, cit., p. 233.
practitioners of mediation initiatives including state representatives and their par, the
impression is that these people must be addressed to impact decidedly on a conflict
situation whilst much appreciated is the work done at different levels and indifferent
fashions to support and complement “high status” initiatives66.
Finally, I wish to say that it would sound reductionist to say that practitioners deriving
their methods from Conflict Resolution theory are concerned with finding the quickest
way to peace. Ideally, they are doing all they can with the good of the people they work
with in mind (I am aware of the critiques that NGOs are undergoing in some of the
contemporary conflicts) both in the short and in the long term so the demands that critical
theory would put on them, that is to say to work somehow from outside and critically of
taken for granted structures, are simply unrealistic. Although bringing a breath of fresh
air within the discipline I fear that the standard required off CR practices by critical
theory might be so high as to appear unrealistic and risk inactivity.
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Haakan Wiberg and Christian Scherrer (eds.), Ethinicity and Intra-state Conflict: Types,
Causes and Peace Strategies, Ashgate, Aldershot, 1999
Beckett, R. Gavin, “Social Theory and the Theory and Practice of Conflict Resolution”,
in Lee-Anne Broadhead, 1997
Interview with Prof. Roberto Morozzo della Rocca, mediator in Kosovo, Rome, 23 June
Interview with Jan Oberg, mediator for the Transnational Foundation for Future Studies,
Lund, July 2000