Conflict Transformation or Conflict Resolution?

Conflict Transformation or Conflict Resolution? 

BY MARIA GRAZIA IMPERIALE

Rather than seeing peace as a static “end-state,” conflict transformation views peace as a continuously evolving and developing quality of relationship.  
(Lederach, 2003: para 22)

In CUSP we frame our work within ‘conflict transformation’, inspired by the work of Jean Paul Lederach. Lederach the father of conflict transformation, was one of the first scholar-practitioners that started to use and conceptualise conflict transformation as opposed to conflict resolution.  

In the early 1990s, conflict transformation as an idea was not that common among peace studies and theorists. There was rather a focus on conflict resolution and conflict management. In his earlier work, Jean Paul Lederach (1995) explained that, ‘perhaps unintentionally, [resolution] carries the connotation of a bias toward ‘ending’ a given crisis or at least its outward expression, without being sufficiently concerned with the deeper structural, cultural and long-term relational aspect of conflict’ (Lederach, 1995: 201).  That is, conflict resolution may be more short-term, outcome-oriented, while conflict transformation is process-oriented and hence may take much longer. Conflict resolution is concerned with immediate problem-solving activities while conflict transformation looks at identity building and national reconciliation.  

Diamond (1994) argues that sustainable peace needs conflict transformation and conflict resolution, and those activities move on a spectrum, on a fluid continuum. For example, Notter and Diamond (1996) explain that conflict transformation has to do with systems, and systems cannot ‘be resolved’ but we can perhaps try to transform what we cannot completely fix. These ideas are at the basis of conflict transformation which may also be intertwined with conflict resolution. 

Other theorists perceive conflict transformation as totally different from conflict resolution. For example, conflict is considered a ‘motor of change’ and not just something that needs to be fixed (Lederach, 2003). 

In a nutshell, in his Little Book of Conflict Transformation (2003) Lederach explains these main points:  

  • We need to accept that conflict is normal, it exists in our lives, and we cannot get rid of it.  
  • Conflict can be a motor of change. This is quite shocking as usually, we want to resolve conflict as quickly as possible. However, conflict transformation work recognises that conflict can be an opportunity.  
  • We can build something new out of conflict. We don’t just need to negotiate and find solutions, but we can create new ways of interacting and imagining. How does a future without conflict look? How do we get there? Lederach says that we can try to keep our eyes on the horizon, we cannot reach the horizon, but it is what can stimulate us to move forward.
  • Solving the immediate conflict might be necessary, but we need to get to the roots of conflict. We can continue digging deeper so to walk towards the future without conflict and to try to understand the roots of someone’s perceptions.  
  • Conflict must be out in the open. At times we might need to escalate conflict before starting to work within that. That can be challenging, and it requires open and honest conversations. The process is not linear, we might represent it as a spiral as you might move forward but you may also be pulled back – in constant movement.

In order to transform conflict, change needs to happen at several levels:  

  • Personal, to fully develop individuals’ potential and wellbeing.  
  • Relational, as we can’t transform conflict on our own. Relations to our and others’ emotions are also important and need to be foregrounded.
  • Structural, to understand root causes.
  • Cultural, to identify cultural patterns and build upon those within contextual and cultural settings. 

These bullet points are a very simplified version of Lederach’s (2003) work, but we have used them in our work within CUSP. For a more exhaustive account of conflict transformation, we invite you to consult Jean Paul Lederach’s books. 

References

Diamond, L. 1994. “On Developing a Common Vocabulary: The Conflict Continuum.” Peace Builder, Vol.1, No. 4, Spring, p. 3. 

Lederach J.P. 2003. The little book of conflict transformation. Good Books 

Lederach, J.P. 1995. “Conflict Transformation in Protracted Internal Conflicts: The Case for a Comprehensive Network.” In Kumar Rupesinghe, ed., Conflict Transformation. New York: St. Martin’s Press.  

Notter, J. & Diamond L. 1996. Building Peace and Transforming Conflict: Multi-Track Diplomacy in Practice. The Institute for Multi-Track diplomacy: Occasional Paper Number 7. 

The Culture for Sustainable and Inclusive Peace (CUSP) is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) via the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) as part of the UK Governments Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

 Are we all vulnerable? Reflections on the term ‘vulnerability’

 Are we all vulnerable? Reflections on the term ‘vulnerability’

BY MARIA GRAZIA IMPERIALE

‘Vulnerability’ is a contested term. In our project, we work with youths, children, minorities, women, people who have escaped wars and conflicts; those are usually identified as ‘vulnerable groups’. However, overall, within our team we tend not to use this word much, perhaps because the idea of vulnerability is often associated with the stigma of victimhood and risk. 

Vulnerability’ comes from Latin, ‘vulnerare’, a verb that means ‘to hurt’, ‘to damage’, ‘to offend’, but also ‘to break a principle’. In late Latin it was used also as in ‘to break a law’. The adjective then followed, ‘vulnerabile’, as in English ‘vulnerable’. Vulnerability as an analytical concept emerged in environmental sciences (Wisner, 1993) in relation to the effect of natural or economic disasters on human beings (Virokannas et al, 2020). After that, it was rapidly used in other fields, e.g. in health, social care, and policy making (Virokannas et al, 2020). 

Interestingly, in a recent literature review which aimed to shed light on the conceptualisation of vulnerability, Virokannas and colleagues concluded that, after reviewing over 80 journal articles on the topic of vulnerability, that the term was used in a ‘self-evident manner, referring to certain people or groups’ (Virokannas et al, 2020: 335).  Many of the articles mentioned in the review, presented a critique of the term ‘vulnerable’: this could be stigmatising, it could deny the agency and voice of those perceived as vulnerable, and may lead to the responsibility of the state, to prevent vulnerability, being overlooked. However, there are other scholars, especially philosophers, who talk about a universal, human vulnerability. For example, Martha Fineman (2010) writes that human vulnerability ‘arises from our embodiment, which carries with it the imminent or ever-present possibility of harm, injury, and misfortune’ (p. 267).  Fineman argues that vulnerability is both universal and particular, and that the relationship between individuals and society and institutions should be unpacked as to understand the social processes that generated vulnerability and the responsibility that the state carries towards its citizens as to alleviate the causes and consequences of vulnerability. 

Martha Nussbaum also argues that vulnerability is a common trait of humanity: she calls for ‘a society of citizens who admit that they are needy and vulnerable, and who discard the grandiose demands for omnipotence and completeness that have been at the heart of so much human misery’ (Nussbaum, 2004:17). She acknowledges that all of us as human beings are more vulnerable at some point of our life, for example as a newborn, an elderly person, when we fall ill etc. However, she says, there is no harm in admitting we are ‘needy and vulnerable’, and this does not mean that we should not act to reduce the causes and consequences of vulnerability, nor that the state and its institutions are not to be held responsible about their citizens’ vulnerability. 

The debate on the term is fascinating, and many more things could be said. However, perhaps, for our purpose here, the main point would be that either you choose to use or not to use the word vulnerable, it is interesting to be aware of the whole debate and see whether there is space for common-ground and mutual understanding.  

References

Nussbaum, M. (2004) Hiding from Humanity: disgust, shame and the Law. Princeton: Princeton University Press 

Virokannas E., Liuski S, & Kuronen  M(2020) The contested concept of vulnerability – a literature review, European Journal of Social Work, 23:2, 327-339, DOI: 10.1080/13691457.2018.1508001  

Fineman, M. A. (2010). The vulnerable subject and the responsive state. Emory Law Journal, 60(2), 251–275. Emory Public Law Research Paper No. 10-130. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract = 1694740 

Wisner, B. (1993). Disaster vulnerability: Scale, power and daily life. GeoJournal, 30(2), 127–140. doi:10.1007/BF00808129  

The Culture for Sustainable and Inclusive Peace (CUSP) is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) via the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) as part of the UK Governments Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).