Conflict Transformation or Conflict Resolution? 

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. 


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).