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Conflict and Change

August 21, 2012

From Maxwell Perspective...

Conflict and Change

The latest edition of Lou Kriesberg’s classic text examines new evidence on how to wage conflicts less destructively.

Lou Kriesberg (left) and Bruce Dayton, co-authors of the fourth edition of Constructive Conflicts: From Es-calation to Resolution.

That social conflict should be seen as a fact of life is one of the core ideas in  Louis Kriesberg and Bruce W. Dayton's Constructive Conflicts: From Escalation to Resolution - published in its fourth edition by Rowman & Littlefield in January after three previous editions with Kriesberg as sole author.

Equally important are their assertions that conflicts are waged with varying degrees of destructiveness; that they involve a complex array of deeply held beliefs; that there's always hope, even for intractable fights; and that they move through stages: escalation, de-escalation, settlement, and transformation.

"Conflicts are never static," Kriesberg explains. "But how can we take advantage of opportunities for positive conflict transformation during times of transition?" The new edition takes a fresh look at this, considering how to build peace in the wake of violence.

Kriesberg, who is Maxwell Professor Emeritus of Social Conflict Studies, has been an active and productive scholar for more than 60 years. According to Dayton, Kriesberg is particularly well-suited to conflict studies' eclectic approach. His insights are drawn from practice and research in many disciplines, such as sociology, psychology, and political science.

Kriesberg was founding director of Maxwell's Program for the Advancement of Research on Conflict and Collaboration (PARCC). He's also been president of the Society for the Study of Social Problems, won the Peace and Justice Studies Association award, and edited Peace and Conflict Studies and theOxford International Encyclopedia of Peace. He is now writing a book on alternative American foreign policy undertakings.

Dayton, a practitioner of public policy dispute resolution who serves as associate director of Maxwell's Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs, has researched identity-based conflicts and the work of unofficial intermediaries in conflict transformation for many years. With Kriesberg he is investigating non-provocative Asia-Pacific defense strategies, "spoilers" (those who undermine peace efforts to prevent political gain), and the relationship between collaboration and conflict. In 2009 Kriesberg and Dayton co-edited Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding: Moving from Violence to Sustainable Peace (Routledge), examining why violent opposition movements sometimes turn to constructive conflict management.

“State interests can conflict with what NGOs are doing.”
— Louis Kriesberg
 Constructive Conflicts, meanwhile, is both a core text for students of conflict studies and a handbook for those who practice conflict resolution.Described as "landmark" and "foundational" by sociologist Beth Roy of the University of California, Berkeley, and as a "classic study" by Georgetown's Chester A. Crocker, the book synthesizes decades of empirical analysis and numerous case studies about conflicts waged throughout the world, in Northern Ireland, Israel/Palestine, and South Africa. It also studies struggles in the United States for labor, civil, and women's rights.

Throughout, the authors offer practical advice that intermediaries, negotiators, combatants, and others can use - not necessarily to end conflicts but transform them from destructive (seemingly zero-sum) to more constructive situations.

For the fourth edition, Kriesberg and Dayton restructured the book, rewrote chapters to make them more accessible, and added up-to-date material. For instance, the Arab Spring - unfolding as the rewrite took shape - illustrates how resistance groups are using social media to organize, mobilize, spread ideas about non-violence, and flatten decision-making processes.

Plus, a new Chapter 10 more thoroughly explores what can happen after a period of violence, when the perceived "end" of a conflict often marks the beginning of a new kind of struggle.

"The field is paying more attention to post-violence recovery," notes Kriesberg. "It's becoming a matter of how to clean up messes." According to Dayton, just 60 percent of civil war settlements succeed worldwide. Those that do often have found ways to institutionalize conflict management, include dissenters in government, and build a civil society.

On this last point, Kriesberg and Dayton observe that the work of building a civil society - educating combatants, organizing elections - is often outsourced these days to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). "This creates constraints because state interests can conflict with what NGOs are doing," says Kriesberg. Ironically, he says, this new dilemma is born from the successes of conflict studies, a discipline which provides the framework for NGO post-violence operations.

"Semi-formal peace-building groups are necessary because they fill gaps left by government, but they are sometimes viewed warily by official state actors," says Dayton, noting the recent detention in Egypt of members of the International Republican Institute, a democracy-building NGO accused of undermining national stability. "A big challenge for U.S. foreign policy is coordinating with NGOs," Dayton continues. "They create nonhierarchical peace-building situations that can become complicated."

For Kriesberg, constructive transformation often lies in the hands of NGOs, but not necessarily imported ones. "Local NGOs involve a great deal of popular participation in Egypt and Tunisia," he says, "and ultimately it's up to local people to build their government."

Martin Walls 

Martin Walls is a freelance writer, communications consultant, and author of three books of poems.
This article appeared in the spring 2012 print edition of Maxwell Perspective; © 2012 Maxwell School of Syracuse University.

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