The Benign Subjugation of Conflict Resolution
By: Derek Sweetman May 1, 2010
The subject of the study of conflict is conflict, but the subject constituted through the discourse of conflict resolution is something much different. Michel Foucault provides a model for the investigation of the subject within professional-academic discourses through his investigations of mental health,[i] medicine,[ii] and criminology,[iii] but his analyses focus on dominant discourses within society. These subjects are practically universal within the societies considered. What, then, are we to do when faced with a professional-academic discourse like conflict resolution, one that is most definitely not dominant? Within the domestic area, the dominant subject relating to conflict is determined by legal discourse. In the international arena, it is bounded by power politics and realism. Luckily, Judith Butler’s analysis of the subject created by feminism in Gender Trouble[iv] is a good guide. Like conflict resolution, feminism is a subaltern discourse, one that specifically defines itself in opposition to dominant ones. Additionally, feminism, like conflict resolution, is a regulative discourse, one aimed at controlling human behavior.
In order to further understand the subject in conflict resolution, I have chosen to try and identify the characteristics of this subject by examining a collection of standard works in the field. These move from traditional mediation, such as Christopher Moore’s The Mediation Process[v] and Bernard Mayer’s The Dynamics of Conflict Resolution[vi], to newer variations like narrative mediation[vii] and transformative mediation[viii], to community and group intervention[ix], and inter- or intranational efforts[x]). My goal is to see if there is a coherent subject that could be identified from these varied sources. Viewed from within the field there is a great deal of distance between international problem-solving workshops and narrative interpersonal practice, but I suspected there was quite a bit of commonality as well.
This effort is worthwhile for two primary reasons. First, conflict resolution is continuing its struggle to develop into a true profession. Making clear the shared subject provides an orienting point that reinforces the idea that, to some extent, we are all doing the same work. This is the kind of idea around which it is possible to develop a repertoire of practice, one that can engage conflict on a number of levels. Second, little critical work has been done from within the field. Identifying the conflict resolution subject will enable us to ask relevant questions about the relation of this subject to our goals. Butler shows that the subject created by a discourse is not guaranteed to serve the political goals of the discourse in every case. As such, it is possible the conflict resolution subject does the same.
There are three attempts to incorporate a Foucault-inspired analysis of mediation that have some bearing on the current enterprise. George Pavlich examines how “the governmental power of community mediation would entail not only discipline but also techniques of self geared toward producing non-disputing self-identities.”[xi] Morgan Bagshaw relies on Foucault to identify the points of power through which individual mediators act.[xii] And finally, Brigg uses Foucault to undermine culture-ignorant views of mediation, promote new cross-cultural forms, and examine the function of power in mediation.[xiii] All three of these critiques are interesting, but none take the time to dig down and uncover the conflict resolution subject itself. Instead, they focus on the power implications of mediator action. To truly understand the subject in conflict resolution, we should look at the constitutive implications of mediation and conflict resolution discourse.
Additionally, all three authors focus narrowly on the practice of mediation within communities not on the conflict resolution project as a whole. There is much to be gained by examining the totality of conflict resolution as its own project instead of building up from the individual actions and interventions of its practitioners. In talking of the conflict resolution project, I am referring to the “movement” that came about from the interaction of alternative viewpoints from the field of international relations, like John Burton’s, and innovations originally developed in labor relations that later coalesced into the practice of Alternative Dispute Resolution. Bush and Folger go so far as to call this the “mediation movement” and to note the great spread of the practice of mediation and other forms of facilitated, communication-based conflict resolution since the 1960s [xiv].
While Bush and Folger look at this expansion and see more conflicts being mediated and more mediators and practitioners getting involved, it is also possible to see this as an expansion of the conflict resolution subject, slowly gaining traction and spreading. Although this is not the terminology most would use, it is the goal of the conflict resolution project: to see more and more conflicts addressed through communications-based, non-violent resolution mechanisms. The core of this project is in the practices of mediation (facilitated communication) and negotiation (unfacilitated communication). This is one major distinction between conflict resolution and the other discourses that address conflict. Fields like law and development have their own approaches and constitute their own subjects, which in the end have little to do with those of conflict resolution. All major forms of intervention that can rightfully be called “conflict resolution,” as opposed to being conflict-related efforts from other disciplines, have communication between belligerents as their primary method, although of course there is an immense variation in how and where this communication takes place, who is involved, and so forth.
The ultimate goal of the conflict resolution project is the transformation of society such that conflicts are always dealt with constructively. This is a commonality between Johan Galtung’s positive peace[xv] and Burton’s “Conflict Resolution as a Political System,”[xvi] as well as Adam Curle’s “transformation through shared humanity”[xvii] and the community mediation center movement’s idea that “mediation effects will spread like a virus through the community as a whole,” the “peace virus” theory labeled by Daniel Crary.[xviii]
This project is larger than the distinction between interest and need, resolution and management, or narrative and transformative. In a sense, the conflict resolution project is banking on Žižek’s idea that particularity can mask universality.[xix] Individual actors, acting for their own reasons, can reinforce universality, as happens within capitalism. In this case, universality is seen as a good thing, an alternative to violence, militarism, and destruction. Viewed from this perspective, it is clear that the conflict resolution project is regulative. It seeks to change behavior and encourage individuals to move closer to a norm of constructive conflict activity, to encourage (enforce?) a “a sequence of procedures which can be applied to any relationship from that of a man and woman in marriage to that of nations at war.”[xx] As with most regulatory discourses, this seems like a good idea to those within the discourse – and one that I personally support.
How, then, should we go about locating the conflict resolution project’s subject? The first step should be to know what it is not. The primary exclusionary boundary for the conflict resolution subject is that it is not the intervenor/practitioner. The subject is literally the subject of the intervention, not its agent. In order to constitute it, conflict resolution must make a clear distinction between those within the conflict and those without. We go so far as to label the external intervenor the “third party” or “third side,” to reinforce that it is not the primary party, not the first side. The subject is always the Other from the perspective of the intervenor. I suspect the need to maintain this distinction is behind the desire to claim neutrality or impartiality on the part of the third party. Doing so helps prevent capture by the Other and the breakdown of the subject and the agent. But what about purely negotiated solutions? In those cases, there is not necessarily an intervenor. Below, I will argue that the conflict resolution subject is transitional. In successful negotiation, that subject is post-transition, it has become what the conflict resolution project seeks and is regulating conflict for mutual benefit on its own.
The second step in identifying the subject is to realize that one of the categorizing functions of conflict resolution is to see individuals as group-members not atomized individuals. This means that previously independent subjects are treated as a homogenized subject. This is most clear when we are talking about intergroup conflict, but there is a homogenizing function in interpersonal mediation as well, where the process makes presumptions about participants that encourage the recognition of similarity over difference. There is a negative and a positive result of this. On the negative side, this means the potential for a wide range of responses to conflict is limited. One of the first questions asked by practitioners in examining a conflict is “who are the parties?” The parties, in a literal sense, did not exist prior to this question. Instead, there were people who were, to varying degrees, participating in and being affected by the conflict. These people had identities and allegiances and may have even taken up arms for one group or another, but the analytical distinction of party, in effect, chooses a side for them. It does so in a way that may be more totalizing than life in the conflict. “Party” is an understandable simplification, from the perspective of the practitioner, but not one that should be accepted uncritically.
The positive implication of this de-atomization is that it lays the groundwork for an appeal to this greater commonality. Adam Curle references Thich Nhat Hahn’s “inter-being” in this sense, an awareness of interdependence[xxi] . The peace community is likely to use a term like “shared humanity,” or, in an earlier time, “human brotherhood.” This is where appeals to empathy and interdependence in conflict resolution arise.
The third step is to recognize that focusing on the potential causes of conflict is unlikely to help in this task. A majority of the debates in the field of conflict resolution are between people arguing about different conflict causes or the correct intervention form to address those causes (as opposed to that portion of conflict analysis examining the process of conflict). The fact that this is hotly debated illustrates it is not a good location for seeking consensus on the subject, but even more clearly we need to see that the conflict resolution subject is something that exists prior to the cause of any particular conflict. The subject must exist prior to the issues that are fought over. Otherwise, there would not be a conflict. Human needs or scarcity, for example, do not create conflictual subjection.
There are two directions from which we can pin down the conflict resolution subject, first the elements of classification used in referring to those in conflict and, second, the characteristics of the subject referenced. Classification is a good place to start because the conflict resolution perspective becomes clear very quickly. As a regulatory technology, conflict resolution has a seemingly endless stream of ways of dividing the people involved in conflict. To which party do they belong? Are they a stakeholder, and agent, a leader? Are they a primary or secondary participant? Are they present in the conflict or a diasporic supporter? All of these serve to reinforce notions of those individuals who should (or can) be involved in the conflict resolution process. This is not to argue that these are the only questions asked. Clearly we also look at questions about conflict typologies, empirical relationships, and so on, but for our purposes here the questions about people best illustrate the regulatory function.
This process is reinforced through some strong categorical dualisms. The first is between victim and perpetrator. As practitioners, we are always calculating who, in our opinion, is more at fault and who shares less of the blame. Some individuals are going to be victims and some perpetrators. This does not necessarily map to party boundaries. Some people on both sides could be victims and some could be perpetrators. Once this categorization is done, we have a hard time seeing these individuals in other ways and, therefore, this can shape our expectations of them through the process. As we will see below, this sympathy for the victim manifests in the characteristics of the conflict resolution subject.
This relates to the second dualism, between soldier and noncombatant. In a black and white world, this distinction makes sense, but in reality contemporary conflicts are seldom fought between uniformed, identifiable, full-time soldiers. Even so, our discourse and practice reinforce this division through the recognition of military titles, presuming military leaders can speak for territory under their control, and even in post-conflict work that addresses ex-soldier “re-integration.” It is interesting that in a country ravaged by civil war where the social structure has become unhinged, it is only the soldiers who need to be “re-integrated.” One implication of this is that the post-transition conflict resolution subject is distanced from the military actor.
The most important of these dualisms is between the good-faith actor and the spoiler. We rely on the term “spoiler” for anyone who is not working with us to resolve the conflict or, in more direct terms, someone who is not playing along. The good-faith actor is attempting resolution through correct regulatory methods (communication and the use of a third party, in most cases), while the spoiler is either refusing any part of the resolution process or actively seeking to undermine. In conflict resolution, the metaphor of the table is central here. Spoilers either do not deserve or do not have a seat at the table. However, this is made more complex by the fact that the conflict resolution practitioner may have some power in determining who is at the table. For Burton, this was one of the rules of the problem-solving workshop approach. The intervenor has a responsibility not only to determine who is willing to come to the table, but who is allowed to. Carpenter and Kennedy label the kinds of people who have to be convinced to participate “powerful, angry, or suspicious.”[xxii] Clearly, these are not representative of the optimal conflict resolution subject.
So what are the characteristics of the conflict resolution subject? First, we should note that many of the characteristics of individuals in conflict that are given a lot of attention in the literature should not be considered, because the characteristics of individuals in conflict are not the same as the characteristics of the conflict resolution subject. For example, many conflicts are explained as involving “identity disputes.” Should we therefore see the conflict resolution subject as “identitied”? I do not think so. Identity, in this case, is malleable and not universally relevant in the conflict or conflict resolution endeavors. Some conflicts simply do not involve deep-seated identity issues. The conflict resolution subject precedes conflict issues, so we must conclude that, for example, identity is something the conflict resolution subject has, not something it is. As such, identity is irrelevant for the conflict resolution project until there is a conflict.
Understanding these dualities, what characteristics make up the conflict resolution subject? The first of these is that the subject is empowerable. By this I mean to indicate two related concepts. Initially, the conflict resolution subject is one that has the potential for change. The subject is not essential, at least not in ways that would impede the resolution of conflict. This comes across in the discourse most clearly in reference to human nature. Works in conflict resolution go out of their way to undermine the notion that humans have a fixed nature that puts them always in conflict with each other. Such a subject, characterized by the unstoppable drive to fight, cannot be part of the conflict resolution project. Instead, the field sees a subject that either possesses a nonconflictual nature, as those who stress the element of cooperation in human nature do, or that human nature itself is nonessential and any appearance that it is so is the result of social construction.[xxiii] The commonality between both of these positions is that there is no essential obstacle to conflict resolution in the subject. Conflict resolution, however, goes further with this in the second concept. Not only is there nothing that will prevent the resolution of conflicts, but the conflict resolution subject is one that is capable of change, able to be empowered to make a difference.
For the conflict resolution subject, this empowerment comes through participation in the conflict resolution project. The practitioner is the agent of empowerment and transition. Bush and Folger, for example, discuss the potential of “transformation” and “moral growth” in mediation[xxiv] and note that “through mediation, people find ways to avoid succumbing to conflict’s most destructive pressures: to act from weakness rather than strength and to dehumanize rather than to acknowledge each other.”[xxv] This empowerment comes about primarily through the application of information and communication by the practitioner, for “parties involved can choose to make things better or worse, but they usually are not aware that they have options.”[xxvi]
Some authors go farther to reinforce that it is the presence not only of a third party, but of specifically trained and skilled practitioners, that is required for the subject to be able to change. In fact, this was Rule One in John Burton’s discussion of problem-solving workshops.[xxvii] Ronald Fisher argues that conflict resolution can only happen in the presence of the third party.[xxviii] What we see here is the mixture of some threads already discussed. The subject is perfectible, but this perfectibility is activated by actors outside them, their Others (the third party). This would seem to reinforce the dualism between victim and perpetrator. It is the victim who is most in need to empowerment and, therefore, the larger focus of conflict resolution activity. It is no surprise that in recent years as the notion of neutrality has been being dismantled we have seen an increase in calls for empowerment of the disadvantaged in mediation. The disadvantaged party is the one that is closer to the ideal subject for conflict resolution. It has the capability of action and transformation, but does not have the agency to undertake it. This is a different approach than you see in a project like nonviolent transformation, where the potential for change is located in the powerful, who are encouraged to make a decision to no longer use their power for domination.
The second characteristic of the conflict resolution subject extends from Carpenter and Kennedy’s comment that parties can change, but lack awareness. One on hand, this implies empowerment is possible, but it also implies an implicit rationality on the part of the subject. This subject is capable of understanding more than its pure phenomenological experience of the conflict. This is a form of rationality: the subject’s ability to incorporate non-obvious information about the conflict, evaluate it, and take action. Bush and Folger go so far as to make this seem almost mystical in saying that participants can have “at some level” insights into the unseen working of the conflict.[xxix] Mayer recognizes this as the “cognitive component” of resolution, in which he argues participants have their own ability to recognize when a conflict has been resolved and to decide to put it behind them.[xxx] William Ury is willing to consider this ability the fundamental component of human nature and uses the term “Homo Negotiator.”[xxxi]
There are two important limits on the rationality of the conflict resolution subject. First, as Moore reminds us, there are interests that can be appreciated by the parties, but these are not obvious to them until the mediator assists in exposing them.[xxxii] While this rationality exists within the subject, it is not “activated” without the intervention of the Other. Second, this rationality extends to the unseen components of the conflict and the subject’s environment, it does not appear that conflict resolution extends this rationality to abstract systems of oppression. We may talk of conflict being influenced by systems and structures, such as patriarchy, capitalism, or militarism, but the conflict resolution project does not attempt an intervention on these directly. Instead, it relies on the “peace virus” hope. One of the reasons for this is that the conflict resolution subject can be rational about its position and experience, but this rationality is limited to the actions of other subjects. You can mediate between people, groups, or nations, but it is not possible to mediate between someone and capitalism, for instance. Contemporary conflict resolution practice is clearly the wrong tool for direct modification or elimination of structural and system-level causes of conflict. This is not to say that new forms of practice cannot develop to address these concerns, but no satisfactory answers have arisen from our current options.
The third characteristic of the conflict resolution subject is that it is social, constructed through relationships and communication. Mayer, for example, argues bluntly that “at the heart of both conflict and resolution are communication.”[xxxiii] Lang and Taylor say that “interaction is the water in which people swim, the air we breathe, and in terms of mediation, the essential medium in which dialogue occurs.”[xxxiv] In the context of transformational mediation, this is made even more clear when Bush and Folger adopt an entirely relational view of human nature.[xxxv] The implication here is not only that the subject is constructed through relations, but that it is interdependent with other subjects. This may be seen as essential to the human condition or a function of more recent changes, as in William Ury’s claim that “never before in human evolution have people faced the challenge of living in a single community with billions of human beings.”[xxxvi] What is important is that conflict resolution recognizes both communication and interdependence as the primary elements of the social subject.
From these characteristics it is clear that the conflict resolution subject is incomplete. It has the potential for change and transformation, but this cannot occur until the intervention by a specific Other. This illustrates the final vital component of the conflict resolution subject. It is transitional. Conflict resolution sees in the actors in the conflict the social, rational, and potential characteristics of the conflict resolution subject and then uses the communicative tools of conflict resolution to fulfill the transition from belligerent to subject. It is more accurate to say, within the jargon of the field, that the conflict resolution project is, ultimately, about the transition of belligerents into “parties.” Belligerents are the perpetrators, the soldiers, the spoilers. Parties are those who can be safely brought into the conflict resolution process, those who are oriented toward constructive engagement, those who will act “in good faith.” Although Winslade and Monk do not recognize the terminology of the subject, I think they are getting at the same idea when they state that “mediation is a site where social action is always taking place, rather than just being talked about.”[xxxvii]
Interestingly, while the work of constructing subjects examined by Butler and Foucault primarily occurs out-of-sight, conflict resolution is very up front about this component of its project. It wants to use its tools to reproduce empowered, post-transition conflict resolution subjects, but of course the discourse refers to the desire to help parties realize their potential, make better decisions, act better, or limit the damage their decisions are causing. In short, conflict resolution wants to reconstitute them as slightly different (and from its own perspective, substantially improved subjects).
What does the fully transitioned conflict resolution subject look like? It is empowered, thinking in line with conflict resolution rationality, and an active agent in its own conflicts, possessing both the skills and perspective to engage constructively. In short, it is the practitioner. The conflict resolution subject, in its pure form, collapses into its Other: the practitioner who actively facilitated the transition. It is no wonder that so many people begin working in the field after having a successful experience with a conflict resolution practitioner as a party in a conflict. These people will often talk about how the conflict resolution experience was novel, so different from their normal way of doing things. It “opened their eyes.” But what it really did was exactly what it intends to do: create more realized conflict resolution subjects. In a world full of conflict resolution subjects, there is no need for a mediator, since no one needs assistance to see what the mediator sees or to understand the opponent who, of course, is another realized conflict resolution subject. This is the reason that negotiation practice can be considered part of conflict resolution yet still be set aside in the analysis of the subject. Good negotiation, the kind practiced when both sides are using win-win principals based on a model like Getting to Yes,[xxxviii] can only occur between realized conflict resolution subjects, those that have made the transition. Bad negotiation requires an intervention and turns into mediation, which seeks to transition the negotiating parties into good negotiators (“good” defined from the perspective of the conflict resolution project). Good negotiators are realized conflict resolution subjects.
This account should not be allowed to go unchallenged and there are a number of apparent criticisms to consider. The first of these is that the conflict resolution subject is apparently free of gender, race, and class. This is true. Much like identity, gender, race, and class are embodied on the subject rather than an essential part of it. This could be justified through an appeal to Butler to show that gender (and sex) are not essential, or someone like Paul Gilroy to show the same of race,[xxxix] but in the case of conflict resolution, such dramatic responses do not seem necessary. Race, class, and gender arise within the conflict resolution project three different ways: as claims that people of different races, classes, or genders “do” conflict in different ways, claims that people of different races, classes, or genders get involved in different kinds of conflicts, or claims that resolution is impossible without the inclusion of representatives of a particular race, class, or gender. None of these claims is threatening to the idea of a conflict resolution subject. In fact, when we see the conflict resolution subject as being instantiated prior to gender, class, and race it becomes clear that the categorization of participants in resolution activities is the kind of regulative restriction that Butler cautions against. Adding additional requirements for participation may be just limiting the spread of the conflict resolution subject. However, the arbitrary exclusion of individuals from the conflict resolution process on the basis of race, gender, or class would to the same. I am not arguing against the reasonable, practical concerns that lead to the desire for inclusion of participants on the basis of gender, race, or class, but noting that in the ideal relation to the conflict resolution subject, this would not be necessary.
A second criticism is that the idea of a constituted, transitional conflict resolution subject undermines those who wish to argue that conflict resolution is actually the most “natural” human response to conflict. This idea is seen from biologists like Franz de Waal[xl] as well as the peace movement, which often promotes peaceful relations as a return to nature. This criticism is accurate, but hardly a threat to the overall conflict resolution project, which promotes itself more on the grounds of utility and morality than ideas of nature.
The third criticism is that this view of the subject challenges recent efforts, most prominently by John Paul Lederach,[xli] to develop an elicitive model of practice that “draws out” the mechanism of resolution from the parties themselves. If the conflict resolution project is actually constituting the subject, is there room for the practitioner to build a process from the parties to the conflict instead of imposing a model from above? The answer is both no and yes. It is not possible to avoid the subject-constituting actions of the conflict resolution discourse, since this will have strong influence over the individuals participating in the process. However, the fact that the conflict resolution subject is perfectible and can be empowered actually presumes that it will be doing a lot of the work. The conflict resolution project is not to force solutions, but to get the parties (subjects) to a position where they can make decisions about their conflict through interaction with each other. There would appear to be a lot of leeway there for elicitive practice, although any claim that such an approach does not also constitute a subject in the image of conflict resolution would be an error.
A fourth criticism relates to justice. Is there room for retributive justice within the conflict resolution project? The tension between justice and peace has been well-documented, as has the difficulty of integrating the two in post-conflict situations, such as John Paul Lederach’s Journey toward Reconciliation.[xlii] In practical terms, the decision often is framed as “do we punish or negotiate?” The analysis above produces a definitive answer from the context of the conflict resolution process. We likely cannot bring punishment and retributive justice into conflict resolution, at least not as they are traditionally constituted. If the conflict resolution process has been successful, the subject of retributive justice no longer exists. The new subject, the post-transition subject, cannot be the one that committed bad acts in the past. This is not an attempt at clever legal reasoning, but a recognition that the totally constituted conflict resolution subject is the end product of something like a reconciliation process. After reconciliation, what is the point of retributive justice? This does not mean that someone could not willingly accept punishment as part of the process of conflict resolution, perhaps to atone for past deeds or illustrate good faith support of the process, but this comes from a position of agency, not the powerless, incarcerated individual who is the criminal subject.
The final criticism is the most serious. One critique that has been leveled at the field of conflict resolution in the past is that it is neither transformative nor revolutionary, but actually promotes the docility of individuals in the face of systemic oppression. This is the idea behind Anatol Rapaport’s warning that international conflict resolution could become (or already is) a tool of the powerful to regulate resistance.[xliii] Toran Hansen argues that conflict resolution can avoid these problems, but only by engaging in critical activity and actively seeking both short-term and long-term social justice through “critical conflict resolution practice.”[xliv] There is a complicating factor to consider, however.
Privileged/non-privileged is another dualistic binary that covers much more variety than it illuminates. Foucault’s approach to power illustrates that we cannot simply divide the powerful from the powerless, but that power is situational, discourse-driven, and often untethered from actors. It is not enough to try, as Galtung did, to separate the “top dogs” from the “underdogs.”[xlv] This response, however, opens up conflict resolution to a larger critique: that it contributes to domination through these exact forms of power.
Foucault states that for him, “The problem is not changing people’s consciousness – of what’s in their heads – but the political, economic, institutional regime of the production of truth.”[xlvi] The conflict resolution project described in this essay is initially a consciousness-changing one. The ultimate goal may be to engage “the production of truth,” but the path from even an overwhelming number of realized conflict resolution subjects to that is not clear.
Additionally, the discussion of the subject above reinforces the idea that conflict resolution discourse is regulative. It categorizes and divides individuals based on their applicability to the conflict resolution process. Butler reminds us that all regulatory processes are, at base, subjugating. Beyond just categorization, it is clear that the purpose of the conflict resolution process is to eliminate some forms of human behavior – those that contribute to destructive conflict such as violence, dehumanization, and the like. It also tends to value harmony over conflict, even when conflict could be constructive.[xlvii] From the perspective of a totally liberated human subject, this is clearly a form of control and subjugation.
We are left to weigh this subjugation against the costs of the conflict resolution projects and the benefits and likelihood of its success. Ultimately, this is an ethical and moral decision, which means that it can only be made from a particular subject-position. From within the conflict resolution project, the answer is clearly “of course it is worth the cost,” while from other perspectives it may not be.
However, there is one mitigating factor that makes the conflict resolution perspective gain some moral and ethical authority. The creation of the conflict resolution subject is a process that is not purely hidden deep in unrecognized discourse. The tools of conflict resolution are not hidden from the participants. In fact, some approaches thrive specifically on the explanation of what tools are being used and how they are expected to operate. Conflict resolution practitioners speak openly of the kinds of changes they are trying to bring about in participants in the process. This is not just somewhat more open and transparent than the way gender and sex are constructed, for example, but radically so. In fact, the push for “reflective practice” specifically encourages practitioners to understand their constitutive effects (albeit with different terminology) as when Lang and Taylor specifically ask that practitioners interrogate their “constellation of theories” in order to more fully understand why they have the perceptions they do and to ensure their actions best suit the conflict – or, best serve the project.[xlviii] In the terminology favored by Žižek, the conflict resolution project is more aware of its unknown knowns, more willing to make them known knowns, and more interesting in spreading that information to those served by the project. We are left to conclude that while the conflict resolution project is a form of subjugation, it is, ultimately, a relatively benign subjugation.
In light of these criticisms, what can this analysis suggest for the future of the conflict resolution project. First, we should focus on the transition to the realized conflict resolution subject. This means that the most important technologies of practice are those that encourage belligerents to become parties and those that help parties move closer to the conflict resolution ideal. These are more likely to come from work with communication and interaction than focus on conflict causes or, to a lesser extent, conflict dynamics. The real work of conflict resolution is figuring out the techniques of intervention that make the transition more reliable and easier for those involved. Second, it is clear that the conflict resolution project has an inability to address system-level causes of conflict. In the terms of this essay, system-level conflict is that which is not directly caused by the actions of any identifiable subject, but is instantiated through discourse, economic system, cultures of violence, and so on. Even if the conflict resolution project is wildly successful, it will eventually come up against these systems. At that point (if not sooner), the project will either need to be abandoned in favor of a more revolutionary perspective or significantly modified. Finally, the recognition of the regulatory aspect of the conflict resolution project means we need to keep a vigilant eye on the potential domination that can occur within our project.
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Rapoport, Anatol. “Can Peace Research Be Applied?.” The Journal of Conflict Resolution 14, no. 2 (June 1970): 277-286.
Rothman, Jay. Resolving Identity-Based Conflict In Nations, Organizations, and Communities. 1st ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997.
Ury, William L. Getting to Peace. First Edition first Printing. New York: Viking Adult, 1999.
Waal, Frans de. Peacemaking among primates. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990.
Winslade, John, and Gerald D. Monk. Narrative Mediation : A New Approach to Conflict Resolution. 1st ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000.
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[i] Foucault, Madness and Civilization.
[ii] Foucault, The Birth of the Clinic.
[iii] Foucault, Discipline & Punish.
[iv] Butler, Gender trouble: feminism and the subversion of identity.
[v] Moore, The Mediation Process.
[vi] Mayer, The Dynamics of Conflict Resolution.
[vii] Winslade and Monk, Narrative Mediation.
[viii] Bush and Folger, The Promise of Mediation.
[ix] See, for example, Susan L. Carpenter and W.J.D Kennedy, Managing Public Disputes: A Practical Guide to Handling Conflict and Reaching Agreements, 1st ed. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1988) and Rothman, Resolving Identity-Based Conflict In Nations, Organizations, and Communities.
[x] See, for example, John Burton, Resolving deep-rooted conflict (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1987) and Fisher, Interactive Conflict Resolution.
[xi] Pavlich, “The Power of Community Mediation,” 716.
[xii] Bagshaw, “The Three M’s – Mediation, Postmodernism, and the New Millennium.”
[xiii] Morgan Brigg, “Mediation, Power, and Cultural Difference,” Conflict Resolution Quarterly 20, no. 3 (2003): 287-306 and Brigg, “Governance and Susceptibility in Conflict Resolution.”
[xiv] Bush and Folger, The Promise of Mediation, xi,1.
[xv] Galtung, “Violence, Peace, and Peace Research.”
[xvi] Burton, “Conflict Resolution as a Political Philosophy.”
[xvii] Curle, Education for liberation, 137.
[xviii] Crary, “Community benefits from mediation,” 241.
[xix] Zizek, Violence : six sideways reflections, 155.
[xx] Curle, Education for liberation, v.
[xxi] Curle, Another Way: Positive Response to Contemporary Violence, 141.
[xxii] See Winslade and Monk, Narrative Mediation, 225.
[xxiii] See Ibid., 37-39.
[xxiv] Bush and Folger, The Promise of Mediation, 2.
[xxv] Ibid., xv.
[xxvi] Carpenter and Kennedy, Managing Public Disputes, xi.
[xxvii] Burton, Resolving deep-rooted conflict, 33.
[xxviii] Fisher, Interactive Conflict Resolution, 8.
[xxix] Bush and Folger, The Promise of Mediation, 10.
[xxx] Mayer, The Dynamics of Conflict Resolution, 98.
[xxxi] Ury, Getting to Peace, 197.
[xxxii] Moore, The Mediation Process, 231.
[xxxiii] Mayer, The Dynamics of Conflict Resolution, 119.
[xxxiv] Lang and Taylor, The Making of a Mediator, 153.
[xxxv] Bush and Folger, The Promise of Mediation, 54.
[xxxvi] Ury, Getting to Peace, xvii.
[xxxvii] Winslade and Monk, Narrative Mediation, 40.
[xxxviii] Fisher and Ury, Getting to Yes.
[xxxix] Gilroy, ‘There Ain’t no Black in the Union Jack’.
[xl] Waal, Peacemaking among primates.
[xli] Lederach, Building Peace.
[xlii] Lederach, The Journey Toward Reconciliation.
[xliii] Rapoport, “Can Peace Research Be Applied?.”
[xliv] Hansen, “Critical conflict resolution theory and practice,” 417.
[xlv] Galtung, “A Structural Theory of Aggression.”
[xlvi] Foucault, The essential Foucault : selections from essential works of Foucault, 1954-1984, 317.
[xlvii] Brigg, “Mediation, Power, and Cultural Difference,” 287.
[xlviii] Lang and Taylor, The Making of a Mediator, 93.