I attended the Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR) conference last week in order to learn more about up-to-date tools used by mediators for my book and to begin the soft launch of a new initiative being led by ACR, the Alliance for Peacebuilding, George Mason's School for Conflict Analysis and resolution, and Rowman and Littlefield publishers. We have all decided that we need to expand the work that is being done so that win/win conflict resolution and the like become more central components of everything from our popular culture to our political decision making. We have a pretty good idea of what the problems we face happen to be. What's less clear--and what this initiative will address--are the unique skills we "bring to the table" and how we can best put them to use. While there, I listened a lot and gave two short talks which I've summarized here.
Peacebuilders’ interest in social psych has a long history. During the Cold War, we learned a lot about concepts like the image of the enemy. After it, we had to deal with qualitatively different kinds of conflicts that revolved around race, religion, ethnicity, language, gender, and other “identity” issues. We made huge progress during the 1990s as we developed analytical tools and embarked on programs that attempted to bring people on all sides of these emotionally charged issues together.
Peacebuilders have historically shied away from the fact that our tools and techniques won’t and can’t solve all of the world’s problems. Because we will be covering the topic in our textbook and our students are already asking us, here’s a first look at the circumstances in which peacebuilding doesn’t work and an even more worrisome discussion of what happens when we don’t use peacebuilding principles in our actions.
This week, my friend Doug Irvin-Erickson is off in Norway for a conference on genocide prevention, so I get to teach his class on the nature of conflict. Since he actually covered much of that topic the first session, I decided to cast a very broad net to set the analytical and political agenda for the course—and for the rest of the students’ lives.