Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Week Fourteen: Why is evaluation of peacebuilding efforts important? Why is it important to be attentive to the process of evaluation?

             Evaluation is important in peacebuilding because it provides peacebuilders with a way to be attentive and accountable in their work. John Paul Lederach argues that peacebuilders need “practical mechanisms that are both strategic and responsive” (129). Essentially, this is advice to be intentional about planning and implementing evaluation, while also being flexible and ready to adapt to changes and surprises in the peacebuilding process. Just as peacebuilding is not a one-time event, the evaluation of peacebuilding efforts must also be understood as something that happens over time. This aspect of peacebuilding as a process is one of Lederach’s main points; he says that “peacebuilding is about seeking and sustaining processes of change; it is not exclusively, or even primarily, about sustaining outcomes” (135). Because peacebuilding is a process, it is natural that the practice of evaluation would also be a sustained, reflective process. Lederach describes this “responsive evaluation” as “a continuous cycle of action and reflection” (137). By continually reflecting on and evaluating the process as it unfolds, peacebuilders are able to adapt, recreate, and contextualize the process to create fertile soil for the seeds of peace.
            On the whole, Lederach’s emphasis on both peacebuilding and evaluation as a process has been helpful for me in my own understanding of peace. While it is tempting to think about peacebuilding initiatives and their successes (or non-successes) in terms of projects or events (Lederach 130), ultimately every action for peace must take place in a larger framework and vision of conflict transformation and peacebuilding. Further, Lederach’s description of evaluation serves as a powerful reminder that evaluation is meant for the purpose of building up, not tearing down. Being critical of the peacebuilding process and accepting critique is absolutely necessary to strengthen the process and maximize efforts for peace. With strategic and reflective tools for evaluation, peacebuilders can improve their work and promote a sustainable peace for today and tomorrow.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Week Thirteen: Why is it important to think in the long term when designing peacebuilding initiatives?

            Peacebuilding requires long term planning and commitment because it is often done in response to a conflict with roots spanning decades and generations. Lisa Schirch compares the time frame of pre-violence and post-violence peacebuilding work, pointing out that these time frames must be equal (75). Ultimately, the time and energy put into peacebuilding must match the time and energy that went into the conflict. With this in mind, since most conflicts have taken shape over the long term, peacebuilding initiatives must follow suit. John Paul Lederach emphasizes the importance of building an infrastructure for peacebuilding, pointing out that the structures within a society must be part of peacebuilding just as they likely fueled the conflict (112). He says that “proactive change is possible only if we can sustain efforts to create a vision of a commonly share future and to develop a clear understanding of, and practical responses to, the existing realities and crises” (Lederach 112). The key word here is sustain. Peacebuilding must be a sustainable process, and thinking about sustainability demands that we think in the long term. Each peacebuilding process must be organic, drawing on the resources available in the conflict society; ultimately the peace that is created must be their peace, because in the long term only what is true to that society will survive.
            Lederach details the long-term process of peacebuilding, laying out a time frame of 20 years along with the types of peacebuilding initiatives that should be at the forefront during each stage of the process. In the first 2-6 months, he suggests crisis intervention, followed by preparation and training in the first 1-2 years. 5-10 years down the road, he stresses the importance of the design of social change, followed by a 20+ year “generational vision” of a shared future (Lederach 77). Knowing and believing that peacebuilding requires long term planning and commitment, I have found these charts and time frames to be very helpful. However, at times the prospect of a 20+ year peacebuilding process is intimidating and difficult for me to even imagine! What Lederach and Schirch are saying is that peacebuilding likely will (and should) take longer than I have even been alive! While it is hard for me to wrap my mind around this fact, I still appreciate this realistic introduction to the field; I would much rather be surprised about the realities of peacebuilding now than down the road in the middle of a peace process!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Week Twelve: How does understanding conflict as a progression allow for a use of a wide variety of approaches in addressing conflict?

            Though I had not been formally introduced to the concept, throughout this semester I think I have naturally been thinking about the concept of conflict as a progression. Lederach explores this concept in depth in his chapter “An Integrated Framework for Peacebuilding” (73). Central to this integrated framework is the ability to “[view] conflict as a progression,” which in turn “provides a set of lenses for rethinking time” (Lederach 78). Essentially, what Lederach means by “rethinking time” is that in peacebuilding, the concept of time is not neatly separated into categories such as past, present, and future; rather, peacebuilding requires an understanding of time that transcends these categories. Lederach argues that understanding conflict as a progression enables us to see that “quick fixes in protracted conflict rarely lead to sustainable processes or solutions” (78). As a result, these short-term solutions must be done in a larger context that includes “the painstaking tasks of relationship and confidence building, and…the design of and preparation for social change, which ultimately provide a basis for sustaining conflict transformation” (78). Lederach’s concept of conflict as a progression is best understood in relation to the concept of peacebuilding as a process; just as conflict goes through many stages and takes many years to progress and develop, peacebuilding must also be understood in a parallel sense. Lederach describes the design of a successful peacebuilding process as “the unfolding of an ‘architecture’ that moves through stages,” recognizing that peace must develop in stages just as conflict did.
            Within this framework, and within these stages of progression, Lederach lays out a vision of appropriate and timely tasks for peacebuilding. For example, in the early stages of peacebuilding, it is important to manage crisis on the personal and relational level and address the root causes of the conflict on the systemic level (Lederach 80). However, addressing the long-term stages of peacebuilding (20+ years down the road) requires attention to the vision for social change as well as prevention of further crises (Lederach 77, 80). Thus, understanding conflict and peacebuilding in terms of progression provides a framework for identifying “the strategic what” as well as “the strategic when” of peacebuilding (Schirch 64, 75). Overall, this concept of conflict and peacebuilding as a progression has helped me think more strategically about what types of peacebuilding initiatives are appropriate in each stage of conflict or peacebuilding. While we have been learning all semester that conflict transformation demands long-term commitment, this chapter was a helpful resource for mapping out what that long-term commitment will look like in each stage of conflict and peace. As peace evolves, so must peacebuilders and peacebuilding initiatives, “[maintaining] form over time yet [having] no rigidity of structure” (Lederach 84). Commitment+flexibility=sustainability.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Week Eleven: Choose one of the four areas Schirch diagrams in her map of peacebuilding on pg. 26. Describe it thoroughly and explain why it is important for overall peacebuilding.

            As I was reading, I highlighted the areas on Schirch’s chart where I feel called to get involved. The two strongest areas for me are transforming relationships and building capacity, with some interest in waging conflict nonviolently as well (Schirch 26). For this journal, I would like to focus on the area of transforming relationships. I am drawn to this area of peacebuilding because it includes conflict transformation and restorative justice, two aspects of peacebuilding that have shaped my understanding of peace and my call as a peacemaker. In Schirch’s chapter on transforming relationships, she explains that “a core task of peacebuilding is to transform relationships so that those who harm and destroy move toward meeting human needs and ensuring rights” (45). She also goes on to say this area of peacebuilding is illustrated by the biblical concept of shalom, which is another reason why I am likely drawn to working in the area of relational transformation (45). Just as the biblical vision of shalom is a vision of wholeness and well-being, this area of peacebuilding has a vision of transforming relationships of conflict into positive, life-giving relationships.
Using a diagram, Schirch explains that these types of right relationships are made possible by healing trauma that has occurred, transforming the conflict that exists, and doing justice (46). These needs must be met in order for right relationships to take root, so this area of peacebuilding encompasses the practices that meet these specific needs. First, trauma healing programs create space for victims to name their trauma, work through its effects, regain control over their lives, and address causes of the trauma (Schirch 48). Next, conflict transformation encompasses various processes which allow for parties to identify issues, build new relationships, and come up with solutions together that hopefully include a shared future (Schirch 48-49). Finally, programs such as restorative justice, transitional justice, and policymaking address the need for justice so that right relationships can take root (Schirch 51-53). Restorative justice is especially appropriate for the peacebuilding area of transforming relationships as it views justice as a relational matter and seeks to meet the needs of the victims as well as the offenders so that healing and well-being is possible for all parties (Schirch 52). Transitional justice is a process that takes place “in post-war contexts where governmental authority is weak or non-existent, particularly societies emerging from war of dictatorship” (Schirch 52-53). Thus, transitional justice fits under the category of transforming relationships because it seeks to transform and reshape the relationships within post-conflict societies (Schirch 53). Finally, policymaking is part of transforming relationships because transforming policy means transforming the relationship between people and the government (Schirch 53-54).
Together, these peacebuilding practices provide a framework to work toward transformed, life-giving relationships in places of conflict. Personally, I am drawn to this work and feel called to this particular area of peacebuilding. I am especially drawn to restorative justice, which is the most promising and holistic vision of justice I have encountered so far as I have studied peace & justice issues in a variety of contexts. Overall, I appreciate this area of peacebuilding because more than just processes or programs, these are invitations for parties in conflict to imagine and create a future together, and that is the work of shalom.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Week Ten: How do you think about peace? Can you determine your metaphor for it?

            In Webel’s article, I found it fascinating to read the official definitions of peace. The one that most struck me was Webster’s definition of peace “a state of public quiet” (Webel 6). I immediately marked this in my reading and jotted the word, “eh?” in the margin. This definition in particular goes against my understanding of peace. Especially in Peacemaking Seminar, I have focused on being heard as a mark of shalom, the type of peace for which I strive. So, defining peace as “a state of public quiet” (Webel 6) indicates to me that people are silent rather than having their voices heard and affirmed. In a way, silence can be compared to negative peace— the kind of peace that exists when manifest violence ceases. But shalom calls us to move beyond the silence, beyond a lack of physical violence— into a space where voices are heard and safety is felt by all, a space where silence is replaced by symphony.
            As for my metaphor for peace, it is two-fold. First, the biblical vision of shalom is a central part of the way I think about peace. Shalom has many facets— peace with justice, well-being, needs being met, safety, trust, equality, and community—these are all things I mean when I say the word “peace.” However, shalom is more of a vision than a metaphor. Thus, the second aspect of my metaphor for peace is more concrete; in reading over my personal theory-practice template this week, I noticed that I repeatedly used plant metaphors in relation to peace. I noticed phrases like, “so peace can take root,” “the seeds of shalom,” and “so peace can grow.” It is interesting that I would use plant metaphors for peace, since I know virtually nothing about plants; however, I like where my mind has gone with this for two reasons. First, this seems especially appropriate since my conflict metaphor is water. It is quite an exciting coincidence that my metaphors for conflict and peace are interconnected and interdependent. Just like water allows plants to grow, conflict can be the beginning of peace. And just as plants need water to live, conflict is a healthy and normal part of societies; in fact, conflict can result in positive growth just as water does for plants. Also, just as too much water can kill a plant, conflict that gets out of control also damages societies. The second reason I like my plant metaphor is because the process of planting requires the identification and/or creation of physical space for the new plant to grow. One valuable lesson I have learned this semester is that the same is true for peacebuilding— for peace to truly take root, one must carefully identify and/or create a physical space for reconciliation and transformation. Also, just as one must study and know the type of plant in order to grow it successfully, peacebuilders must also study and know the context in which they work. Just as different plants need different things to grow, the peacebuilding process is different in each context. And finally— just as gardening requires much patience and care— so, too, does peacebuilding call for long-term commitment. As peacebuilders, we plant the seeds of shalom and we wait— watering, watching, and trusting.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Extra Credit (Week Eight): What do you identify as your primary discipline? How do you see this as fitting with Peace and Conflict Studies?

            “Peace studies flows across many disciplines” (Alger 299). This has certainly been the case in my life, with Peace & Conflict Studies sharing a reciprocal relationship with my primary discipline of Biblical Studies. My Peace & Conflict Studies minor has served as motivation to explore themes of peace and justice through the lens of Scripture; on the other hand, my study of Scripture has also contributed to my understanding of peace. As a whole, my academic experience, combining Biblical Studies and Peace & Conflict Studies, has proven the value of the interdisciplinary study of peace. In my experience, both disciplines have been strengthened because of their interaction.
            Looking beyond my undergraduate education at Bluffton, I also see Biblical Studies and Peace & Conflict Studies fitting together in the long-term. I hope to pursue master’s degrees in both Bible and Peace Studies, intentionally continuing the relationship between these two disciplines. Ultimately, I imagine one of the disciplines will become my more dominant career, but it is difficult for me to imagine one without the other. If I become a biblical scholar, I would be a biblical scholar with a focus on peace and justice. And if I pursue peacebuilding as a career, my theory and practice would be unashamedly rooted in Scripture.
            On the whole, the combination of Biblical Studies and Peace & Conflict Studies has proven for me to be far more than an interdisciplinary academic project; in fact, the place where these two disciplines meet has greatly contributed to my identity and self-understanding. While the academic results have been positive ones, it is the personal results that have been life-changing. Like Druckman, I celebrate the interdisciplinary nature of Peace & Conflict Studies, and I am living proof that the interplay between the “complexity” and “coherence” of the field is ultimately life-giving and refreshing (305).

Week Eight: How do conflict transformation and conflict resolution differ?

            Conflict transformation and conflict resolution differ in many ways, but most of the differences are explained by their different goals. The goal of conflict resolution is negative peace, or the absence of manifest, physical conflict. On the other hand, conflict transformation strives for positive peace, which is characterized by the absence of structural violence and the presence of social justice (Galtung 183). While both conflict resolution and conflict transformation work toward a vision of peace, the visions are very different, which naturally leads to differences in theory and practice.
            First, conflict transformation and conflict resolution address different aspects of conflict. While conflict resolution seeks to end overt and manifest violence, conflict transformation says that “it is not only the gun that kills. Lack of access to basic means of life and dignity does the same thing” (Assefa 42- CT Handouts). Johannes Botes addresses this reality, explaining that since “violence has come to mean far more than physically violent behavior,” conflict transformation addresses the structural roots in addition to the physically violent aspect of the conflict (273). Since oppressive structures do violence and cause conflict, conflict transformation “goes beyond conflict resolution in providing a deeper and more permanent level of change” (Botes 275).
            Another notable difference between conflict resolution and conflict transformation is the time commitment of the work. While conflict resolution is often a more immediate and short-term solution, conflict transformation is a long-term commitment. Because the goal of conflict transformation is create just systems, structures, and relationships, the nature of conflict transformation “implies a long-term peace-building process” (Botes 277). John Paul Lederach contrasts the long-term time commitment of conflict transformation with the short-term expectations of conflict resolution, saying that conflict resolution “does not capture that on-going nature nor the need for a relational ebb and flow” (51- CT Handouts). Thus, for Lederach, conflict transformation provides the flexibility within a long-term commitment that is needed for successful peacebuilding and structural transformation.
            One of the things I have most appreciated about this class so far has been the opportunity to learn about the differences between conflict resolution and conflict transformation. I had a preference for conflict transformation before I could articulate why, but as I have learned about the differences I have found myself consistently drawn to the theory and practice of conflict transformation. Addressing structural violence is one of my own priorities in peacebuilding, and I also prefer the long-term commitment of conflict transformation. I, along with Lederach, firmly believe that this long-term commitment provides the best framework for flexible, creative, and transformative peacebuilding efforts.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Week Seven: In what ways are mediation and arbitration similar? Different?

            There are two ways that mediation and arbitration are very similar. First, both processes involve a third party (221, 235). In mediation, this third party “has limited or no authoritative decision-making power” (221). Instead of making a decision for the parties, in mediation the third party typically enables the parties in conflict to have their own discussion and arrive at their own solution (222). Of course, the results of mediation vary, but the third party’s role is to create space for dialogue and possibly a solution to emerge from the parties in conflict (221). In arbitration, the role of the third party is that of a decision-maker (235). Essentially, the third party is chosen to listen to the perspectives of both sides and come to the best decision for everyone involved (235). So, while the roles are very different, one similarity between mediation and arbitration is the involvement of a third party in the process.
             The second similarity is that both mediation and arbitration are alternatives to typical legal options (220). As alternatives, mediation and arbitration processes enable the parties in conflict to be active participants in creating their own solutions. This participation plays out differently in mediation and arbitration. For example, in mediation the parties are able to come to their own solution (222). However, even in arbitration, with the third party holding the decision-making power, the parties have chosen to take part in the arbitration process and chosen to involve the third party (235). For this reason, the parties are significantly more invested in the process and the solution in arbitration than they would be in a litigation process (235).
            In exploring the similarities between mediation and arbitration, I have also touched on many of the differences. However, one difference stands out between these two processes, and that is the role of the third party. While the third party is neutral in both mediation (231) and arbitration (235), in arbitration the third party is required to make a decision. Thus, in arbitration the third party is more involved in shaping of a solution. As Cheldelin points out, there is much debate about the neutrality of the third party in the mediation process (231), with many scholars and practitioners doubting that it is possible or even helpful for the third party to be completely neutral. I share these doubts, and I really struggled in mediation training with the idea that in order to be a good mediator I was not allowed to care about the situation at hand. However, also I would not want to be in a process in which I (as the third party) had all the decision-making power. Thus, for me the “med-arb” approach that combines these two processes is very appealing (239). This process, which creates space for dialogue between the parties but ultimately leaves decision making power to the mediator/arbiter, has great potential as a balanced alternative to litigation (239).

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Week Six: How may institutions affect conflict, positively and negatively?

            Institutions, like all dimensions of conflict, have both positive and negative potential in times of conflict. Rubenstein focused on the legitimacy of institutions, specifically the legal system (175). Whether or not institutions are viewed as legitimate impacts their capacity to affect conflict positively or negatively, as “every social system rests on a foundation consisting of both force and consent” (168). While institutions can use force to impact a conflict, this usually goes along with a decrease in consent and popular support (168). On the other hand, an increase in support and consent decreases the need for use of force (168). Thus, the consent of the people based on their perception of an institution’s legitimacy can dramatically change the dimensions of conflict (168).
            Rubenstein explored institutional legitimacy using the example of the legal system, stating that “the system as a whole justifies its existence by the extent to which it satisfies people’s need for security, freedom, and other social goods” (175). He also emphasized the responsibility of the legal system to “maintain social peace…[and] resolve conflicts both inside and outside their boundaries” (177). Finally, he listed “protecting the rights and interests of disadvantaged parties” as one of the five purposes of the legal system (179). All of these tasks of a legitimate legal system are examples of how institutions can and do affect conflict positively—by meeting needs, by protecting rights, and by promoting peace. On the other hand, Rubenstein was honest in admitting that the legal system can also affect conflict negatively, adding fuel to the fire. For example, at times “legal rulings can intensify social conflicts rather than resolve them” (181). When this happens, the legal system loses its legitimacy, as it fails to meet the needs of all people and resolve the conflict at hand.
            Overall, I think institutions have a critical role in conflict, but it is important to recognize the connection between institutions and individuals. If individuals do not view institutions as legitimate, any influence in the conflict will likely be through force, which I think would lead to negative influences in conflict. However, if an institution meets needs, protects rights, and promotes peace, the consent of the people will likely place that institution in a prime position to affect the conflict situation in a positive manner. While the examples in this chapter were specific to the legal system, I think it provided a helpful framework for both identifying legitimate institutions and critiquing and transforming illegitimate ones.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Week Five: How might conflict be a positive force in changing structures? A negative force?

            Since conflict itself is neutral, it can have either positive or negative results. This is true especially in relation to structures; conflict can lead to the transformation of oppressive and violent structures, or it can lead to the maintenance of the status quo. Because “oppressive social structures” cause “dissatisfaction of basic needs,” which can lead to conflict, the very presence of conflict is often a symptom of a deeper structural problem (155). Already, we are faced with a decision: will conflict be framed positively, as an opportunity to address the underlying structural issue, or will conflict be framed negatively as an inconvenience and interruption to the status quo? Conflict, just like our perceptions of its existence, has the potential to work either positively or negatively. In the work of changing structures, conflict has the potential to “[increase] the adaptation of particular social relationships to new situations,” thus transforming and strengthening the relationships that comprise the structure (157). Of course, conflict also has the potential to cause further alienation and division of social groups within the social structure. In order for conflict to act as a positive force in social structures and relationships, it is important that we name and claim this possibility. Awareness of broken and oppressive social structures is important, but even more critical is awareness of and real belief in the possibility of transformation (161). For if it is true that “people can be free only when they believe in the possibilities for change” (161), then proclaiming and believing that conflict has positive potential is critical if conflict is to transform oppressive social structures into more just ones.
            With all this in mind, it is also “important to note that structural changes may not be easily or immediately achieved” (164). This is because structural change is the work of conflict transformation, which requires long-term commitment (Lederach 33). Conflict resolution, on the other hand, is more concerned with resolving the manifest conflict; as a result, “structural issues are less important” since “the goal is…to maintain or restore harmony” (164). Overall, I am convinced that even though conflict transformation is a more difficult and long-term process, it is also a more holistic and complete one. By using manifest conflict to identify and address structural violence, conflict transformation uses conflict as a positive force for social change.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Week Four: Do you think conflict is mostly caused by personal and situational sources or structural sources?

           It seems to me that conflict is most often caused by structural sources. Rubenstein describes the two main sources of conflict as “human nature” and “structures” (55). Even upon reading those two options for the very first time, I felt myself pushing back against “human nature” as the cause of conflict. Personally, I try to see the best in human nature, and I feel like blaming conflict on the way that people are (or a person is) makes it difficult to envision the possibility of peace in that situation. Rubenstein gave the rather extreme example of Hitler and whether he was an “embodiment of ideological fanaticism and power-lust” or simply “a nationalist leader responding to Great Power competition” (56). These views illustrate the difference between personal and structural sources of conflict— was the problem Hitler himself, or did a set of structural (social, political, economic, etc.) circumstances also contribute? Clearly, this is an extreme case, and it seems that both structural and personal sources of conflict collided with tragic results.
Rubenstein points out that it is easy to see overt conflict as personal (57), which makes sense since manifest conflict is carried out by individuals or groups. However, he also points of the role of structural violence in causing overt violence, saying that “if the level of provocation continues to rise, all but the rarest individuals will give way eventually to aggressive or self-destructive behavior” (57). This provocation, I think, comes from structural sources which deprive people of their needs and humanity (58). While it is easy to point to individuals who act out violently as the cause for that violence, in order to transform the conflict it is necessary to acknowledge and deal with the “institutions that function either as active causes or necessary conditions for outbreaks of violence” (59). These institutions and structures, not human beings, seem to be most consistently at the root of violence.
While human nature does contribute to conflict, I strongly resist the idea that human nature is the cause of conflict. It seems to me that it is the human instinct to survive that plays the greatest role in conflict, not a human instinct to do violence. While this human instinct to survive often leads to violence, this violence is spurred by either physical or structural threats. A human instinct of survival is not in and of itself a negative thing, as would be a human instinct of violence. Thus, by transforming the structures (and situations) that threaten human survival, it is possible to transform conflict and create space for peace to grow.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Week Three: What is violence?

            In seeking to form my own definition and understanding of violence, I kept in mind Galtung’s advice that it is less important to find the definition of violence and more important to explore the dimensions of violence in an order to spark thought, research, and action (168). Reading both Galtung and Stassen gave me the opportunity to engage scholarly definitions of violence, both of which were very interesting and helped me think about my own understanding of violence. For Galtung, violence is defined as “the cause of the difference between the potential and the actual” (168). Essentially, by Galtung’s definition, if harm could be prevented but is not, violence has taken place (169). He makes several distinctions of violence, including distinctions between personal and structural violence (170), intended and unintended violence (171), and manifest and latent violence (172). I appreciated his theories about structural violence, especially his argument for “cross-breeding” between personal and structural violence (178). He suggests that often situations of structural violence have a pre-history of personal violence (178), which seemed logical to me as the victims of structural violence are often the marginalized, the victims of personal violence and oppression. So, in my search for a definition of violence, Galtung’s article greatly enhanced my understanding of structural violence, which I consider an integral part of violence in general.
            The Stassen reading introduced me to a more basic, all-encompassing definition of violence. Stassen defines violence as “destruction to a victim by means that overpower the victim’s consent” (18). While Galtung’s definition of violence is based on preventability, Stassen’s definition focuses on human rights (21). While these definitions do not seem to be mutually exclusive, I most identify with Stassen’s definition and its focus on the humanity of all people. For Stassen, “the key is the authoritarian function” of violence (20). Thus, it is the action of dominating the will and human rights of another individual that constitutes violence (21). This definition transcends all categories of violence, “systemic and structural or individual, direct or indirect” (21), and provides a basic measuring stick to determine whether or not violence has been committed.
            After reading both articles and thinking about my own definition of violence, I would say that violence is harm done by means of domination. I have intentionally reworded Stassen’s definition to say that violence is “harm” instead of “destruction,” because there are many cases of violence that I would not consider destruction. For example, most cases of structural violence do not completely destroy individuals; rather, structural violence is marked by inequality, oppression, or marginalization. So, I find it more appropriate to refer to this as “harm” than “destruction.” And of course, where destruction has taken place, so too has harm.
            Using my working definition of violence, much violence takes place in the world and in our everyday lives. Harm happens. Domination happens. It is overwhelming to think about violence taking place in so many seemingly common ways, but these instances of domination and harm are often the seeds of manifest conflict. By identifying and transforming even small cases of harm and domination, my hope is that further violence can and will be prevented and seeds of peace will replace seeds of violence.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Week Two: What approach(es) do you most often have to conflict? Refer to Schirch’s essay.

              In many ways, I approach conflict relationally. In line with this approach to conflict, I often focus on structural injustice as a cause of conflict (Schirch 1). I also view conflict as a primarily relational issue, and as such I seek to transform conflict through relationships. Thus, Burton’s approach to “conflict prevention” through “the positive promotion of environments conducive to collaborative relationships,” resonated with my approach to conflict and its transformation (Schirch 6). Further, Schirch explains that Burton’s approach seeks to “construct societal structures that allow for relationships that fulfill basic human needs” (7). This quote in particular reminded me of the biblical vision of shalom, which is foundational to my understanding of peace. So, in many ways, the relational approach resonates with the ways in which I understand and seek to transform conflict.
            However, the symbolic approach to conflict is the closest to my own. To me, the symbolic approach seems to take the relational approach one step further. While the relational approach seeks to balance relationships and improve communication, the symbolic approach is an invitation to imagine entirely new ways to be in relationship and communicate (Schirch 1). The symbolic approach says that “building peace requires transforming worldviews and identities” (Schirch 11), which has been my experience in studying and striving to live peace. For me, this worldview transformation has taken place in the context of education, studying peace in a way that has expanded my mind. Just as the symbolic approach holds that “conflict begins because humans perceive the world differently” (Schirch 11), for me, peace has also begun because I have perceived the world differently through education, through transformation of my worldview. Overall, by “[working] with the worldviews of people in conflict” (Schirch 15), the symbolic approach creates space for possibility, for transformation, and ultimately for peace.
            As a whole, Schirch’s essay helped me understand that different approaches to conflict lead to different solutions for conflict. And perhaps more importantly, it helped me identify my approach to conflict, which is critical, as my approach to conflict will shape my response to conflict. Overall, the visionary, invitational qualities of the symbolic approach resonate with me. For it is in the act of invitation— inviting those in conflict to see the world and one another in a new way— that we plant the seeds of peace.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Week One: What is your metaphor for conflict? Interview someone else. What do you think his or her metaphor for conflict is? How might this affect what people do in situations of conflict?

           Because I am interested in using metaphor analysis for conflict transformation, I took the time to write out my description of the conflict that has most impacted my life in order to analyze my own conflict metaphors. My experience of this conflict very much shaped my interest in studying conflict transformation, and my memory and understanding of the situation greatly impacts my understanding of conflict; thus, I was curious to see what metaphors I would use in describing the conflict. Alarmingly, my top metaphors were of physical and verbal threat. In describing this conflict, I used words depicting physical and verbal threat more than all five of my other categories combined. This is not surprising, as I felt threatened and was threatened throughout the ongoing conflict; however, these are exceedingly negative words and phrases to mentally (and emotionally) associate with conflict, almost three years after this particular instance occurred. My other categories included conflict metaphors of force, silence and vulnerability, difficulty, illness, and fury. None of these are particularly positive metaphors of conflict, but they seemed less alarming than my strong association of conflict with threat, specifically physical threat.
            I interviewed my mother, who chose to talk about the same conflict as I had chosen to explore in my own analysis. This was not surprising, as the conflict involved my family as a whole, and it made the analysis of the metaphors especially interesting. In describing the conflict, my mother repeatedly used the natural disaster metaphor of “the perfect storm.” This metaphor reminded me of the description of natural disaster metaphors in the article “Rowboat in a Hurricane,” which explained that “the overall tone of the disaster model is negative” and it has “an overall theme of powerlessness” (McCorkle and Mills 64). My mother even touched on this theme, explaining that she thought at the time of the conflict that she was in control, but looking back she knows now she had no control at all. Thus, the use of the natural disaster metaphor “the perfect storm” makes sense as she reflects on her feelings of helplessness.
            In reflecting on the same conflict from my perspective as well as that of my mother, it is clear that our conflict metaphors are quite negative. This is normal, since “conflict metaphors are dominated by negative images” (McCorkle and Mills 58). However, conflict metaphors shape both perception of and action in conflict (McCorkle and Mills 59); therefore, in future conflicts it will be important for me to be cautious of my associating all conflict with metaphors such as physical threat. In fact, McCorkle and Mills emphasize the importance of “creating new metaphors that may offer more productive options for those in conflict” (65). This is a task that I must take on not only for my own sake, but for the sake of those with whom I will work in conflict transformation settings.
            Overall, the experience of revisiting this particular conflict was difficult and the results were alarming, but I think it was a necessary step in my journey toward peace and conflict transformation. It is critical for me to be aware of the fact that my past experiences do impact my present understanding of conflict. Until now, they have impacted that understanding in a profoundly negative way. However, now that I am aware of this reality, it is possible for me to guide myself in a more positive direction, toward imagining and employing more creative, positive metaphors for conflict.