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.