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.

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