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.