THE PAPER | Role Of Academics in Conflict Resolution by M. William Bhaskaran

THE PAPER | Role Of Academics in Conflict Resolution by M. William Bhaskaran

By M. William Bhaskaran

Cooperation and conflict are two modes of human behavior. While the cooperative behavior promotes, by and large, social unity, cohesiveness and peace, the conflicting behavior, by and large, disrupts normalcy and development. If conflict is not properly handled, it may even lead to low intensity to high intensity and large-scale war, threatening the very existence of the human survival. At times, the cooperative behavior of a particular society or community may affect the peaceful life of others in the society. For example, the extreme form of nationalism of a particular country affects its relations with its neighboring countries. In the same way, the conflicting behavior of a given society may develop group cohesiveness and strong identity. (eg. at the time of war and emergency, people show national solidarity). Thus dealing with conflict requires enormous potentiality, skills, strategies etc. Normative forms and natural way (leaving it to its natural course of its end) of dealing conflicts very often proves stereotypic, uncreative and less effective.

Image Attribute: U.S. Naval War College

Image Attribute: U.S. Naval War College

Since the causes for the conflicts are multiple due to changing situations, the methods to deal with and respond to conflict cannot remain single and unidimensional. Albert Einstein said, "The significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them." Thus we require multiple and more creative approaches to respond to conflict to transform them more constructive and relevant to the situation. This will not happen through repetitive way of using the normative techniques of conflict resolution. Now what it requires is in depth study on various dimensions and dynamics of conflict and the more effective and creative way of coping them with to understand the various images of conflict, to stress the values on the methods of conflict resolution, to remove the existing inertia in the development and to recognition of the new techniques of conflict resolution, an in depth knowledge, awareness and creating a new outlook and understanding on conflict and conflict resolution became the need of the hour. This necessitates the need for education on conflict resolution. To bridge the gap between the knowledge and action in conflict resolution, intensive training and wider exposure in this field becomes necessary. In order to improve the human condition at the micro and macro levels, education, research and training in conflict studies that is now phrased, as 'Conflictology' is needed. This comes very much under the purview of the academic field. In this paper an attempt is made to give an overview of the concept of conflict and conflict resolution, on the various experiments undertaken in this field and efforts made by the academics in this area for the betterment of the future society and world at large.

Conflict and Conflict Resolution: An introduction

Conflict can be defined as the existence of non-compatibility or disagreements between two actors (Individuals, groups, organisations or nations) in their interaction over the issues of interests, values, beliefs, emotions, goals, space, positions, scarce resources etc. According to Fink, conflict is defined as any "situation or process in which two or more social entities are linked by at least one form of antagonistic psychological relation or at least one form of antagonistic interaction" (Fink,1968, p.456)

Psychological antagonisms include such things as incompatible goals, mutually exclusive interests, emotional hostility, factual or value dissensions and traditional enmities; while antagonistic interactions "range from the most direct, violent and unregulated struggle to the most subtle, indirect and highly regulated forms of mutual interference." (Fink, 1968, p.456)

Conflict is also defined as "A struggle over values and claims to scarce status, power and resources, a struggle in which the aims of opponents are to neutralize, injure or eliminate rivals." (Lewis Coser, 1956,P.8).

Galtung describes conflict as "Some type of incompatibility, one goal stands in the way of another. He explains his theory of conflict through the triangle model. He narrates that "Conflict may take two forms. in the less crystallized form it is an incompatibility between the objective interests of parties in a society. In its crystallized form it is an incompatibility between the subjective goals of action in a society." (Galtung, 1992, p.54)

Attitudes and behavior are usually assumed to be negative when they are related to conflict. These negative manifestations can take the form of sudden bursts of hatred or direct violence. But they can also take the more institutionalized form of generalized social distance and structural violence.

Generally speaking, the less crystallized the conflict, the more structural the negative manifestations (social distance and structural violence). It is when the conflict crystallizes the non-structural bursts of hatred and direct violence occur. It is usually in this stage that escalation takes place and conflict generally attracts much more attention. Galtung sees conflict as the expression of objective, structural dichotomy (asymmetrical relationship / interaction between top dog and underdog).

Based on the different expressions and terminologies used to describe the term conflict, Conflict theories are conceptualized and classified the theory of: 

  1. Individual characteristics theories look at social conflict in terms of the nature of the individuals who are involved.
  2. Social process theories look at conflict as a process of social interaction between individuals or groups and seek to make generalisations about the nature of this process.
  3. Social structural theories look at conflict as a product of the way society is formed and organised.
  4. Formal theories seek to understand human social conflicts in logical and mathematical terms (conflict as drama and game)". Schellenberg,1996.p.13).
Conflict is further classified into destructive and constructive conflicts on the basis of the conflict process. Deutsch defines this as "a conflict clearly has destructive consequences if its participants are dissatisfied with the outcomes and they feel they have lost as a result of the conflict. Similarly, a conflict has productive consequences if the participants are satisfied with their outcomes and feel that they have not lost as a result of the conflict". (Deutsch, 1973,p.17).

Destructive conflicts tend to escalate a cyclic conflict and violence and may develop conflict helix. However, Deutsch's explanation points out that conflicts can be transformed into productive, if it is dealt in a cooperative rather than in a competitive way. Cooperative behavior springs out when the conflicting parties understand the nature and dynamics of conflict, dispels the misconception of conflict as complex, violent, destructive, threatening, humiliate and dangerous and develops the knowledge, skills and the ways of dealing with conflicts.

Ways of Dealing Conflicts :

Conflicts are intrinsically not bad or destructive. It depends upon how it is being waged to arrive at its end product, which is subject to moral judgment. "Social conflict can be waged destructively and can end in chaos. But it can also be waged constructively; it can be creative and can eventuate in a new and more harmonious and encompassing social organization that existed prior to its initiation and resolution." (Pelton,1974,p.194). Conflicts can be waged in different ways for their settlement. The methods are varied in its natural functionality and in its settlement pattern. Some of the methods are more flexible and creative in nature while others are rigid and stereotypic. These methods are as follows:

I. Avoidance:

The interaction between the conflicting parties are withdrawn or suspended temporarily or permanently by keeping distance from each other unilaterally or bilaterally or forcibly. "There are three forms of avoidance. One party may simply remove itself from the field; the avoiding party here does all the work here." (Boulding, 1962,p.309). It is called withdrawal. This kind of behavior may be due to fear or feeling powerless, disinterest in pursuing them or for strategic reasons.

The second form of avoidance is both the parties may remove themselves, though this is less likely, as once one party begins to remove itself, there is little incentive for the others to move.

The third form is where one party forcibly removes the other. This is called conquest. Conquest is the extreme form of avoidance in which one party removes forcibly others, temporarily or permanently, with coercion, which may be organised successfully. Very often this is responded with stiff opposition, resistance, other aggressive ways and violence.

II. Procedural Resolution of Conflict:

If parties can neither conquer nor avoid each other, some form of procedural resolution of conflict is likely. (Boulding, 1962,p.309). In the procedural way of dealing conflict, the parties have to stay together and cooperate with each other directly or indirectly to find a solution. Some of the major approaches in the procedural methods are:

  1. Negotiation and bargaining or involving the parties in a process of discussion, which seeks to bring them into voluntary agreement. 
  2. Adjudication or using the power of the state and its legal system to provide an authoritative conclusion.
  3. Mediation or using a third party to help the conflicting parties come to a mutually satisfactory agreement.
  4. Arbitration or using a third party to decide, through prior mutual consent, the issues in dispute." (Schellenberg,1996.p.13).
  5. "Hybrid procedures in which both mediation and arbitration components are utilized fully: Mediation-arbitration and Arbitration-mediation." (Ross & Colon, 2000,p.3).
The conflict can be terminated or concluded in three ways through the procedural methods of dealing conflict. They are Reconciliation, Compromise and Award (Boulding,1962, p.310).

In Reconciliation, the value systems and differing images of each party undergoes dramatic change, which accelerates the process of mutually agreeable preference or solution to end the conflict.

Compromise is the position in which the conflicting parties do not alter their value system, however, they mutually agree to find more pragmatic and less idealistic solution rather than continue the conflict. Compromise is arrived mostly through bargaining in which parties are willing to give up some of their demands in favor of arriving at a solution.

Award is a kind of settlement in which the solution comes in the form of verdict of an outside person or agency with which the parties agreed to accept. Awards are being used in Arbitration and Adjudication.

Now the conflictologists broadly classify the different means of dealing conflicts into two broader concepts. "The first is general and refers to any strategy that brings a socially visible or public episode of conflicts to an end." (Avrach, 1998,p.26). It is otherwise called "Genuine Conflict resolution" in which most of the procedural ways of dealing conflict come in. It aims "somehow to get to the root causes of a conflict and not merely to treat its episode or symptomatic manifestation, that is, a particular dispute." (Avrach, 1998,p.21).

The second concept arises "with the formal emergence of the field or quasi discipline of conflict resolution." (Avrach, 1998,p.11). This tries to define the conflict resolution process more narrowly and precisely and differentiate the 'genuine conflict resolution' from the different forms of conflict resolution process such as 'conflict management', 'conflict regulation', 'conflict prevention', 'dispute settlement', or 'conflict mitigation'.

This overview about conflict and conflict resolution reveals that this field has been growing academically in various parts of the world. But the practicability and acceptability of this method have not so far gained ground in India and in many parts of the world due to lack of information on the efficacy of these methods, mis-perception on the methods of conflict and conflict resolution, unavailability of organizational and training facilities to undertake the work and more reliance and unavoidability of traditional and normative forms of conflict resolution systems (police, court and panchayat bodies), and discouragement of the existing conflict dealing system towards the new creative approach of conflict resolution. However this area needs more systematic enquiry and analysis before generalizing the reasons for the non-acceptance of the public.

Need for the Academic Inputs in Conflict Resolution

Academics, Educationists, freelancers and kindred souls have a seminal role to play in the conflict prone era of our time. Conflicts are manifold, cumbersome and chronic. As 'think-tanks' and 'knowledge-reservoirs', academics could intervene to resolve issues ancient or recent. Our contemporary world faces value crisis, character crisis, moral crisis and ethical crisis. The role of the academics in the field of conflict resolution may be classified and analyses fewer than three categories Viz. Issue- based, Value-based and Need- based.

Issue- based:

The issues and conflicts the humanity encounters at the micro and macro levels are innumerable and unsurmounting. Most of them are cyclic, inter-related and chronicle. Since the conventional ways of dealing conflicts were used in most of these conflicts, the end point of one conflict becomes the beginning of another one and develops conflict helix. Some of these issues are broadly identified as follows by Klare:

  1. Regional conflicts between local rivals, or between a rising Third world power and one (or most) of the established major powers.
  2. Resource wars, sparked by conflicts between states or groups over the control or possession of vital resources like water, energy or mineral supplies.
  3. Separatist and nationalist conflicts, involving attempts to by subordinated ethnonationalist groups to establish their own nation-state.
  4. Irredentist conflicts, involving efforts by a particular ethno-nationalist group to expand the boundaries of its current state to encompass neighboring areas inhabited by members of the same group.
  5. Ethnic, religious and tribal power struggles, entailing conflicts within states over the distribution of land, jobs, aid funds and other national resources.
  6. Revolutionary and fundamentalist struggles, involving efforts by ideologically motivated movements (including religious fundamentalists) to impose a particular type of social system on a country through the use of force.
  7. Pre-democracy and anti-colonial struggles, entailing efforts by unrepresentative or colonized peoples to achieve freedom and democracy. A related phenomenon is the struggle of indigenous peoples to gain greatest rights and autonomy." (Klare, 1994,p.97)
But, ample prior experiments and examples are also available for the peaceful resolution of these types of issues in the past. Now these examples have to be systematically explored and presented to the future generation. Dr. Gene Sharp and Dr. Johan Galtung in modern times have done pioneering research on these issues.

Value- Based:

Values are very important phenomena for community life. The value differences or incompatibility between people very often develop conflicts which are invisible, subtle, vicious and very difficult to resolve by using the normative ways of dealing conflict. This requires multifarious approaches and standards to change and create the value structure of someone to bring peace and harmony with others. The value-based approach has two dimensions, which are related to one another i.e., value conflict and value crisis and value based conflict resolution.

Value conflict:

It occurs when the value of one social group/individual is viewed / considered as less significant or marginalized by another group/individual. For example, Cultural clashes in the western and eastern society over individualism vs. collectivism, temporal authority vs. spiritual authority and masculinity vs. feminity etc. Scholars say "the mere existence of cultural difference (conceived as values, ideologies, beliefs) is sufficient to cause conflict" (Avruch, 1998,p.29) and conflicts are protracted unnecessarily just because inalienable values are translated into interests merely to fit into the traditional process of bargaining and negotiation.(Burton,1986,p.51-52). But these values differ from culture to culture and from one social set up to another. The importance of the value also undergoes changes and the altered importance may develop a new incompatible position among people.

Value Crisis:

It is the outcome of the weakening of human values and standards in the individual and social life. It destabilizes the society and nation by creating disruption and disharmony among the people. For example, Prof. Huntington observed the manifestation of moral decline in the west as follows:

  1. "Increases in anti social behavior, such as crime, drug use, and violence generally;
  2. Family decays, including increased rates of divorce, illegitimacy, teen age pregnancy and single parent families;
  3. At least in the United States, a decline in 'Social Capital', that is ,membership in voluntary associations and the interpersonal trust associated with such membership;
  4. General weakening of the 'work ethic' and rise of a cult of personal indulgence;
  5. Decreasing commitment to learning and intellectual activity." (Huntington, 1997,p.304)
The process of cultural diffusion and imitation fanned by the mass communication and migration have more probability in spreading the impact of moral declination to the other parts of the world and that may create total chaos and disruption every where. All these need to be taught to the people with proper illustrations.

Value Based Conflict Resolution:

Reflections on the history of conflict resolution show that mere strategies, tactics and other methods devoid of moral and ethical values have not brought expected yield in the conflict resolution process. Temporal settlement of conflict might be the outcome of the above said ways of dealing conflicts but not the resolution. "Resolution aims somehow to get to the root causes of the conflict and not merely to treat its episodic or symptomatic manifestation, that is, particular dispute." (Avruch, 1998, p.26). Getting into the root causes of a conflict means changing or improving the value preferences of one and this makes the adversaries to achieve future conflict free position. Kriesberg explains this as "seeking to advance social justice,...fostering mercy and forgiveness, sustaining stability and order and avoiding cruelty". To make peace, prepare for war cannot be a dictum any more. Moral and spiritual powers are so essential as the skills of negotiation, mediation and other conflict dealing methods. In the last century, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and many other leaders have proved this. For them, looking into Truth is not only essential to reveal the mystery of science but also important to remove the spiritual darkness which causes the human apathy towards morality and ethics which governs the integrity of human behavior towards others. Conflictologists like John Burton identified and emphasized the "value first approach" in the problem solving process. (Druckman,1988, p.491). This has to be nurtured in the minds of children to attain proper conflict resolution.

Need- Based:

Searching for new alternatives to prevent and resolve, to intervene and regulate conflicts and initiating new approaches and agencies to meet out the need of humanity to face conflict in the changing situation compels the academics to ponder over this area closer and deeper than ever before. The demand to evolve and strengthen the patterns, methods, approaches and agencies are increasing day by day.

In the field of conflict resolution, changing of single-track approach into multi-track approach (unofficial and peoples initiatives) in solving disputes brought significant changes not only in the field but also in the role of actors who are involved in the process. Mc Donald, the founder and chairman of the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy identified and distinguished nine actor categories or tracks: governments, professional organizations, the community, churches, media, private citizens, training and educational institutes, activists and funding organizations for resolving conflicts. The multiplicity of the actors and agencies involved in this field indicates the expansion of this field. As far as the methods are concern the evolution of "hybrid third-party dispute resolution" procedures and the developments of new techniques show the development of new dimensions in this field. "By hybrid we mean procedures that combine elements of mediation and arbitration." (Ross, 2000,p.416)

It raises the hope that the conventional methods with coercive techniques will fade away if the initiatives to improve the procedural conduct of conflicts are strengthened. But people in general are not aware of the changes since most of these changes are understood and felt only in established institution or organization i.e., in the field of management or international relations and related areas. Therefore, development of awareness about changes in the field of conflict resolution among people becomes necessary.

Likewise, the contemporary world is now experiencing the shift from the sole reliance on governmental agencies for the resolution of conflict to Non-governmental organizations (NGO's & INGO's), People's diplomacy and Social Movement (Non-state actors). This trend has started proliferating throughout the world. Elise Boulding predicts that "It seems inevitable that INGO's will continue to grow, develop and change in ways that will make them more adequate representatives of the world's people...become more responsive to world's needs" (Boulding, 1990,p.54). People's diplomacy is a more specific term referring particularly to bring about the nonviolent resolution of conflict. (Simona aroni,2001). Thus the combined efforts of NGO's, INGO's, social movements and private citizens to conflict resolution are viable, effective and dynamic. To make people to move in this direction academics have to work hard through their research, teaching and training.

According to Diamond and Mac Donald, these initiatives are designed:

  1. To reduce or resolve conflict between groups or nations by improving communications, understanding and relationships;
  2. To lower tension, anger, fear or misunderstanding by humanizing the "face of the enemy" and giving people direct personal experience of one another;
  3. To affect the thinking and action of track one (i.e., official diplomacy, by exploring diplomatic options without prejudice, thereby preparing the ground for more formal negotiations or for re-framing polices." (Simona Sharoni, 2001,p.).
Academics and Conflict Resolution: Experiences and Explorations.

The involvement of academics in the field of conflict studies and resolution are multifarious and transdisciplinary one. Wider recognition and practice of multi-track approach in conflict resolution strategies admits academics as one of the important actors in the process of dealing conflict.

Many examples and experiments set in the past history and setting in the present time may promote deeper exploration into the field of conflict resolution at the micro and macro levels. Examining the various experiences and exploring new and creative alternatives in this field may clearly define the role of academics in the future.

Concretization Process:

Awakening people from the darkness of social injustice, irrational beliefs, illiteracy, and inhuman practices, which cause conflict, is one of the foremost functions of the academics. This may prevent the future conflict and give detailed information about the present one to deal with it effectively. In Chile, Paulo Freire developed this consciousness raising process and activated the human rights and other local groups to resist the unjust social system and government. When mass media projects sensitive aspects of conflict, academics could use the research findings to suggest meaningful alternatives to conflict resolution. For example, during the Cauvery issue in 2002, media and politicians sensitized the issue by exposing the negative side of the issue and created confrontational attitude between the people of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. In this context a few alternatives were suggested to cope up with this issue without affecting both the states. When temporary measures are taken to ease the situation and lessen the crisis, the process to find alternative solutions become wane and the core issues like sharing of water resources, careful utilization of rare resources and reactionary mass behaviour of people are kept untouched. Though it is a long-term process the academic community can play a multiple role to reduce the tension and help to arrive a mutually agreeable solution by changing the negative situation through constant propaganda and other educational measures.

Information Sharing and Dissemination :

Academics would share the information, which are essential for conflict prevention, resolution and conflict free society with the members of a community and world at large. This can be done in many ways. n sharing of conflict resolution case studies and models organizing seminars and workshops n developing website in this field n organizing orientation and refresher courses for teachers who are interested to disseminate these ideas n developing net work with academic community, NGO's and governmental agencies, etc.

Lobby Creation and Advocacy:

The intellectuals can play an important role in promoting the conflict resolution process done by the government agencies. They can also advise the government to frame the national policy to deal with conflicts and to maintain internal cohesiveness. The OSLO Peace Agreement signed by Israel and Palestinian government in 1993 was the outcome of the two academics Mr. Yair Hirschfed, a History professor from Israel and Mr. Ahmed Kriah , Head of the PLO's Economics Department who met in London by breaking their respective government laws. Prof. Hirschfed's partner Ron Pundock, a research fellow in history, recalled that "nobody believed that out of this funny meeting in London, involving an academic and someone who is not a high ranking politician, something big would happen" (Time, 1993. p.22).

In the same way the academics can do advocacy to Government and NGOs on communal issues and on other conflicts based on their research findings.

Skills Training :

Conflict resolution process requires a variety of skills and intensive training programmes to impart these skills. This training could be organised and given to the facilitators and to the members of civic bodies by the people specialising in training programmes. Academics play a key role in this process. "Conflict resolution training helps individuals and groups to manage or resolve conflict situations within or between groups. Some of the skills include: negotiation/mediation, dialogue skills, third party presence techniques, and non-violent intervention". (Coover, 1985, pp.157-158). Some of the training methods are as follows: Role play, Brain Storming, Simulation Game, Situation Analysis, Strategy Game, Vision Gallery, Scenario Writing and Sharing, Force Field Analysis, Quick Decision Making, Flow Chart, etc. Fan Harris, a trainer in conflict resolution reported that in New York, Resolving Conflict Creativity Programme was organised for teachers and to quote "that trained teachers in various aspects of peace education, most specifically social emotional literacy, bias awareness and conflict resolution" (Spring 2000 p402). He also quoted Eckhand saying that "after peace education training, college students have a change in their attitudes towards peace and away from violence" (Spring 2000 p404). Many such training programmes are going on everywhere. Shanti Sena training to students in Gandhigram Rural Institute and Alternative to Violence Project training programmes are some of the worth mentioning programmes in India. Dr. N. Radhakrishnan, Shri. Narayan Desai, Shri. Subba Rao and many others have been training the youth in different parts of India and abroad in various capacities.

Conflict Resolution Process :

This process requires more specialization and expertise in this field. Academics can play a greater role of mediator or facilitator and negotiator in certain circumstances and as arbitrator in some other time to resolve conflict. At the time of conflict escalating into violence, the academics as a third force, can organize Peace Marches, Peace Prayers and use other intervention techniques to avert the conflict from further deterioration. This also involves organization building in which the academics can motivate people to take up this task and to support these institutions. Many academics are connected with such organization in one way or another, throughout the world. During Gandhiji's time the principal of the Gujarat Vidyapith acted as an arbitrator in the Ahmedabad mill workers satyagraha in 1917. In Gandhigram, the staff members of Shanti Sena programme acted as mediator to resolve the communal conflicts of A. Vellodu near Gandhigram and the caste conflicts in Theni districts in Tamil Nadu.

Research :

Research in conflict resolution has a wide range of activities starting from fact finding to forecasting future conflict. Intensive research is needed in verifying the effectiveness of different conflicts resolution methods, documenting many case studies, identifying chronic areas of conflicts and traditional and local conflict resolution methods and skills, and analyzing the causes and effects of conflict etc. Conflict forecasting and identifying the chronic areas of conflicts help people to prevent violent conflicts. In Madurai Kamaraj University, Tamil Nadu, India, many scholars have been doing research in the field of conflict studies under the guidance of Dr. S. Jeyapragasam. Many more such research works are needed to prevent and resolve conflicts.

Conclusion :

We are passing through the era of information. Information is considered one of the main sources of power. Academics as the upholders of this power have significant role to play in the field of conflict resolution through their educational activities such as teaching, research and training. Intellectuals as the responsible citizens of this civic society are bound to do this work not only to make the world free from destructive conflict but also to create an atmosphere where the conflict can be resolved creatively and effectively.

About The Author:

M.William Baskaran, Professor & Head, Department of Gandhian Thought and Peace Science. Dean, Faculty of Rural Social Sciences, Gandhigram Rural University (GRU). 


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Source: International Seminar on Conflict Resolution
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