High-profile, consensus-centered solutions on the level of positions and interests, which do not involve society, fail to address the relational, organizational, and communicational patterns embedded in and changed by a conflict, as well as the altered images, confronting positions and discourses produced by those; thus, do not eradicate the latent dimensions of conflict. Conflict transformation is therefore a process of engaging with and transforming the relationships, interests, discourses and, if necessary, the constitution of society that supports the continuation of violent conflict.
|Suggested Reading||Conflict Background||GCCT|
By Derya Yüksek
Can we define where conflicts begin and end? Do top-down initiatives, official negotiations or “peace talks” guarantee reconciliation of a conflict? What do these initiatives provide for the communities that have been involved in violent conflicts, and which role these communities may play in the peacebuilding processes?
There are three separate schools within the overall field of peacebuilding, which not only articulate varying approaches to conflict intervention, but also reflect different conceptualisations of conflict (Miall, 2004). As opposed to conflict management theorists emphasizing the conflicted values and interests and the power-political dimension of these conflicts, where the best solution would be to manage and contain the conflict and reach a historic compromise, conflict resolution theorists emphasize the entreched positions of conflict parties, and focus on analyzing the root causes and identifying creative solutions with the aim to attain win-win solutions.
On the other hand, conflict transformation theorists (Galtung, 1969; 1996; Senghaas 1973; Krippendorf, 1973; Curle, 1971; Azar, 1990; Lederach, 1989, 1996, 2000; Miall, 2004; et. all) argue that contemporary conflicts require more than the reframing of positions and the identification of win-win outcomes. High-profile, consensus-centered solutions on the level of positions and interests, which do not involve society, fail to address the relational, organizational, and communicational patterns embedded in and changed by a conflict, as well as the altered images, confronting positions and discourses produced by those; thus, do not eradicate the latent dimensions of conflict. Conflict transformation is therefore a process of engaging with and transforming the relationships, interests, discourses and, if necessary, the constitution of society that supports the continuation of violent conflict. Effective conflict transformation may work to improve mutual understanding even when people’s interests, values and needs are different -even non-reconcilable; articulate non-violent means of expression (Lederach, 1996); and address structural dimensions of conflict, including inequality and social injustice. This approach focuses beyond the resolution of an episode of conflict and addresses its epicenter -negotiating both solutions, and initiatives for social change. This process necessitates longer term, bottom-up grassroots work (Lederach, 2003) and building of peace constituencies at the grassroots level (Rupesinghe, 1995, 1998).
There is a similar debate within the extended realm of politics analyzing the depths of the same problem, by questioning if consensus is ever possible in a socio-political framework. According to the modernist discourse; rational, consensual decisions may be reached through a ‘reasoned and inclusive public deliberation’ with the force of the best argument (Habermas, 1984, 1995). This view has been largely challenged by post modernist critiques (Laclau, Mouffe, 1985; Connoly, 1993; Schaap, 2006), pointing that this ‘idealized’ view neglects the power relations that frame the hegemonic discourses at a given time, and therefore, the rationality, legitimacy and “goodness” of arguments, which are by-products of social constructions built by powers and metaphors that are not inherently rational. Radically asserting the impossibility of an absolute consensus due to this distorted perception of rationality and the inevitability of exclusion in a hegemonic order, Mouffe (2000, 2005) proposes an agonistic model focusing on the transformation of enemies into adversaries within a necessarily conflictual democratic framework. Seeing the conflict ‘as a structuring societal force’ and acknowledging ‘its crucial role in the shaping of much esteemed societal consensuses’ (Carpentier and Cammaerts, 2006), Mouffe further suggests that ‘the democratic challenge is to transform an antagonistic relation’ based on a collective identity construction in terms of we/they discrimination, into an agonistic one, based on ‘recognizing the legitimacy of their opponents and seeing them as adversaries’. This ‘vibrant agonistic public sphere of contestation’ would not aim at impossible reconciliations or unifications, but promote an ‘agonistic debate rather than a pacified dialogue’ (Engel, 2006).
Built upon the Foucauldian conception of power and Gramscian notion of (expansive) hegemony, this model also entails creating a chain of equivalence among the various democratic struggles, and suggests that the same power relations may be changed through political articulation of different identities into a common project. From the perspective of conflict theory, this kind of an agonistic space, allowing for the non-violent expression and contestation of conflicts, provides an enabling environment for conflict transformation.
However, bringing adversaries together in divided societies to create a broader social change requires more than an enabling environment, in order to prevent ‘reification of existing identities’ and ‘continuation of antagonism in the public sphere’ (Schaap, 2006; Deveaux, 1999) that might be brought about by the vibrant clashes suggested by Mouffe. This process calls for cooperation and joint action, based on mutual trust and accountability. So, given the aims of the agonistic model, is it possible to go one step further and transform an “adversary” to a “collaborator” or even a “team mate”?
One technique to do this is to engage people from the different sides of a conflict in joint projects. Experiences show that if opponents can be brought together in some cooperative endeavor, they tend to break down their negative stereotypes, begin to depend on each other, and start building normal, positive relationships which can later be extended to issues in conflict (Ryann; Yevsyukov; Glayser, 1996). The common characteristic of these interventions is that they support the culture of coexistence, and promote cooperation among “enemies” or “adversaries” of the past. Such productive, apolitical engagement has the potential to gradually encourage conflicted groups to accept one another as members of the same community and restore communication between them (Chayes and Minow, 2003).
These projects are intended to lead to bottom-up transformations that can then spread to society as a whole. They focus on the empowerment of society; enabling reciprocal social relations, and encouraging conflicted parties to act together around the commons. This brings about a dynamic reconstruction process in the society, providing a space for a stronger democracy and allowing for a common construction of the reality at the grassroots level.
Derya Yuksek is a researcher and peace activist from Turkey. With a specialization on cooperation projects and EU policies, she works as a project manager and consultant designing and coordinating projects that foster international partnerships in the field of art, culture, education, media, and peacebuilding.
- Carpentier, N., Cammaerts, B. (2006), ‘Hegemony, democracy, agonism and journalism: an interview with Chantal Mouffe’, Journalism Studies, 7(6), pp.964-975.
- Engel, A. (2006),’Chantal Mouffe 2005. On the Political. Debate rather than Dialogue’, Redescriptions Yearbook of Political Thought and Conceptual History, vol.10, pp. 196-202.
- Habermas, J., McCarthy T. (1984), The Theory of Communicative Action, Beacon Press Boston.
- Harvey, K. (2012), ‘Democratic Agonism: Conflict and Contestation in Divided Societies’, E-IR Publications.
- Laclau, E., Mouffe, C. (1985) Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. London: Verso.
- Lederach, J. P. (2003) The Little Book of Conflict Transformation, Good Books.
- Miall, H. (2004), ‘Conflict Transformation: A Multi-Dimensional Task’, Berghof Handbook for Conflict Transformation, Berghof Research Center for Constructive Conflict Management.
- Mouffe, C. (2000), The Democratic Paradox, London – New York: Verso.
- Smith, D.W. (2007), ‘DeLeuze and the Question of Desire: Towards an Immanent Theory of Ethics’, Parrhesia Journal, Number 2, pp. 66-78.