Conflict transformation is a concept designed to reframe the way in which peacebuilding initiatives are discussed and pursued, particularly in contexts of ethnic conflict. Traditionally the emphasis has been on conflict resolution and conflict management methods, which focus on reducing or defusing outbreaks of hostility. Conflict transformation, in contrast, places a greater weight on addressing the underlying conditions which give rise to that conflict, preferably well in advance of any hostility, but also to ensure a sustainable peace. In other terms, it attempts to make explicit and then reshape the social structures and dynamics behind the conflict, often employing analytical tools borrowed from systems thinking. "The very structure of parties and relationships may be embedded in a pattern of conflictual relationships that extend beyond the particular site of conflict. Conflict transformation is therefore a process of engaging with and transforming the relationships, interests, discourses and, if necessary, the very constitution of society that supports the continuation of violent conflict".
Conflict transformation approaches differ from those of conflict management or conflict resolution.
Whereas conflict transformation involves transforming the relationships that support violence, conflict management approaches seek to merely manage and contain conflict, and conflict resolution approaches seek to move conflict parties away from zero-sum positions towards positive outcomes, often with the help of external actors.
Conflict transformation theory and practice are often associated with the academics and practitioners Johan Galtung and John Paul Lederach.
According to Johan Galtung's Transcend Method conflict transformation theory and practice, and process/es, comprise:
- Mapping the conflict formation: all parties, all goals, and all issues;
- Bringing in forgotten parties with important stakes in the conflict;
- Having highly empathic dialogues with all parties singly;
- Each conflict worker may specialize on one conflict party;
- In these dialogues identifying acceptable goals in all parties;
- Bringing in forgotten goals that may open new perspectives;
- Arriving at overarching goals acceptable to all parties;
- Arriving at short, evocative, goal-formulations;
- Helping define the tasks for all parties with that goal in mind;
disembedding the conflict from where it was,
embedding it elsewhere,
bringing in forgotten parties, goals;
- Verifying how realizing that goal would realize parties' goals;
- Helping parties meet at the table for self-sustaining process;
- Withdrawing from the conflict, go on to the next, being on call.
and are based upon basic premises inspired by main world religions:
- following Hindu thought...
Conflict the Destroyer and Conflict the Creator; conflict as a source of violence and conflict as a source of development. The conflict [i.e. conflict transformation] worker has the third role as Preserver, transforming the conflict by avoiding violence, promoting development.
- following Buddhist thought...
Codependent origination, everything grows together in mutual causation. Conflicts have no beginning and no end, we all share the responsibility; no single actor (like statesmen) carries all the responsibility (monopoly) and no single actor carries all the guilt.
- following Christian thought...
Ultimately, the responsibility for conflict transformation lies with individuals and their individual responsibility and decisions to act so as to promote peace rather than violence, and the principle of hope.
- following Daoist thought...
Everything is yin and yang, good and bad, there is the high likelihood that the action chosen also has negative consequences and that action not chosen may have positive consequences; hence the need for reversibility, only doing what can be undone.
- following Islamic thought...
The strength deriving from submitting together to a common goal, including the concrete responsibility for the well-being of all.
- following Judaic thought...
The truth lies less in a verbal formula than in the dialogue to arrive at the formula, and that dialogue has no beginning and no end.
According to Berghof Foundation, conflict transformation means:
- A generic, comprehensive term referring to actions and processes seeking to alter the various characteristics and manifestations of violent conflict by addressing the root causes of a particular conflict over the long term. It aims to transform negative destructive conflict into positive constructive conflict and deals with structural, behavioural and attitudinal aspects of conflict. The term refers to both the process and the completion of the process. As such, it incorporates the activities of processes such as conflict prevention and conflict resolution and goes farther than conflict settlement or conflict management.
According to Institute for Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding (ICP), conflict transformation means:
- Conflict transformation, in contrast to conflict resolution, does not only seek to resolve the contradiction in a conflict setting. It also aims at addressing structural and social root causes by challenging injustices and restoring human relations and it deals with ethnical and value-based dimensions. Conflict transformation is not only an approach or a tool but primarily a mindset. Conflict transformation, according to our 3 Cs approach, needs to be comprehensive, compassionate and creative.
According to Search for Common Ground conflict transformation initiatives are often characterized by longtime horizons and interventions at multiple levels, aimed at changing perceptions and improving communications skills addressing the roots of conflict, including inequality and social injustice.
The Principles of Conflict Transformation, by TransConflict, specify further in order to help with defining conflict transformation:
- Conflict should not be regarded as an isolated event that can be resolved or managed, but as an integral part of society's on-going evolution and development;
- Conflict should not be understood solely as an inherently negative and destructive occurrence, but rather as a potentially positive and productive force for change if harnessed constructively;
- Conflict transformation goes beyond merely seeking to contain and manage conflict, instead seeking to transform the root causes of a particular conflict;
- Conflict transformation is a long-term, gradual and complex process, requiring sustained engagement and interaction;
- Conflict transformation is not just an approach and set of techniques, but a way of thinking about and understanding conflict itself;
- Conflict transformation is particularly intended for intractable conflicts, where deep-rooted issues fuel protracted violence;
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