chapters in Preparing for Peace: Conflict Transformation Across Cultures (Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1995), pp 3-23.
Summary by Tanya Glaser.
Copyright ©1997 by the Conflict Research Consortium
Lederach's experience with cross-cultural mediation training has raised questions about the relation between culture and conflict, and about the purpose and practice of mediation training. Based on his experiences, Lederach suggests a new approach to mediation training. This essay summarizes the opening chapters of the text. These chapter focus on the relation between culture and conflict, and describe a framework for understanding conflict. Subsequent chapters of the text are devoted to explaining and applying the author's approach to conflict and mediation training.
Lederach's thesis is that conflict resolution theorists "need to explore critically at a much deeper level both the content and the approach to conflict resolution training and its relationship to culture."[p. 6] He argues that cultural differences have been wrongly treated as fairly superficial.
Lederach identifies and criticizes three basic assumptions about culture implicit in current approaches to cross-cultural mediation training. First, current approaches tend to assume that current models of conflict and resolution are universally applicable, needing only fairly minor adjustments to accommodate cultural differences. Second, they assume that the cultural aspects of conflict and resolution can be accommodated by adopting the appropriate mediation techniques. Third, the appropriate techniques are simply added into the already trained mediator's repertoire of skills, and so cross-cultural training is usually presented as a form of advanced training.
Lederach's own views about culture, conflict, and the relation between them, are based in a social constructionist approach. From this point of view, "social conflict emerges and develops on the basis of the meaning and interpretation people involved attach to action and events...From this starting point, conflict is connected to meaning, meaning to knowledge, and knowledge is rooted in culture."[p. 8] The cultural differences stand at the very root of conflict. Current models of conflict may then need substantial revision to be applicable across cultures. The mere addition of special techniques to the mediator's established repertoire cannot be adequate to deal with cultural differences, which are now seen to affect the very nature of the conflict.
In order to better understand the purpose and practice of mediation training, one must first explore the purpose and goals of the field of conflict resolution more generally. Given that culture provides the ultimate foundation of conflict, what should the goal of conflict resolution be? In order to answer this question, Lederach develops a framework for understanding conflict.
The author's framework contains three main elements:
The long-term view of conflict is based on two variables: balance of power, and awareness of conflicting interests and needs. The processes of conflict and peace can both be understood as occurring within the matrix described by these two variables. Given this analysis, peacemakers face different tasks at different points in the process. When awareness is low, peacemakers should seek to educate. They should engage in advocacy and confrontation when power imbalance is great and awareness increasing. Finally, mediation is needed when awareness is high and the power is balanced enough to permit negotiation.
The ultimate goal of these peacemaking tasks is to restructure relationships to produce just and peaceful relations. Notice that from this point of view, bringing up and confronting latent conflict is not seen as increasing conflict, but is seen as an intrinsic part of the larger peacemaking process.
Lederach also feels that an adequate descriptive language is important for a full understanding of conflict and peacemaking. Originally, the task of peacemaking was described as conflict resolution. The author criticizes this description on a number of points. Resolution implies that conflict is undesirable, and should be eliminated where possible. Also, speaking in terms of resolution does not recognize the ongoing nature of the relationships in which conflict naturally occurs. Moreover, this terminology does not encourage recognition of the uses of confrontation in pursuit of justice (which is the basis of real peace). It tends to mistake the lack of overt confrontation for peace.
The language of conflict management has in many places eclipsed that of resolution. This new terminology has the advantage of recognizing the ongoing nature of relationships. However, it tends to focus too narrowly on technical management skills, neglecting the ultimate goal of justice in favor of controlling volatility.
Recently the goal of peacemaking has been described as conflict transformation. Lederach favors this description. First, the language of transformation captures the dialectical nature of conflict, and reflects a holistic approach to understanding conflict processes. Second, speaking in terms of transformation recognizes the positive potential of conflict and is consistent with social science view that conflict "moves through certain predictable phases transforming relationships and social organization."[p. 17] The term "transformation" captures conflict's potential to change parties' perceptions of self and other. This language also implies the prescription that the transformative effects of conflict should be channeled toward producing positive systemic change. Lederach concludes that "transformation as a concept is both descriptive of the conflict dynamics and prescriptive of the overall purpose that building peace pursues."[p. 18] and so is the most adequate descriptive language available.
Lederach argues for an appreciation of the place of paradox in peacemaking. He says, "A paradoxical approach suggests the energy of the [irreconcilable] ideas is enhanced if they are held together, like two sides of a coin."[p. 19] The author describes four such pairs of irreconcilable ideas which he has found to be helpful in understanding conflict, and which are "held together" within the transformative approach.
First Lederach describes the tension between the pursuit of personal transformation and systemic transformation. He argues that there are no mutually exclusive options; instead, they are interdependent. Systemic transformation facilitates personal transformation. Personal transformation promotes systemic transformation. Both must be pursued together to produce real social change.
Similarly, the demands of justice and mercy are often felt to be in tension with each other. Lederach explains that these two elements are "held together" within the relational view of the transformative approach. Justice requires building and rebuilding just communities. Communities are united by ties of trust, compassion and mercy. Thus, justice requires mercy.
Often the goal of individual empowerment seems to be in conflict with the task of cultivating recognition of individuals' interdependence. Individual's independence is thought to undermine the interdependence which brings communities together. Dependance on the community in turn seems to weaken the individual. The transformative approach however conceives of empowerment as empowerment to act within and through a community, and so reconciles this opposition also.
Finally, Lederach describes the paradox posed by commitment to process versus commitment to outcome. Which is more important, the means or the ends? He calls this the "Gandhi Dilemma," and notes that the transformative approach similarly adopts a Gandhian solution. Commitment to process becomes understood as a commitment to a particular philosophy and lifestyle: the pursuit of truth and the restoration of relationships. The desired outcome is also similarly reconceptualized as achieving commitment to truth and restoration.