Mark Howard Ross, The Management of Conflict

New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1993), 226 pp.

Summary by Tanya Glaser.

Copyright 1997 by the Conflict Research Consortium


TOPICS:

Understanding core interests; Communication and the limiting of misunderstandings; Escalation control; conflict transformation; written for first and third party participants.

ABSTRACT:

The Management of Conflict examines the role of cultural interpretations and structural interests in conflict and conflict management. It also presents a theoretical framework for constructive conflict management.

The Management of Conflict will be of interest to those who seek a better understanding of the importance of cultural differences to conflict and conflict management strategies. This work is divided into nine chapters. Chapter One introduces the author's project, opening with a case study of a 1989 dispute regarding the wearing of Islamic head-scarves in French schools. Ross cites this as an instance of conflict management failure. He uses the case to describe more generally how attempts at conflict management can fail. Cultural differences play a key role in such conflicts. Effective conflict management must be sensitive to such cultural differences.

Chapter Two reviews the author's previous work on cross-cultural conflict. Ross' model of conflict emphasizes structural interests and psychocultural interpretations as key elements in understanding conflicts. Ross argues that, "to be effective, peace-making must both bridge the parties' differences in interests and consider disputants' deep hurts and the strong distrust of adversaries."[p. 17] In Chapter Three Ross elaborates the notion of the constructive conflict society. He examines a number of low-conflict societies in order to identify the features of those cultures which tend to make conflicts manageable and constructive. Ross finds constructive conflict societies are generally warm and affectionate, link individual and community interests, make third-party conflict management assistance available, and emphasize joint problem-solving. Such societies are generally harmonious, and have conflict avoidance strategies available, including viable exit options.

Chapters Four and Five explore connections between conflict and conflict management. Chapter Four describes the processes of conflict, and of conflict management. Parties' interests and interpretations change during both processes. The author distinguishes between those changes which lead toward a settlement, and those changes which lead the parties deeper into conflict. Constructive changes include shifts from general grievances to specific demands, clarification of interests and identification of common interests. Chapter Five describes three conflict management strategies: joint problem-solving, third-party decision-making, and self-help. Ross asks how effective each strategy is in producing constructive changes in disputants' interests and interpretations.

The following two chapters draw upon the previously described framework to evaluate the management of various disputes. Chapter Six presents cases of successful conflict management. Success in conflict management is rarely absolute. Rather, success is to be measured by the degree to which conflict management improves the original unmanaged situation. Improvement is itself a complex and culturally influenced idea. Ross discusses various criteria by which to measure improvement. Chapter Seven analyses failed attempts at conflict management, in order to further understand, by contrast, what makes for successful conflict management.

Chapter Eight focuses on psychocultural interpretations. Ross argues that "addressing disputants' mutually hostile psychocultural interpretations is necessary in order to deal effectively with conflicts over divergent interests, particularly in bitter disputes."[p. 16] He describes positive changes in psychocultural attitudes. He then evaluates the effectiveness of various conflict management strategies at promoting positive interpretations. Strategies evaluated include Track Two diplomacy, personal and cultural exchanges, and problem-solving workshops.

Chapter Nine concludes this text by stressing the need for a model of successful conflict management, which can then serve as a guide for future conflict management attempts. Drawing upon his findings, Ross sketches some of the features that such a model should include. A model of effective conflict management must recognize conflict to be a cultural process, must recognize the relation between how conflict is perceived and how it is managed, and must recognize the importance of psychocultural interpretations in both shaping and resolving conflict.

The Management of Conflict explores the role of cultural differences and attitudes in shaping effective conflict management strategies. Various case studies support and illustrate the author's arguments.

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