Working Paper #95-20(1)

By Paul Wehr, Ph.D., Guy Burgess, Ph.D., and Heidi Burgess, Ph.D.

Department of Sociology

University of Colorado, Boulder

This paper was written with a small grant from the Conflict Resolution Consortium, University of Colorado. Funding for the Consortium and its Small Grants Program was provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The statements and ideas presented in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Conflict Resolution Consortium, the University of Colorado, or the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. For more information, contact the Conflict Resolution Consortium, Campus Box 327, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309-0327. Phone: (303) 492-1635, e-mail: crc@cubldr.colorado.edu.

Copyright (C) 1995. Drs. Wehr, Burgess, and Burgess. Do not reprint without permission.


Conflict specialists must struggle with an ever growing volume of conflict-relevant written information. Sifting and distilling it efficiently for the most important and appropriate concepts and methods has become a serious problem for them. The authors explore four computer-facilitated routes to the core knowledge conflict researchers and practitioners need to know: computer-guided literature searching, modules for connecting theory with practice, distance learning, and direct electronic exchange of personal application experience. User scenarios suggest how the approaches might actually work for practitioners in the field.

How can peace and conflict research be made more useful for both those who study deep conflict and those who intervene to moderate it? While social scientists have long long sought to inform the resolution of intergroup and international conflict, too little of our research seems to have found its way into practice. Yet the volume of conflict literature continues to expand. Journals and databases proliferate among us. Written material of every sort floods the researcher and overwhelms the practitioner. Confronted with such information overload, conflict specialists simply miss potentially useful research they have neither the means to identify nor the time to read. New ways must be found to organize and distill written conflict knowledge for researcher and practitioner alike. Getting it to users more efficiently is the problem we address in this article.

We discuss four ways current information technology might facilitate the utilization of conflict knowledge. The first involves search systems which help one locate written information on a specific topic, filtering out extraneous material to identify the core literature. We suggest how searching could be usefully linked to electronic publishing as it develops, with its dramatically lower costs and hypertext capabilities. Second, we consider conceptual approaches to bridging theory and practice for neutral third party intervenors and other in-the-field specialists. The theoretical utility module is presented as one device for rendering conflict theoretical concepts more practically useful. Third, we discuss interactive distance learning--an approach which circulates conflict knowledge through the Internet. The development of interactive simulation and case study analysis is at the center of that discussion. Finally, we address how information technologies can speed the exchange of information and experience among geographically scattered researchers and practitioners. In such exchanges, practitioners identify problems for future research, record their field experience with different conflict moderation methods and suggest improvements. Researchers, in turn, suggest theory to clarify conflict processes for practitioners, and evaluate specific intervention methods being used in particular conflict situations. They also modify theory on the basis of practitioner experience with it.

We will explore options in each of these areas. Sometimes we may simply refer to widely available, commonly used information services, suggesting how their more effective use could enhance conflict research. In other instances, we presage some possible benefits for conflict knowledge exchange from technologies soon to become widely available.


Conflict specialists simply are confronted with too much information, with inadequate ways of finding it and drawing what they need from it. Our concern with the conflict information overload problem has deepened as we have built the Information Exchange at the University of Colorado.(2) Despite our best intentions of gathering only the most important literature in peace and conflict research, the database now contains over 60,000 entries. While scanning it can be useful, it's sheer volume discourages potential users and makes it difficult to manipulate. How does one find precisely the information one needs in such a bibliography?

Conflict information overload has been exacerbated by the development of global search capabilities and electronic publishing, which continually add information. Scholars waste precious resources sifting through masses of information for the core literature which, from their perspective, really matters. In the field, conflict specialists miss valuable knowledge because they cannot review all the research relevant for a particular case. Large amounts of unorganized information do not yield the situation-specific knowledge they need.

Better ways can be designed to eliminate duplication in and synthesize conflict information, and make it accessible to users at reasonable cost. A conflict knowledge locating system should allow users to search the conflict literature base for publications of potential interest, and quickly review them for relevance. Preferably, such a search system could also identify sections within publications dealing with particular topics. There already exist

computer methods which perform these search, retrieval, and review functions separately, but combining them in a single system would be a formidable task of some years duration. It will be done, but not soon.

As an interim alternative to such an integrated search system, we will present a series of computer-guided steps permitting searchers to progressively focus on those parts of the conflict knowledge literature base most useful for their work. We designed such a narrowing process for developing a select bibliography of the literature on racial and ethnic conflict. We chose that subset of the conflict literature for it's current prominence in national and global affairs. Like others reviewing a particular literature would be, we were unfamiliar with many of its key authors and ideas. We set out to find the core of the ethnic conflict literature--a subfield of the larger base of conflict and peace research literature. It overlaps the writing in other peace and conflict subfields such as mediation, diplomatic history, and nonviolent action. A literature base contains theory building and application, case studies, and data. Our goals in that project were to identify the essential literature in that base, and organize it for accessibility to teachers and researchers. We produced a 57-entry bibliography with companion computer file.

The Nature and Importance of the Core

Conflict specialists must be able to distinguish within the knowledge base those theories, case studies and data of primary relevance for their immediate problem from those peripheral to it. Those core writings represent a field's key ideas- -the crucial material a person working in that area should know. The core-searching process, then, must identify centrality and minimize duplication. The term "core" suggests densely packed concepts and techniques at the center of a field of knowledge...a web of interrelated ideas and methods. It is a conceptual system that organizes that field and identifies its areas of strength and weakness for those working in it. The core is continually evolving, not a static body of knowledge. And in conflict knowledge, such a core is beginning to form.

A knowledge core takes two principal forms. First, there is the theoretical and analytical written knowledge. Second, there is the practical knowledge of real world application, the "folk knowledge" of practitioners, lay and professional, most of which has not been published. The first type is being gathered and becoming available in databases, searchable with such techniques as we will shortly describe. The practical knowledge, however, remains largely to be gathered and widely shared. Later in the paper, we will suggest how the written and the experienced forms of conflict knowledge can be brought into more productive interaction.

But first, we discuss searching the literature. We identified the core literature in ethnic conflict with broad, medium, and narrow searching. While broad search strategies can reliably find the desired information, they yield much duplicative and inappropriate information as well. Medium and narrow search strategies, on the other hand, generate more selective information for the user, but their methods are more cumbersome and often underdeveloped.

Broad Searching

Broad searching is a straightforward process with relatively simple methods securely in place that we need describe hee only briefly. briefly. Searching for the ethnic conflict core, we first decided how selective our search terms would be, weighing the benefits of casting wide and hauling in unwanted information against those of a narrower cast which might miss important works. We cast broadly at first. Our search for "ethnic conflict", "racial conflict," and "nationalism," (since much nation state conflict is ethnically rooted), yielded hundreds of sources which were then culled for relevance and accessibility. Foreign language items and those not readily available to North American readers were eliminated, a significant exclusion determined by our limited resources. We first searched the CRC Information Exchange, then the Sociofile database, the CD-ROM version of Sociological Abstracts. (Peace Research Abstracts has since become available on CD- ROM as well.) One might also make an Internet search of major library catalogues, and additional CD-ROM abstracts.

With the results of the first search, we identified other search terms and classification codes which particular bibliographic systems use to describe our subject area. We made a second-tier search with that revised set for additional citations. For a multidisciplinary subject such as ethnic conflict, we had to search several databases. Assessing the significance and appropriateness of a work was difficult. Abstracts were useful, but while most journal articles published since 1970 are abstracted, few of the books in our database were. With limited resources for reading a document itself, we could judge only by title, author, descriptor terms, and what we could learn about a work from other sources.

We finally produced a list of those works likely to include the important ideas in ethnic conflict scholarship, a first step toward identifying it's core literature. One could expand and refine this list by scanning the annual social science reviews, reviewing syllabi from university courses on ethnic conflict, and using medium and narrow search strategies, some of which we will now discuss.

Medium Searching

Medium search strategies, while more cumbersome, are more effective in identifying the core knowledge. Given additional resources, we would have used the following strategies in our ethnic conflict project.

Bibliography Tree: The tree opens a selective window on the core literature through compiling bibliographies from significant works in the field. References repeatedly cited in such sources become candidates for inclusion in the core. This technique, unfortunately, does not accurately indicate the importance of more recent works. It favors older "classics" at the expense of those newer works which may combine the best of earlier theory with new insight in a more succinct statement of an area's core knowledge .

Social Science Citation Index: One can also use the Social Science Citation Index (SSCI) to ferret out the important works. Through an abstracting service such as Sociofile one identifies key journal articles on a topic. One then prepares a list with the SSCI of the works cited in each of them. Downloaded to a disk, those citations can be sorted alphabetically, revealing the more frequently cited works likely to be part of the core literature. Still, a work's prominence in the academic literature implies little about its practical utility. For a searching practitioner, that is a decided disadvantage. And while subject area coding of bibliographic citations does facilitate searching for the essential concepts and methods, it is still sufficiently burdensome to deter practitioners.

Narrow Searching

Broad and medium search procedures still leave the user with the final responsibility for identifying the core literature. In the narrowly focused strategies however, experts are usually consulted to facilitate the identification. Expert guidance is themost expedient approach for the practitioner in the field.

Editorial Judgement. Some practitioners use the editorial judgements of experts in a field to identify essential writing. This is done, for example, through the peer review process in academic publishing and the annual research reviews in the different disciplines. One reads such assessments and narrows one's search accordingly. In preparing the ethnic conflict bibliography, for example, we asked colleagues working in that field which books they found to be most valuable.

Guided Searches. Emerging technologies may soon permit guided searching for the core literature with the computer as expert-surrogate. With "expert system" software, the computer cum advisor would ask users a series of questions to guide them to appropriate information. Such expert systems could be developed by teams familiar with both the core literature of a field and typical questions practitioners ask and the problems they face.

Electronic Publishing. With print publishing, finding one's way to core conflict knowledge remains a costly two-stage process. First, the user searches for specific information with one or more of the strategies we have described. With bibliographic citations and perhaps abstracts in hand, the searcher must then obtain copies of cited materialsof special interest—an increasingly expensive task. Advancing information technology, however, now promises to greatly reduce the time and money costs through full-text electronic publishing. For instance, we could now distribute 1,000 copies of our recent book on nonviolence over the Internet for less than one-fourth the cost of the original printed copy to the reader.(3)

The rapid growth of electronic publishing through the Internet's World Wide Web now offers a realistic and affordable literature option with many advantages. First, the Web provides virtually instantaneous worldwide access to electronically published articles and books, including a typeset copy, photographs, tables, and figures. Users pay a fraction of what they normally would for printed documents. They can also search full text published works, not just keywords and abstracts. Users can go directly to the passages within works which directly address their needs. This all greatly simplifies and narrows information searching and retrieving.

Hypertext. The Web also permits what are called hypertext links. For example, if one were reading an article which referred to a concept in Fisher and Ury's Getting To Yes, it would be theoretically possible for users to simply ?click' on the citation with their computer 'mouse' to retrieve the cited passage.(4) Computers capable of such operations are becoming more and more widely available. The obstacles to implementing such a system are social rather than technical ones. Electronic publishing, while comparatively inexpensive, will not be free. If publishers are to provide an alternative to conventional "paper" publishing, they must make up revenue lost through either reduced publishing costs or other revenue sources. Since computers can efficiently collect for sales and pay author royalties, publishers can and will support electronic publishing when there is market demand for it.


Thus far, we have discussed the conflict knowledge which is in the form of documents written primarily by and for academic conflict specialists. If that theoretical and methodological information is to be used, tested and improved beyond the academic community, we must design other approaches for that purpose. Conflict moderation practitioners will have neither the time nor the inclination to use the searching procedures we have discussed without a greater payoff in their work. Yet, the practical utility of conflict theory for the practitioner is potentially quite considerable.

Conflict theory would be more effectively used by pactitioners if its important ideas were more usefully presented to them. Sociological theory is a case in point. It simply has not been translated into forms useful beyond theoretical discussion and very limited laboratory and clinical testing. Would not viewing conflict as a transaction process through the exchange theory of Homans or Emerson(5) improve our practice of negotiation and mediation? Another example would be the work of Simmel and others(6), who have clearly identified both the creative and destructive consequences of social conflict. Their theory could guide conflict management specialists to distinguish the functional and dysfunctional aspects of a particular conflict episode or structure, then build an intervention strategy that makes use of the former and discourages the latter.

We know from Goffman(7) and Collins(8) that face to face interaction is a central aspect of both cooperation and conflict. Their interaction theory might permit practitioners to structure face-to-face confrontation for more peaceful outcomes. Coleman(9) has carefully analyzed the dynamics of conflict, particularly its more perverse processes such as escalation. Conflict could be more effectively studied and managed with a better understanding of escalation and how to control it. Such sociological conflict theory is currently underutilized by conflict specialists. The same is true of such work in other disciplines. How, then, can conflict theory be more clearly identified in the literature of social science and made more accessible for conflict research and practice?

A serious impediment to the production and utilization of conflict knowledge is the gap between what we have distinguished as theoretical or academic knowledge and practical or experiential knowledge. Theory does not often find its way into conflict practice where it could be used to advantage and tested. If that is to happen, theoretical knowledge must be translated into a form that is both sensible and accessible to the practitioner. We need more "bridgeworks"-- publications that bridge the gap between academic analysis and practical application. One approach would be through more books on applied theory written by teams of theorists and practitioners.

A second way would be to distill theoretical concepts drawn from full-text sources that interested practitioners could obtain through hypertext links to electronically published works. We have been experimenting with such theoretical repackaging into a form we call a "theoretical utility module," or THUM. The THUM is simply a method of distilling knowledge having probable value for practical application. In the THUM approach, the reviewer-distiller creates an initial module which the user could apply and perhaps subsequently modify on the basis of experience with it in the field.

A THUM briefly describes a theoretical idea, some conflict moderation methods it suggests for the practitioner, and illustrations of some real world conditions and situations under which such methods might be used to advantage. We present here an illustrative module we created around the South African mediation work of Kent Arnold. (10)

Concept: Interaction Ritual.

Sources: Erving Goffman, Interaction Ritual (1967); Randall Collins, Theoretical Sociology (1988).

Definition: A conversation that requires the co-presence of individuals, that creates a common focus of attention for those individuals, that invokes a common reality for them viewed as something sacred, signifying membership in a common group, creating a reference point of moral solidarity among them. Such conversations involving two or more individuals can be private or public, with impact limited to those in direct conversation or with wide influence such as a conversation between public figures presented through the mass media to large audiences. Such rituals, repeated in countless conversations across a society, create, enhance or diminish moral solidarity levels and commitment to societal bonds and integration. Interaction chains are thus formed that produce more or less societal solidarity, and more or less intergroup harmony or hostility within the society.

Affiliated concepts: Interaction chains; sacred objects; micro- encounters; conflict interactions; oppositional utterances.

Supporting literature: The primary materials suggested would describe methods of intervention and other techniques useful for moderating ethnic conflict. The secondary supporting material might refer the user (perhaps through hypertext linking) to other relevant categories of literature: the suffering in ethnic conflict; pressures that lead to ethnic warfare; escalation and other pathological processes that intensify ethnic conflict, and the like. The user might thus be led through the module to a wider literature base supportive of effective intervention in ethnic disputes and conflict.

Application potential: Conflict management specialists can design ways to modify interactions in an ethnic conflict setting so that the recurring interaction rituals therein encourage a common definition of the conflict, common sacred objects, agreement on what are unacceptable conflict techniques and what are preferred resolution methods, moral solidarity both within and between groups and so on. Such applications might be used, for example, in designing dispute settlement procedures for two of the most destructive conflict arenas in South Africa: the taxi wars, and migrant worker hostels. Intervention methods might include the entire range of conflict management techniques: altering enemy images, stereotype reduction, mediation, rumor control, and the like.

Such modules might encourage in social science the type of of symbiosis between theoretical and applied work one finds in the health and environmental sciences. The essential goal of bridging devices like the THUM is to let theoretical knowledge inform pactice and, in turn, permit practical experience to improve and refine theory. Electronic communication should advance such possibilities substantially.


A third electronic route for conflict knowledge to travel will be computer-guided distance learning. Electronic courses and modules will increasingly organize conflict knowledge for the user. The model initially used will be the university course, because one begins with the familiar. But quite rapidly, such distance learning will assume a variety of forms as people experiment with it around the world.

Our conflict research team is currently developing an Internet course with support from the United States Institute of Peace. It emphasizes the theory and method of moderating deep, or intractible conflict. It is likely that civil rather than interstate conflict will be the world's most critical problem for some time to come. Ethnic elements will tend to dominate that conflict. Problems of group identity, justice and communication will increasingly characterize human conflict at all levels of society. Consequently, conflict will become more and more emotion- ridden and intractible.

We are building the course around three bases: 1) cross-cultural concepts, methods and literature, with the theoretical utility module as organizing centerpiece; 2) user improvement and refinement of the material offered, with students applying it in their applications, and testing and modifying it from their experience with it; and 3) interactive simulations where the user could fit learning to their specific conflict settings.

At this early stahe of development, we do not know the limits of possibility for user/course interactivity. In theory, one should be able to enter the program, call up a simulated "virtual conflict" module, and apply it to the kind of conflict case that approximates the conflict situations in which the practitioner normally works. The simulation would offer several components: a technique for analysis (e.g. mapping); a range of intervention options (e.g. mediation, communication facilitation); hypertext links to key THUMs and literature which discusses it; and perhaps the contact information for a select group of specialists in different nations working on his or her particular conflict types with whom the user could be in touch. Through the course, users would, consequently, gain access not only to organized information fitted to their personal needs, but to a support and exchange cohort. This leads us to a discussion of our fourth and final pathway, direct exchange.

THE EXCHANGE PATHWAY Since conflict knowledge is continually evolving, we must go beyond information systems which disseminate existing "book" knowledge. We must design others for the generation and sharing of new knowledge. Thus, the final electronic pathway to conflict knowledge we envisage is through direct exchange of information and experience among and between researchers and practitioners. We see an important new role, that of the conflict knowledge user-generator who, individually and in teams, feeds back evaluations to the knowledge core about the applicability of specific theories and techniques in particular conflict situations. Specialists in the field will not only test concepts and methods but will invent them as well, thereby augmenting the knowledge core.

The technology is now available to create for conflict specialists what Guy Burgess has called "virtual institutes" for conflict specialists.(11) These would form project teams or working parties around specific problems such as ethnic conflict. Such mixed teams of academic researchers and field practitioners would generate and exchange ideas electronically. Electronic networks such as Internet and ConflictNet already permit a widely dispersed group of conflict specialists to interact much as if they were in the same location. One could envisage a group of mediators in land disputes or ethnic conflict specialists in electronic conversation about theory, practice, success, and failure.

Interaction similar to this already occurs on tens of thousands of computer bulletin boards, forums, news groups, listserves, and electronic conferences. Some of these discussions even address conflict-related topics. We expect such exchange to increase among conflict specialists as computers become increasingly powerful, cheap, and easy to use. While such interaction will not replace the face-to-face exchange of conferences and research exchange visits, it should prove a useful and inexpensive way of expanding conflict knowledge and refining its essential theory and method.

Such direct conflict knowledge exchange may be simpler for academic specialists with direct Internet links and more predictable discretionary time, but it should be possible and fruitful for many practitioners as well. We will be forming a pilot working group of theorists and practitioners as we develop our Internet course. Participants will help us design a process which permits exchange of personal application experience of concepts and methods, with feedback of that experiential knowledge into the conflict knowledge core. Figure 1 suggests how such an exchange group might be structured.


Figure 1 about here



Since gaining access to formal conflict knowledge is more problematic for practitioners, we will illustrate with some hypothetical cases how in-the-field specialists might use the electronic pathways we have described.

Scenario I.

Sushila Reddy, working to moderate ethnic conflict in Bombay, subscribes to the intractible conflict course over the Internet. She is led to the more relevant theoretical concepts and methods in her particular sub-field by way of THUMs and select hypertext linking. She has the opportunity for some electronic "hands-on" training through interactive scenarios. She is assigned a consultant who supplements the information she gets directly through the menu. She is also given contact information for five other system users, a mix of practitioners and theorists, in her geographic and conflict areas. These specialists might become an Exchange Group. The conflict knowledge its members represent and that newly available through the Internet would come alive in their sharing, applying and reformulation of it. Such electronic exchange might lead to physical meetings, joint projects, electronic roundtables, and some invaluable feedback to the conflict knowledge core. (More specific illustration of how it would work needed here?)

Scenario II.

Evgeny Arbatov, a troubleshooter working with an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mediation team in Chechnya has difficulty developing trust between negotiators for the Russian government and Chechen opposition forces. He wants information to help him prepare the setting and agenda for an upcoming negotiation session. Assuming he has access to a computer with modem and working phone lines, he enters the CRC Information Exchange through Internet, calls up a hypertext-based questionnaire that quickly leads him to a select group of theoretical and methodological pieces on trust-building in negotiation. The questionnaire greatly facilitates his search since he is unfamiliar with many of the technical terms used in the conflict resolution field. The system questions Arbatov about the nature of the dispute, the various parties' alternatives to a negotiated agreement, and the availability of trusted intermediaries. It then calls up for him several THUMS dealing specifically with mediating ethnic- based conflict or negotiation processes. One of them, already in Russian for wider distribution in Eastern Europe, describes the strategic power mix that a mediator might get opponents to alter in their negotiating behavior (See Appendix A). Arbatov could download such information, transform it into his situation- specific applications and later feed back his evaluation of it to enrich the case history support for that particular bit of conflict knowledge in the Information Exchange. He might go on to create a region-specific database for the OSCE for use in its conflict resolution centers in Central and Eastern Europe. There are already intervention networks of NGO staff and local officials being formed there by such organizations as International Alert and Partnership Life Skills.

Scenario III.

Professor Luisa Portillo at the Universidad de Centroamerica in Managua has been working on resolving rural land disputes with her graduate assistant from Puerto Cabeza on the Atlantic Coast. They have a pilot project to design for Nicaragua's autonomous Atlantic Coast areas a model dispute settlement program that might be replicated elsewhere in the country. They wish to review the literature on land disputes throughout Latin America, then fashion a program rooted in local conflict management practice while drawing upon conflict resolution theory. Through the Internet, Portillo enters the Information Exchange and quickly finds information on conflict management in Latin America and particularly that characterized by ethnic and racial division. A hypertext questionnaire then leads her to citations on rural dispute settlement, conflict rooted in territory and sense of place, third party intervention, dispute settlement training, and some relevant theoretical utility modules. One of these THUMs describes the concept of insider- partial/outsider--neutral developed in research on Nicaraguan conflict resolution. (12) (See Appendix B [A Spanish language version of partial/neutral THUM to be appended]) Since she could not obtain copies of the articles of paticular interest to her locally, her ability to download electronically published versions or at least request them through e-mail was especially handy. With an inexpensive translation assistance program in her computer, she was able to produce reasonable translations of key articles previously available only in English. The downloaded information, particularly the THUM based on a mediation model indigenous to Central America, suggests to Portillo the value of village mediating teams composed of a trusted friend of one or both disputants from the village and a trained mediator from outside the dispute. Portillo is also put in touch with a network of Latin American conflict specialists working on similar problems. Ultimately, she reports her experience with the project back into the Information Exchange and the knowledge base grows accordingly.


We have suggested how peace and conflict scholars and practitioners might gain better electronic access both to theory and method in the academic literature, and to one another. The pathways we have discussed require organizing the information, putting it in forms useful to practitioners, and getting theorists and practitioners into more productive interaction with one another.

The information searching and sharing pathways we have discussed in this paper are some possible routes to what might be called a Global Virtual Institute for Peace Research and Practice. Such "institutes" already exist in biology and physics, bringing their members close enough, on a day-to-day basis, that the economies of scale associated with large, joint projects can be achieved. Such an electronic organization might provide its researcher and practitioner members with the following services: 1) access to member working papers; 2) bibliographic search and other services; 3) electronic seminars for presentation and discussion of research; 4) collaborative projects; 5) common data archives; 6) announcements about publications, conferences, training and teaching programs; 7) theoretical utility modules for field application.

As attractive as the prospect of conflict knowledge dissemination and sharing may seem, the difficulties it involves are sobering. We must bear in mind how the linguistic, cultural, economic and class barriers to its wider use will be overcome as we envision such a global network of conflict research utilizers. We do not discount the difficulties in the evolution of such electronic organizing and sharing of conflict knowledge. The cultural and linguistic constraints on such an enterprise are formidable. The translation into the world languages of even small sections of what is now published in English would in itself be a daunting task. Though the social science culture has become a transnational one, moving beyond academic users would require a substantial effort and resources.

The technological requirements for electronic sharing pose a second major obstacle. In the developed world, such electronic sharing would be quick and relatively inexpensive. As Internet connection drops in cost and becomes simpler, through national universities perhaps, economic impediments to electronic conflict knowledge sharing should recede. But in nations with underdeveloped communications infrastructures-- precisely where intergroup conflict seems most severe--the economic and technical problems would be difficult indeed.

Finally, designing the database and program to be accessible in ways useful to academics and practitioners alike poses a real challenge. We are not confronted simply with national and ethnic cultural differences here. The "tacit knowledge," as Tenner refers to the knowledge needed to locate other knowledge, is not the same for researcher and practitioner. Getting them yo increasingly overlap and interpenetrate to support the desired sharing presents a challenge in its own right.(13) How does one cut through information overload with a cross-disciplinary searching process that defines and distills the conflict knowledge core? Once identified, the key concepts and methods must be worked into realistic simulations that will prepare the conflict moderator. Users must be able to test the conflict theory they apply, sharing their experience and insight both with the conflict knowledge base and with one another. The database must be decentralized, with regional centers serving regional and local conflict specialists.

We have suggested how improving access to peace and conflict literature could foster interdependence of researchers and practitioners. Practice would benefit more from theory than it now does while research would be more driven by practical need and experience from the field than it now is. While these ideas obviously need fuller development, they are not, we think, unrealistic. Other fields are doing much of this already. The technical preconditions for it have been met. The computer systems exist and they work. We must now organize our field to use them more effectively.


  1. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Interna tional Studies Association-West 1995 meetings. The authors may be reached through the Department of Sociology, CB 327, University of Colorado, Boulder CO 80309, USA; FAX (303) 492-8878; and e-mail: crc@cubldr.colorado.edu.
  2. The Information Exhange is a computerized bibliography of peace and conflict literature. It is available, with

search software, from the Conflict Research Consortium.Gonzales,

3. Marty, Guy Burgess, Paul Wehr, and Heidi Burgess. Ethnic Conflict: A Pilot Core Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, 1994. Available on request from the Consortium.

4. Wehr, Paul, Heidi Burgess and Guy Burgess, eds. 1994.Justice Without Violence . Boulder CO: LynnRienner Publishers.

5 Fisher, Roger and William Ury, Getting to Yes , New York: Bantam, 19 .

6. Homans, George. 1961. Social Behavior: Its Elementary Forms. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World.Emerson, Richard, 1972.

7. "Exchange theory, Part I: A Psychological Basis for Social Exchange." In J. Berger, M. Zelditch, and B. Anderson, eds. Sociological Theories in Progress (Vol. 2), pp. 38-57. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.

8. Simmel, Georg. 1964. The Sociology of Georg Simmel. New York: Free Press; Coser, Lewis. 1956. The Functions of Social Conflict. New York: Free Press.

9. Goffman Erving. 1967. Interaction Ritual. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

10. Collins, Randall. 1988. Theoretical Sociology. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace Jovanovitch.

11. Coleman, James. 1956. Community Conflict. New York: Free Press; Wehr, Paul. 1979. Conflict Regulation (Chapter 3). Boulder, CO: Westview.

12. Arnold, Kent. 1994. "A dispute system design analysis of taxi and hostel conflict in South Africa's transition to majority rule," Unpublished MA thesis, Department of Sociology, University of Colorado at Boulder.

13. Burgess, Guy. 1992. "Telecommunications, information storage and retrieval, and peace and change research," Peace and Change. Vol. 17, No. 4, October , 458-477.

14. Wehr, Paul and John Paul Lederach. 1991. "Mediating conflict in Central America," Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 28 No. 1, February, 85-98.

15. Edward Tenner, 199 . Why Things Bite Back.