OTPIC Officially Retired

As of December 2, 2005, the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflict (OTPIC) has been officially retired, and is no longer open to new registrations.

The successor to OTPIC is a course called Dealing Constructively with Intractable Conflicts (DCIC). The new curriculum is built around one of our major projects, Beyond Intractability, and offers a much more extensive and informative set of learning materials than that available through OTPIC.

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International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict

Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA

Conflict Transformation

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A number of conflict theorists and practitioners, including John Paul Lederach, advocate the pursuit of "conflict transformation," as opposed to "conflict resolution" or "conflict management." Conflict transformation is different from the other two, Lederach asserts, because it reflects a better understanding of the nature of conflict itself. "Conflict resolution" implies that conflict is bad--hence something that should be ended. It also assumes that conflict is a short term phenomenon that can be"resolved" permanently through mediation or other intervention processes. "Conflict management" correctly assumes that conflicts are long term processes that often cannot be quickly resolved, but the notion of "management" suggests that people can be directed or controlled as though they were physical objects. In addition, the notion of management suggests that the goal is the reduction or control of volatility more than dealing with the real source of the problem.  

Conflict transformation, as described by Lederach, does not suggest that we simply eliminate or control conflict, but rather recognize and work with its "dialectic nature." By this he means that social conflict is naturally created by humans who are involved in relationships, yet once it occurs, it changes (i.e., transforms) the events, people, and relationships that created the initial conflict. Thus, the cause-and-effect relationship goes both ways--from the people and the relationships to the conflict and back to the people and relationships. In this sense, "conflict transformation" is a term that describes a natural occurrence. Conflicts change relationships in predictable ways, altering communication patters and patterns of social organization, altering images of the self and of the other.

Conflict transformation is also a prescriptive concept. It suggests that left alone, conflict can have destructive consequences. However, the consequences can be modified or transformed so that self-images, relationships, and social structures improve as a result of conflict instead of being harmed by it. Usually this involves transforming perceptions of issues, actions, and other people or groups. Since conflict usually transforms perceptions by accentuating the differences between people and positions, effective conflict transformation can work to improve mutual understanding. Even when people's interests, values, and needs are different, even non-reconcilable, progress has been made if each group gains a relatively accurate understanding of the other. 

Transformation also involves transforming the way conflict is expressed. It may be expressed competitively, aggressively, or violently, or it may be expressed through nonviolent advocacy, conciliation, or attempted cooperation. Unlike many conflict theorists and activists, who perceive mediation and advocacy as being in opposition to each other, Lederach sees advocacy and mediation as being different stages of the conflict transformation process. Activism is important in early stages of a conflict to raise people's awareness of an issue. Thus activism uses nonviolent advocacy to escalate and confront the conflict. Once awareness and concern is generated, then mediation can be used to transform the expression of conflict from "mutually destructive modes toward dialogue and interdependence." (Lederach, 1989 p. 14) 

Such transformation, Lederach suggests, must take place at both the personal and the systemic level. At the personal level, conflict transformation involves the pursuit of awareness, growth, and commitment to change which may occur through the recognition of fear, anger, grief, and bitterness. These emotions must be outwardly acknowledged and dealt with in order for effective conflict transformation to occur. 

Peacemaking also involves systemic transformation--the process of increasing justice and equality in the social system as a whole. This may involve the elimination of oppression, improved sharing of resources, and the non-violent resolution of conflict between groups of people. Each of these actions reinforces the other. In other words, transformation of personal relationships facilitates the transformation of social systems and systemic changes facilitate personal transformation. Key to both kinds of transformation are truth, justice, and mercy, as well as empowerment and interdependence. These concepts are frequently seen as being in opposition to each other; however, they must come together for reconciliation or "peace" to occur, Lederach asserts.


Peace and Justice

Peace and justice are both very abstract terms that mean different things to different people. Some people think justice is primary and peace is secondary. This is the view embodied in the frequently-heard phrase "if you want peace, fight for justice." Others think that peace (read "conflict resolution") will bring justice. This is the view held by many mediators who believe that consensus-based conflict resolution processes not only end conflicts (i.e., bring peace), but in so doing, render justice that is often more just than that delivered through adversarial, political, or legal systems.

This debate is reiterated in the oft-heard debate between activists and advocates on the one hand, and mediators on the other. Both see themselves as pursuing "justice," but advocates charge that mediators sacrifice justice for peace by down-playing social structural or justice issues, while mediators charge that advocates sacrifice peace for justice by intentionally escalating conflicts to win converts to their own cause. 

This dichotomy is a false one, Lederach asserts. Drawing from diagram in Making Peace by Adam Curle, Lederach suggests that advocacy and activism are the approaches of choice in situations where power is unbalanced and the awareness of the conflict is relatively low. Advocacy helps to raise awareness (on both sides) and to balance power. Once this is done, then mediators can take over to enable the parties to negotiate successfully to obtain both peace and justice simultaneously. (See Lederach, 1989) 


Peace, Justice, Truth, and Mercy

Just as justice and peace are often seen as being in opposition to each other, so are justice and mercy.  Justice, according to Lederach, involves "the pursuit of restoration, of rectifying wrongs, of creating right relationships based on equity and fairness. Pursuing justice involves advocacy for those harmed, for open acknowledgement of the wrongs committed, and for making things right. Mercy, on the other hand, involves compassion, forgiveness, and a new start. Mercy is oriented toward supporting persons who have committed injustices, encouraging them to change and move on." (Lederach 1995, p. 20). 

Often it is assumed one does one or the other, but not both. Justice, it is often assumed, requires determining the truth and punishing the guilty party. Mercy, on the other hand, implies forgiveness.  Thus, if one prosecutes and punishes the guilty, mercy at best can involve leniency in the sentence.  Punishment, however, seldom results in either reconciliation or restitution. Thus, the resulting justice is illusory. The challenge, according to Lederach is "to pursue justice in ways that respect people, and [at the same time] to achieve restoration of relationships based on recognizing and amending injustices." (Lederach, 1995, p. 20.) Thus, Lederach argues that reconciliation involves the identification and acknowledgment of what happened (i.e. truth), an effort to right the wrongs that occurred (i.e., justice) and forgiveness for the perpetrators (mercy). The end result is not only reconciliation, but peace.   Lederach, John Paul. Preparing for Peace: Conflict Transformation Across Cultures. Syracuse University Press, 1995. 


Links to Further Readings about Conflict Transformation:

Chupp, Mark. "Conflict Transformation: A Spiritual Process"
This article presents a spiritual interpretation of the process of conflict transformation, discussing the seven steps of transformation and how those steps can occur.

Chupp, Mark. "When Mediation is Not Enough"
This article supplements the first, describing how conflict transformation can be brought about through nonviolent action and/or transformative mediation.
Lederach, John Paul. "Director's Circle"
In this article John Paul Lederach compares mediation with nonviolent advocacy and shows how both can lead to conflict transformation.
Conflict Transformation by Heidi Burgess and Guy Burgess
The set of articles available at this location describe John Paul Lederach's concept of conflict transformation, discuss its components (peace, justice, truth, mercy, and reconciliation, and describe how these relate to peacebuilding)
Lederach, John Paul. "The Meeting Place"
This is a draft of a chapter of a book entitled  Journey Towards Reconciliation, forthcoming from Harald Press. The chapter explores the relationship between peace, justice, truth, and mercy in considerable detail, and discuses how they relate to reconciliation and conflict transformation..
Lederach, John Paul. Preparing for Peace, Conflict Transformation Across Cultures
This is another summary of John Paul Lederach's work describing his view of conflict transformation.  This piece distinguishes between personal transformation and systemic transformation,and discusses the role of culture in conflict resolution, transformation, and peacemaking.
Northrup, Terrell. "The Dynamic of Identity in Personal and Social Conflict"
In this essay Northrup talks about "the role of identity in the development, maintenance, and transformation of intractable conflicts".  She contrasts conflict transformation to conflict settlement and discusses how transformation of intractable conflicts revolves around the problem of identity.
Vayrynen, Raimo. "To Settle or Transform? Perspectives on the Resolution of National and
International Conflicts"
The problem-solving approach to conflict resolution tries to eliminate the causes of violence by satisfying the needs and interests of the parties in conflict. It operates within the established structure of power relations, not challenging it. As a result, violence is managed by the means available to the authorities. The author offers a different approach to analyzing and handling violence. He suggests studying the functions of political violence. In this way the issues of social structure will be incorporated into a process of conflict transformation, rather than simply conflict settlement.
W. Barnett Pearce and Stephen Littlejohn -- Moral Conflict
This is an abstract of a book on ways to constructively address deep-rooted moral conflicts.  After explaining why moral conflicts are so difficult to discuss, the authors present an approach for transcending moral differences and hence transforming the moral conflict from one that is destructive to one that is constructive.
Susan Shearouse -- A Vote For Consensus
In discussing the advantages of consensus-based processes, Shearouse argues that consensus is a method to transform both conflicts and the people involved in those conflicts.
Tony Armstrong -- "Introduction" from Breaking the Ice
This book discusses the rapprochement between the U.S. and China, East and West Germany, Israel and Egypt, and other seemingly intractable conflicts.  Although the author uses the term "ice breaking" or "rapprochement," he is essentially discussing what we are calling "conflict transformation."
Virgil Peterson -- The Rabbi's Resolution and the Power of Stories
This is a short essay which illustrates the power of storytelling in conflict transformation.
James Notter -- Theory, Practice, Success, and Failure: A Journey of Learning in Cyprus
Notter describes a conflict transformation project in Cyprus.
John Prendergast -- Transformative Approaches to Training:  The Case of Somalia
This article discusses the use of training to bring about conflict transformation in Somalia.
Jay Rothman--Resolving Identity-Based Conflict: In Nations, Organizations, and Communities
Rothman presents his "ARIA" framework as an approach to conflict transformation of highly intractable conflicts.
Kriesberg, Louis.  - "Transforming Conflicts in the Middle East and Central Europe"
This article presents to case studies--one of the Middle East and the other of Central Europe after World War II.  Kriesberg describes efforts directed at prevention of conflict, and conflict transformation.
Diamond, Louise. "Beyond win/Win: The Heroic Journey of Conflict Transformation"
This papers distinguishes between conflict resolution, conflict management, and conflict transformation.  It describes conflict transformation as a five step process which enables disputants to "discover peace."
Stephen Ryan--Peace-Building and Conflict Transformation
Ryan describes how a variety of peacebuilding approaches can lead to conflict transformation.


Links to Outside Sources of Information

Peace Building and Conflict Transformation  - Kevin Clements


Links to Related Approaches

Transformative Mediation

Constructive Confrontation

Analytical Problem Solving

Consensus Building


Links to Related Problems

Although we tend to use the term "constructive confrontation," the purpose of this entire website is, essentially, to assist in the transformation of intractable conflicts into conflicts that are more constructive or productive, and less destructive.  Thus, all the problems listed are related to conflict transformation.


Copyright 1998 Conflict Research Consortium  -- Contact: crc@colorado.edu