The New Politics of Conflict Resolution; Responding to Difference – Book Review

This book holds a crucial place in cross cultural conflict resolution as it questions the domination of western values as a natural ground for guiding conflict resolution method.

The author of this book is Morgan Brigg, a Professor in School of Political Science and International Relations at University of Queensland, Australia. His research is a blend of theory and practice exploring the connection between culture, governance and selfhood in conflict resolution and political economy. He has authored numerous articles and book chapters including “Relational and Essential: Theorizing Difference for Peacebuilding” and “Indigeneity and Peace”, (with Polly Walker), in “The Palgrave Handbook of Disciplinary and Regional Approaches to Peace”. His research promises to involve relationality making the conflict resolution endeavor genuinely global in nature.

This book holds a crucial place in cross cultural conflict resolution as it questions the domination of western values as a natural ground for guiding conflict resolution method. It investigates why dominant western values explicitly fail to fulfill their promise of unsubjective conflict resolution across cultures negating nations’ respective culture, identity and values. The difference in cultures (western and others), identity and religions energize conflicts as only western knowledge and problem-solving practices cannot solely be relied upon for a universal approach to conflict resolution as it is limited. Hence, the relationship between limited contemporary social practices and practical commitment to respond to the people facing conflicts needs to be thought once again from a relatively more open viewpoint.

The New Politics of Conflict Resolution; Responding to Difference. Brigg, M. (2008), The New Politics of Conflict Resolution; Responding to Difference. Palgrave Macmillan Press.

The book is divided into two parts. Part I shows that conflict resolution is continuously challenged by the dominant western idea of sovereignty sustaining culture challenge. Additionally, a more practical approach towards conflict resolution practices could help lessen the impact of dominant thinking across various cultures finding more appropriate solutions. Part II continues the above analysis but focuses more on how different challenges could be dealt with by innovative conflict resolution strategies and practices.

Part I covers culture difference as per the observation of Meron Benvenisti questions the western knowledge and practices employed in conflict resolution and new wars of 21st century but also raises another significant issue as to how conflict resolution succeeds if difference of culture (language, religion and identity) is ignored (pg. 25). This results in conflict resolution becoming a threat or a source of anxiety while operating across cultures. Most practitioners believe that culture frames people’s individual actions during conflict, their interaction with others and the strategies they draw to deal with their respective conflicts. Many disciplines are there to help conflict resolution scholars address the culture question such as sociology, communication studies, anthropology political science and many others (pg. 26). In recent years, the negotiators have started prioritizing the employment of more sophisticated approach towards understanding people

of a certain conflict prone settlement where track II diplomacy is employed focusing on more visible traits such as social protocols and traditions guiding their relationships and their religious or national coalitions. Role of individualism and collectivism is also important to deal with human difference, for instance, Arabs and West Africans are more subordinate to the rules of collectivity whereas Israelis and Swedes are more individualistic not much impacted by the rules of single authority (pg. 29). Peter Black and Kevin Avruch emphasizes on a more anthropological approach to dealing with the above issues i.e. application of an interpretive understanding of certain conflicts and drawing up a specific blueprint to apply in that context.

It is important to note that in recent decades, conflict resolution ideas and strategies have become institutionally concentrated in the First world countries flowing downward towards the South after World War II. Aid and development initiatives have largely contributed to such development, providing the necessary resources to bring about this phenomenon. The ideas of empowerment and participation are in line with the conflict resolution agenda propagating the ideas of democracy, social reforms and rule of law. In addition, nationals of Southern states after being trained in universal conflict resolution programs when return home, also contribute to the conflict resolution dynamics have increased knowledge on this very subject under study (pg. 75).The persuasion of both formal(superior) and informal(subordinate) mechanisms in conflict resolution are important as they are reliant upon each other to function at best. But use of mainstream political theory and practice often undermines the informal form excluding it to establish a viable political community to deal with difficulties faced by people in certain grassroot areas (pg. 78).

Another powerful phenomenon guiding the conflict resolution is the sovereign-self having strong backdrop of sovereign state. They are referred to as the primary agents to know the social world phenomenas at best originating from western philosophy. It critically influences the decision making of the practitioners absorbing it from broader political notions (pg. 79). It develops in coherence with an ontological sense of security of individuals operating in an influential way on the practitioners of conflict resolution on how they behave in certain circumstances within conflict prone regions. All in all, sovereignty helps negotiate between distinct individuals as well as the political sovereigns governing majorly through difference lense (pg. 100). Hence, sovereignty could be fissured in many ways causing certain challenges.

Part II sheds light on the fact that amidst the culture and Governance challenge, it is very important to undertake cosmopolitan venture as it highly aligns with the goals of conflict resolution. But how would this cosmopolitan mindset be undertaken across difference? Herein recognition comes into play but proceeding should be conscious in this regard. In addition, relatedness i.e. “us living in the same circumstances as other” is another way to tackle the difference challenge (pg. 106). Hence, the complex and interdependent relationship of recognition and relatedness together with sovereignty can address the culture challenge in transnational conflict resolution dynamics.

Conflict Resolution can always resort to its instinct for responsiveness when met with the challenges of self-dependency in governing. Practitioners when allow themselves to become

beings only helps them build connection to the people hence could help them respond in the most appropriate manner, overcoming difference limitations. In addition, detaching from selves and applying an agent-based model could be more fruitful as it helps address a full range of complex issues in conflict and social philosophy domain. It propagates the idea of heterogeneity among the actors in conflict torn regions building upon raw interactions often prevented in traditional conflict resolution practices. It overarches the rigid role of policy analysts often limited to traditional approaches and encourages more humble behavior from them (pg. 153). This in turn creates room for connection and relatedness resulting in more feasible responses. Hence, this complexity model of selves together with others helps mitigate conflict situations in the most accessible way.

21st century has been by far the most challenging period for conflict resolution as questions are emerging about its limitations to tackle the difference of culture, norms, traditions, language and identity heated by the addition of the risks posed by sovereignty of selves(practitioners). This could mobilize certain indigenous groups as well as regional conflicts on the grounds of self- determination. The clash of Western and Islamic secularism in such a situation could exalt the conflicts of current times. Hence, the knowledge constructed in conflict resolution domain mainly by the employment of Western political thought needs to be revisited to develop as an effective instrument to intercept today’s conflict resolution regime.

Hajira Ahmed
Hajira Ahmed
I'm Hajira Ahmed; currently pursuing my Mphil in Peace and Conflict Studies at National Defence University Islamabad, Pakistan. My areas of interest are Peace-Development Nexus, Maritime Strategies, and International Political Economy.
Previous article
Next article