Conflict: Resolution and Provention
By John Burton
Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff
Citation: Conflict: Resolution and Provention. John Burton.New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990, 295 pp.
Conflict: Resolution and Provention offers an historical and theoretical overview of approaches to conflict resolution. It particularly emphasizes a problem-solving approach to conflict resolution, and the need for conflict prevention (provention).
Conflict: Resolution and Provention will be of interest to those seeking a general understanding of historical and contemporary approaches to conflict resolution. This work is divided into twenty-one chapters in five parts, with an introduction, index and short bibliography. In the Introduction Burton defines the basic terms, sketches the human dimension of conflict, and describes the problem-solving approach to conflict resolution and provention. Burton uses the invented term "provention" to avoid the negative connotations of containment associated with the term, "prevention."
Part One describes the text's general approach to conflict resolution and provention. In Chapter One Burton defines the problem area under discussion. Chapter Two describes the basic assumptions about human behavior and motivations in which the study of conflict is grounded. Chapter Three explores the human dimension of conflict further by discussing human needs theory. Chapter Four examines the environment of conflict, describing the way in which conflicts emerge and escalate. Chapter Five argues that traditional approaches to decision-making have "helped to create an environment of conflict.", and Chapter Six explores the origins of such traditional approaches.
In Part Two Burton explores the political context of conflict, examining in particular relations between authorities. Chapter Seven argues that conflict could be understood and handled more effectively if there were some generally agreed upon theory in which to base approaches to conflict. Burton claims that human needs theory can supply this base. Chapter Eight discusses a core problem in human conflict, the problem of legitimation of authority, and the next chapter examines the particular problems associated with legitimation in multi-ethnic conflicts. Burton argues that "situations of conflict...typically reflect role behaviors that are defensive-aggressive because they lack a legitimized foundation." Chapter Ten discusses the relation between individual and society. Burton argues that from within a human needs framework the common good of society and the individual's good are identical. Chapter Eleven considers the appropriate uses of constructive intervention into conflicts, both socially, nationally and internationally.
Part Three discusses conflict resolution. In the opening chapter Burton describes conflict resolution as a form of decision-making. He presents traditional models of decision-making, and describes recent trends toward an interactive problem-solving approach to decision-making. Chapter Thirteen explores the historical changes in industrial and governmental decision-making, and their implications for practices of conflict resolution. Together these chapters lay the groundwork for Chapter Fourteen's discussion of conflict resolution as problem-solving. Burton discusses the characteristics and process of the problem-solving approach, and the role of third parties in this approach. Chapter Fifteen explores the impact of culture and cultural differences on the conflict resolution process, and Chapter Sixteen investigated the acceptability of conflict resolution. In which cases is a problem-solving approach to conflict resolution useful and relevant? Burton suggests factors to consider in assessing applicability.
Part Four turns from conflict resolution to conflict provention. Provention will involve longer-term policies and more systemic change that conflict resolution. Chapter Seventeen examines provention in greater detail, describing the problems associated with predicting conflicts and identifying the sources of conflict. Chapter Eighteen provention is further described as a matter of second-order change, that is, policy or institutional changes which are required as a consequence of environmental changes which are beyond human control. Chapter Nineteen explores the factors which lead societies to resist second-order change, and persist in much higher cost, dysfunctional, traditional patterns of decision-making.
Chapter Twenty opens the final part by responding to this resistance to the institutionalization of conflict provention. Burton argues that we need a paradigm shift which views conflict resolution and provention as a political system. Chapter Twenty describes that political system, and Twenty-One discussed the role and importance of education in precipitating this paradigm shift.
Conflict: Resolution and Provention describes the contexts and processes of conflicts and conflict resolution at a fairly general, theoretical level.