Summary of "The Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice (2nd Ed)"

Summary of

The Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice

by Morton Deutsch,  Peter T. Coleman and Eric C. Marcus, eds

Summary written by Heidi Burgess, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: Deutsch, Morton, Peter T. Coleman and Eric C. Marcus, eds. The Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2006).

Like the first, the Second Edition of the Handbook of Conflict Resolution, now edited by Morton Deutsch, Peter T. Coleman, and Eric C. Marcus (Marcus is new) offers a comprehensive overview of the field of conflict resolution, emphasizing constructive management of conflicts and the search for win-win solutions. The volume is designed to be both informative to professionals and accessible to newcomers to the field. Chapters are contributed by leading scholars, and cover a wide range of issues, both theoretical and practical. All of the chapters from the first edition have been updated -- some extensively, some less so -- and twelve new chapters have been added, bringing this volume to 37 chapters, and over 900 pages.

The general topics/sections are the same as before: Part One covers interpersonal and intergroup processes, and examines fundamental concepts (many of which actually have broader applicability): cooperation and competition, justice, trust, power, and communication. New chapters include one on "Language, Peace, and Conflict Resolution," and one dealing with "Gender, Conflict, and the Family." The second, short section is on "Intrapsychic Processes." Humiliation expert Evelin Linder contributes an important new chapter to this section on "Emotion and Conflict," examining how each affects the other. In addition to examining the impact of humiliation, Linder also looks at fear, anger, hatred, and guilt as drivers of conflict. On the positive side, however, she also examines hope, confidence, and warmth, and concludes by discussing how to intervene in conflict so as to control negative emotions and foster positive ones.

Part Three, another short section, examines "Personal Differences." In addition to the "old" chapters on personality and conflict and the development of conflict resolution skills, this section has a new chapter on "Implicit Theories and Conflict Resolution," which examines the nature of prejudice and its impact on conflict. The authors explain that people tend to hold one of two theories about the nature of people: "entity theory" or "incremental theory." People who hold the "entity theory" believe that people's qualities are fixed -- they are either good or bad, intelligent or not, trustworthy or not. People who believe in "incremental theory" believe people can change -- they can become trustworthy, even when they were not beforehand; they can learn and change and become allies, even when they were "enemies" before. Such views of human nature, obviously, affect the level of prejudice people feel toward "the other," and the degree of intractability of conflicts with "the other."

Part Four on Creativity and Change includes the five original chapters, along with a new one on Creativity in Outcomes by Peter Carnevale, which examines how creativity can be used to generate mutually-beneficial outcomes that might generally be overlooked. Part Five on Difficult Conflicts has a lot of new material. In addition to the earlier articles on "Aggression and Violence" by Opotow and "Intractable Conflict" by Coleman, there are new chapters on Moral Conflicts by Fisher-Yoshida and Wasserman, one on Religion and Conflict by Moix, and one on Conflict Resolution and Human Rights by Bartoli and Psimopoulos.

The chapter on Moral Conflicts examines how these conflicts are different from other conflicts and investigates three "lenses" for understanding and intervening in these conflicts. One lens is the "intractable conflict lens," as described earlier in this section by Coleman; the second is social construction theory, and the third is communications theory. The three come together in an intervention approach called the Coordinated Management of Meaning (CMM). This approach and its application are described in this chapter with reference to the Terri Schiavo case, as well as in a dialogue between Israelis and Arabs.

The chapter on Religion and Conflict examines the role religion plays in causing and exacerbating conflict, as well as the potential it has for de-escalating and resolving conflict. The authors argue that "a more integrated and practical approach to understanding the role of religion in conflict and its resolution is needed within the theory and practice of conflict resolution, among foreign policymakers, and for anyone interested in helping the diverse human family coexist with less bloodshed and more compassion." (p. 584). Moix examines the role of religion as part of William Ury's concept of the "third side" -- a "container" in which conflict occurs, which can contribute towards either its escalation or its de-escalation and resolution (Ury focuses on the latter, while Moix addresses both).

In their article on "Conflict Resolution and Human Rights," Bartoli and Psimopoulous examine the evolution of human rights doctrines and the intersection between this concept and the concept of conflict resolution, which they see as complementary. "There is no full expression of human rights without the freedom to engage in conflict, nor is conflict resolution constructive, if human rights are negated during conflict." (p. 610). The authors acknowledge that the two fields tend to take different (and sometimes seemingly contradictory) approaches to human rights problems, but each field could be more successful, they argue, if areas of complementarity and synergy are emphasized, rather than differences. Genocide prevention is one area in which such a coordinated effort seems particularly fruitful, they assert.

Part Six on Culture and Conflict has a new chapter on "Multicultural Conflict Resolution" by Paul Pederson, and Part Seven on "Models of Practice" has a new chapter by Burke on Conflict in Organizations, and another by Sole on Small-Group Conflict. Part Eight also has a new chapter by Dean Pruitt on "Some Research Frontiers in the Study of Conflict and Its Resolution." These frontiers include: 1) a further investigation into the origins of conflict, especially examining the importance of "relative deprivation" and "group mobilization" theories; 2) an examination of why people choose particular conflict prosecution (or resolution) strategies (i.e., contending, problem solving, yielding, or inaction) and how certain contentious strategies can be used to complement problem solving strategies without contributing to escalation; 3) research on escalation: Pruitt identifies several research questions here, generally investigating who escalates when and why; 4) mediation as a fourth area in need of further research, especially a comparison of the "traditional" problem solving approach with the newer transformative and narrative approaches. Similarities and differences need to be further examined, as well as the efficacy of each approach in different situations. The fifth "research frontier" Pruitt identifies is readiness for conflict resolution. The basic question here is, when does a heavily escalated, intractable conflict becomes ready for de-escalation and resolution? A linked question is, what can third parties do to bring about this readiness faster?

Like the earlier volume, this set of articles gives a deep and insightful window into the conflict resolution field from a largely theoretical point of view. With some exceptions, the bias remains social-psychological, which means other approaches -- such as political, anthropological, historical, and sociological theories -- are less well represented. However, this volume will be very useful to newcomers to the field, and will provide interesting ideas for even the long-time experts to contemplate as well.