Constructive Conflict Management: Asia-Pacific Cases

Summary of

Constructive Conflict Management: Asia-Pacific Cases

By Fred E. Jandt and Paul B. Pedersen, eds.

Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff

Citat ion: Constructive Conflict Management: Asia-Pacific Cases. Fred E. Jandt and Paul B. Pedersen (eds.) Thousand Oaks, CA:  Sage Publications, 1996, pp.288.

Constructive Conflict Management: Asia-Pacific Cases is an edited volume that was developed out of a 1994 international conference entitled "Conflict Resolution in the Asia-Pacific Region: Culture, Problem-Solving, and Peacemaking". This book presents case studies developed for the conference, which cover a variety of conflict types and resolution approaches. The studies are grouped together by the following topic structure: "regional/cultural context, nuclear family conflict, extended family conflict, land and environmental conflict, business conflicts, neighborhood disputes, and conflicts involving indigenous peoples" (xix-xx). The overall goal of the work is to develop models of dispute resolution for the Asia-Pacific region that "demonstrate the interrelationships between culture, conflict, and dispute resolution" (xx).

Chapter One, "Culturally Contextual Models for Creative Conflict Management" by the volume editors, frames the rest of the work. Their principal point is that socio-cultural context must be taken into consideration when attempting to resolve conflict. Jandt and Pedersen state, "[W]e need a better understanding of how significant factors in the cultural context influence the conflict management process to help us explain our failures and predict success in mediating multicultural conflict" (4). The essays that comprise the balance of this work attempt to flesh out some of these cultural factors (ex. values and interests) at the core of conflicts, by examining various conflict scenarios and the particular cultural context existing in the Asia-Pacific region.

The three essays in Part I: Regional/Cultural Context, discuss governmental programs implemented to address disputes in Malaysia, China, and the Philippines, respectively. Chapter Two looks at Malaysia's Social Relations Management System, which trains mediators to handle conflict and crisis situations. The author focuses on the limitations of various sectors of society to resolve conflict in Malaysia and then suggests his own vision of a mediation training program that is based in Malaysian value systems and traditions (29). Chapter Three considers the successes of mediation committees established by the Taiwan legislature, that perform conflict management processes that are rooted in the cultural tradition of having respected local people mediate conflicts. Chapter Four describes the Moral Recovery Program of the Philippines as a tool for societal transformation. The author of the study emphasizes the notion that "conflict represents a disharmony among parts of a society" (51).

Part II: Nuclear Family Conflicts includes four chapters that look at various aspects of this types of conflict involving Asian families. Chapter Five examines the conflicts that arise among immigrant Asian-Pacific families struggling with varying rates of assimilation into Canadian culture in Vancouver, British Columbia. Chapter Six tells the story of a Hindu man and a Muslim woman who had a relationship in a small community in Bangladesh. This union was highly culturally unacceptable and mediations over the punishment for the man ensued. Mediation in this case served as a community problem-solving mechanism and helped resolve a specific dispute that represented wider community concerns over relationships between Muslims and Hindus. The story of Khukumoni and Masud related in Chapter Seven, again demonstrates the involvement of an entire community in the mediation of a marital dispute in Bangladesh. The involvement of many people in the mediation process resulted in a restructuring of the relationships of family members. The Bangladeshi case described in Chapter Eight, regarding a woman who refused to be a part of her husband's polygamous relationships, "illustrates the importance of understanding local customs and laws, even when they may seem contradictory" (88).

Part III of Constructive Conflict Management: Asia-Pacific Cases deals with extended family conflicts. Chapter Nine examines the ongoing conflict over the role of women in modern-day China. For decades the Chinese Communist Party has advocated equality for women, however, Chinese tradition and morality support the power of individual men. Thus, social change with respect to gender roles has been very slow in China. The case of Norma from Papua New Guinea, presented in Chapter Ten, demonstrates how culture change may lead individuals to reject tradition and spark novel types of conflict in previously stable societies. Chapter Eleven describes the history of dispute resolution and mediation in Sri Lanka as well as the existing mediation program there. The case study presented in this chapter focuses on a dispute over the ownership of property after the death of a family's mother (119).

Land and environmental conflict is the focus of Part IV of this book. Chapter Twelve looks at a familial land dispute and shows how mediation may be used in a variety of ways. The case describes how a local mediation committee was formed and acted in a judicial fashion, but settled the issue without involving the courts. Chapter Thirteen relates a story of a dispute between two families in Southern Thailand over a piece of land that was unrightfully sold to a logging company. This story illustrates the traditional peacemaking role that Buddhist monks play in Thai society. The case study presented in Chapter Fourteen reports on the actions taken by the Citizen's Coalition for Economic Justice (CCEJ) to stop Hyundai Resources Development Company from logging in the boreal forests in the Russian Far East. By acting as intermediary and mediator, CCEJ managed to persuade the chairman of Hyundai to preserve the region and prevented an international boycott of the company's products. In Chapter Fifteen, toxic waste management and conflicts between government agencies and environmentalists are discussed as issues affecting many Asian countries. After describing the conflict situation over these issues in Malaysia, the author offers proposals for handling environmental conflicts in regions where no institutional mechanisms of conflict resolution exist. Chapter Sixteen considers the implications of the failed mediation of a conflict between residents of Teshima, Japan and an industrial polluter that was dumping waste on the island.

Part V: Business Conflicts begins with a chapter on the work of Child Workers in Nepal Concerned Center (CWIN), an NGO "working for the rights, dignity, and development of children in Nepal's carpet industry" (173). Chapter Eighteen considers Thailand's expanding economy and increasing involvement in international commercial arbitration and the inclusion of arbitration clauses in Thai business contracts. Chapter Nineteen describes China's mediation system and then concentrates on a case in which a copyright dispute between a Japanese animation company and Chinese toy maker was mediated. Mediation in this case "involved arranging for an apology, compensation, and a signing ceremony in the plaintiff's office" (188).

Neighborhood Disputes are considered in Part VI of Constructive Conflict Management: Asia-Pacific Cases. Chapter Twenty discusses the role of the People's Mediation Committees (PMC) in China, which handle more than 7 million marriage, family, and neighborhood disputes each year. The case covered here shows how a PMC mediator resolved a conflict between a Han (majority) and Hui (minority) family, over the use of a communal cooking stove. Chapter Twenty-one discusses a simple case in which two university teachers reached a mediated settlement with a store owner, after they believed their reputations were damaged by an unlawful search of their bags. The last chapter of this part looks at a less-orthodox conflict resolution process, in which the youth of two disputing villages unilaterally restored the water supply to a one of the villages, which had been unfairly cut-off from the supply.

Chapters Twenty-three through Twenty-five make up Part VII: Conflicts Involving Indigenous Peoples. Chapter Twenty-three describes the integral role that the Maori tradition of consensus decision-making played in negotiations with a developer who wanted to build a hotel on Maori lands in New Zealand. Chapter Twenty-four discusses a complex situation in the Philippines in which a Filipino ethnic group named the "Aytas" have had to cope with disruptions of their cultural and spiritual bases of identity. Disruption has come at the hands of dominant society, Clark Air Base, and most devastatingly by Mt. Pinatubo's eruption in 1991. The author's report relates three case studies showing how Aytas lives were affects by all of this disruption. Chapter Twenty-five presents the history of ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. One of the principal points of this chapter is that Sri Lanka does not have any institutional mechanisms designed to mediate ethnic conflicts, thus times of escalation have brought massive human and economic costs along with them.

The final chapter of Constructive Conflict Management: Asia-Pacific Cases serves as the opposite bookend to Chapter One. The conclusion addresses the most relevant and pressing questions raised by the series of case studies presented, draws out the main lessons of the work, and provides a series of hypotheses for future research. Relevant questions include, but are not limited to: "Do cultural values control the process of conflit management?"; "Why does ethnic conflict tend to be especially explosive?"; "What are the criteria for successful mediation across cultures?"; and "What is the relationship between mediation and the courts?" (250-260). While much has yet to be learned on these topics, this book provides a wide diversity of ideas and case studies that bear on these questions. After reading this volume, readers will have a much better understanding of the importance of accounting for cultural differences when undertaking conflict interventions in unfamiliar locales. The case studies are also valuable for theory-builders and other scholars who want to further investigate the intersection between cultural normas and conflict resolution process.