Summary of "New Directions in Conflict Theory: Conflict Resolution and Conflict Transformation"

Summary of

New Directions in Conflict Theory: Conflict Resolution and Conflict Transformation

By Raimo Vayrynen

Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff

Citation: New Directions in Conflict Theory: Conflict Resolution and Conflict Transformation. Raimo Vayrynen, ed. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1991, 232 pp.

New Directions in Conflict Theory: Conflict Resolution and Conflict Transformation is an edited volume spawned from papers presented at an International Social Science Council symposium entitled "Conflict Transformation: A Multidisciplinary Perspective." Thus, this volume offers nine chapters of different disciplinary approaches to the settlement or transformation of conflict, including historical and structural, legal, economic, psychological, international and environmental perspectives.

The opening chapter from editor Raimo Vayrynen, "To Settle or to Transform?: Perspectives on the Resolution of National and International Conflicts," considers ways in which political violence may serve a practical purpose or function. The author contrasts the insight that this perspective offers with that of problem-solving theory, believing that focusing on the functions of violence will reveal more about the structural (historical, economic, and political) context of conflict. Vayrynen explores collective political violence in terms of it being a means for groups "to defend or expand their interests in a given social structure", and "as a reflection of the underlying social reality" (2-3). How such collective political violence may be transformed is also considered in this chapter.

Chapter Two, "Subjective Features of Conflict Resolution: Psychological, Social and Cultural Influences," was written by prolific conflict theorist Morton Deutsch. In this essay, Deutsch first attempts to draw some common themes out of conflict literature from an array of academic disciplines. From this brief introduction, he concludes that all conflicts involve both objective and subjective factors. In this piece, Deutsch emphasizes the importance of illuminating subjective factors, with which he calls a "social-psychological" approach to conflict. The subjective factors he refers to include things like values, goals, cognitions, expectations, and perceptions of the participants. Based on this approach, the balance of the essay fleshes out a number of subjective factors common to all conflicts, providing a general theoretical framework of subjective factors that influence conflicts.

In Chapter Three, "Negotiation, Agreement and Conflict Resolution: The Role of Rational Approaches and Their Criticism," Michael Nicholson provides a summation of the main aspects of rational choice theory as it is applied to conflict resolution. Rational choice theory is built on the assumption that people are generally rational beings and will make rational decisions. In this paper, Nicholson covers the basics of this theory as well as examining some of its shortcomings, which in turn raises new questions for theoretical investigation.

With Chapter Four, "International Law in a Fragmented World: The Challenge of New Issues and New Actors," Richard Falk examines the tenuous role of international law in the newly altered global setting that now involves significant new issues and actors beyond the realm of the sovereign nation-state. Falk focuses on the efforts of international law to bring a "normative coherence" to international society, "thereby mitigating the circumstances of fragmentation and decentralization" that seem to identify the global community today (79).

Chapter Five, "International Conflict and Environmental Degradation" by Michael Renner, Mario Pianta and Cinzia Franchi, presents an overview of some of the connections between international conflict and environmental degradation. The authors outline some of the types of environmental degradation that have transnational effects and therefore affect nation-state relations. The conflict potential of environmental degradation is also considered, as is the issue of environmental conflict resolution. Renner et al. state that transboundary environmental conflict resolution does not solely depend on the capacity of sovereign nations, but also on the awareness and activism of grassroots environmental organizations.

"The Resolution and Transformation of International Conflicts: A Structural Perspective," by Peter Wallensteen, employs the end of the cold War as the lens through which to examine the connection between conflict resolution and transformation. Wallensteen states that, "[a] successful case of conflict transformation is one where the parties, the issues and expectations are changed so that there is no longer a fear of war arising from the relationship" (130). When this occurs, so does a shift in the purpose and composition of the parties involved. As an example, Chapter Six is concerned with Germany's relations with other major world powers in the twentieth century, and the theoretical lessons that may be drawn from that case.

In "Multilateral Aspects of Conflict Resolution," Juergen Dedring examines the burgeoning (as of 1991) phenomenon of multilateralism in international relations and international conflict resolution. Dedring is concerned with what the structure of multilateralism looks like and what it means to the international system. The primary aim of this chapter is to flesh out the similarities and differences between the traditional bilateral model of international conflict resolution and the growing trend of multilateral processes. The chapter not only focuses on military engagements, but also considers "international organizations, international conferences, alliances, regional communities and tenuous alignments, as long as they have provisions for -- or concrete experience in -- the management, resolution, and occasionally also the transformation of interstate conflict -- be it political, economic, financial, ideological, ethnic, and so on" (154).

Hans Nagpaul, in "Urban-Rural Relationships and Social Conflicts in India," discusses the impending expansion of urbanized areas across the globe and the tensions that develop between ill defined and loosely demarcated rural and urban areas. The author focuses on the competition and continuous conflict that arises between sectors, which is catalyzed by "contrasting physical, sociocultural, economic and political environments, on the one hand, and divergent interests and goals, on the other" (183). Nagpaul takes India as his case study and concludes his discussion with some suggestions on how to address and potentially resolve urban-rural social conflicts.

The final chapter of New Directions again addresses urban-rural conflicts, this time in Latin America. In "Urbanization, Urban-Rural Cleavages and Conflicts in Latin America," Susana Penalva grapples with the definition of "urbanization" and the consequences of this phenomenon on the international system. The author looks at the spatial reorganization of population and the implications it has for the rise of conflict. Most importantly, Penalva discusses the effect rapid urbanization has on the rural periphery, which is principally economic, and how such structural adjustments are related to the wider global sphere of influence.

New Directions in Conflict Theory: Conflict Resolution and Conflict Transformation offers a group of insightful perspectives on highly significant issues from a range of academic disciplines. Published in 1991, this work provides a theoretical starting point for researchers interested in international conflict resolution since the end of the Cold War. Furthermore, each chapter concludes with ruminations on future research possibilities and/or theoretical avenues to explore.