Dealing Constructively with Intractable Conflicts

Dealing Constructively
Intractable Conflicts

An Online Course from Beyond Intractability

What this Program Is:

This is a college-level course built on the Beyond Intractability website. The course has never been offered for formal college credit, but it used to be available as a certificate class. Unfortunately, we no longer have the funding to grade students in the class, so it is now only available for self study. All of the materials are still accessible, however, as are the suggested assignments. While we cannot offer feedback to students on those assignments, some users may still find that writing the "required" papers will be an interesting and useful exercise. 

The course focuses primarily on long-lasting, difficult-to-resolve conflicts, but it also has a lot of general conflict resolution material. About half of the material is theoretical, covering topics such as:

  • The nature and causes of intractable conflict
  • Why some conflicts are more or less tractable than others
  • Dynamics of intractable conflicts?
  • How intractable conflicts end?

The other half of the material is more practical, covering such questions as:

  • How does one do a conflict assessment?
  • What types of intervention are needed to transform intractable conflicts?
  • How do these different types of intervention work?
  • How are interventions evaluated?

Who is this Program For?

This program will be of interest to college students (both advanced undergraduates and graduate students), third parties (peacebuilders, mediators, aid and development workers), and people who are directly involved in difficult conflicts as disputants or victims who want to find more constructive ways of approaching their situation. 

Course Requirements

This program consists of 10 units, averaging about 40 pages of online reading and 1-2 hours of online audio interviews (for which transcripts are available for people who prefer to read). For those wanting more information, several thousand pages of supplemental material and about 100 hours of online audio are also accessible in the full Beyond Intractability system. Students had been asked to answer a few questions at the end of each unit, generally requiring writing about 5-8 pages in response. Most of these questions ccould be done based on the readings and background knowledge alone, although a few took additional online reading to investigate the current situation in a particular conflict. Students were also asked to participate (with at least 20 postings) in an online discussion in which they were encouraged to relate what they are learning to ongoing current events.

How Long Does this Program Take?

This program is one course, about equivalent in workload to a three semester hour, upper-division college course. That means that we expect students to take about 120 to 150 hours of work to complete the course. 

Course Units

Unit I: Understanding the Nature of Conflict

Please read the following essays and also listen to--or read the transcripts of--at least some of the audio comments inserted into the essays for additional interesting examples and points of view. (The suggestion to listen to the audio applies to all of the readings, not just those in Unit I.)

Explaining the Term "Intractable": The first three essays describe what we mean by the term "intractable." It does not mean "impossible" or "hopeless," but it does mean "difficult," "long-lasting," and often "destructive." Please read these essays and listen (or read) the audio comments associated with the essays as well. 

  • What are Intractable Conflicts?
    Intractability is a difficult term to define, and many people do not like it because it is too "negative." But many conflicts exist that seem to deserve that term: the relationship between the U.S. and Iraq, Israelis and Palestinians, abortion policy in the U.S., or even a difficult divorce. These conflicts consume time, money, and energy, and at their worst, result in millions of deaths. This essay provides an introduction to what we mean by the term and why we use it.
  • Nature of Intractability
    It can be difficult to decide whether a conflict is, in fact, intractable. This essay gives a second perspective on why the term, "intractable," is so controversial, but explains why it is useful as well. 
  • Characteristics of Intractable Conflicts
    This is a third essay which gives another theorist's "take" on why some conflicts are intractable, while others aren't. While all three of these essays agree on some criteria, all three have their own views on the problem of intractability.

Other Key Concepts: Several other concepts are also important to understand if one is to understand how intractable conflicts are different from other conflicts and why they must be approached in different ways.

  • Conflicts and Disputes
    Conflict scholars make a critical distinction between short-term disputes and deep-rooted, long-term conflicts. Learn why conflicts are so much harder to resolve than disputes.
  • Alternative Outcomes: Settlement, Resolution, Management, or Transformation
    This essay refers to four different goals for a conflict intervention. It defines the four terms and explains how their meanings have evolved over time.
  • Interests, Positions, Needs and Values
    Interests are people's desires, concerns, and fears. In their best-selling book, Getting to Yes, Roger Fisher and William Ury assert that almost all adversaries have negotiable interests, it is only when the conflict becomes about rights, values, or power that it become intractable.
  • Ripeness
    A conflict is said to be ripe once both parties realize they cannot win, and the conflict is costing them too much to continue. This tends to be a good time to open negotiations.

Unit I Assignment:

Answer the following 2 questions. 

1. Consider three of the following conflicts:

  • Israeli-Palestinian conflict
  • US/Iraq 2003-?
  • Sudan
  • Kashmir
  • Northern Ireland
  • Abortion in the U.S.
  • North-South relations regarding development and trade.
  • Homosexual rights in the U.S.
  • Race relations in South Africa
  • Race relations in the U.S.
  • Race relations in France
  • The European Union
  • Labor relations in the United States--or elsewhere
  • The China-Taiwan conflict

Would you say these conflicts are intractable? Why or why not? (Suggested length of answer: 1-2 pages/conflict where 1 page = 300 words.)

2. Do you think the term "intractable" is a useful one? Please explain (keeping in mind that a "no" answer is completely acceptable as long as you justify your answer. (Suggested length of answer: 1-2 pages.)


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Unit II: Examining the Causes of Intractable Conflicts

There are many, many causes of intractable conflicts, and the causes of each individual conflict are different. However, there are certain factors that seem to appear over and over again. These essays highlight a few of the many common causes of intractable conflicts. The first is an overview essay; the others hit the highlights of some of the most common causes of intractability in more detail. It should be noted that the essays on oppression and high-stakes distributional issues are merely "introductory essays" that serve as gateways into additional readings on those topics. You do not need to read all of the associated essays--together they are pretty long--but choose 2 or 3 from each group that is of most interest and applicability to you.  Also listen to--or read the transcripts of--at least some of the audio comments for additional interesting examples and points of view. 

  • Underlying Causes of Intractable Conflict
    Intractable conflicts, such as between Israel and Palestine, are rarely just about surface issues such as land or religion. At the core of most intractable conflicts is a tangle of issues threatening the most vital interests of the parties. This essay describes some of the common causes underlying many intractable conflicts.
  • Unmet Human Needs
    Human essentials go beyond just food, water, and shelter. They include all those things humans are innately driven to attain, such as love, dignity and safety. Some theorists argue that most intractable conflicts are caused by the drive to satisfy unmet needs.
  • Identity Issues
    Israelis and Palestinians, Protestants and Catholics, whites and blacks, labor and management...these are all examples of identities that have resulted in conflicts. This essay discusses the importance of identity in intractable conflicts.
  • Oppression and Conflict: Introduction
    Oppression is at the root of many of the most serious, enduring conflicts in the world today. This very short essay introduces the concept of oppression. Subsidiary essays examine the nature of oppression and how it is maintained, as well as strategies for overcoming oppression and developing more equitable relationships between groups.
  • High-Stakes Distributional Issues
    These are distributional conflicts that really matter: over jobs, land, a parent's love. Since the stakes are high, the willingness to compromise or lose may be low, making resolution more difficult. This is an introductory essay that links to other essays on particular high-stakes conflicts.
  • Moral or Value Conflicts
    Intractable moral conflicts tend to arise when one group views the beliefs and actions of another group as being so fundamentally evil that they exceed the bounds of tolerance. The abortion debate in the United States is an example of a moral conflict.

Unit II Assignment:

Chose an intractable conflict (a different conflict than you wrote about in Unit I) and explain what the causes of intractability appear to be. Can you think of any way to limit or "fix" some or all of those causes so that the conflict might be transformed into one that is more manageable? (Suggested length of answer: 3-4 pages.)

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Unit III: Costs and Benefits of Intractable Conflict

In Unit I, it was said that intractable conflicts tend to be very destructive--the costs far outweigh the benefits. While this is true, it does not necessarily have to be. Conflicts do have substantial benefits if they are confronted constructively. So the goal of what is commonly referred to as "conflict resolution" or "conflict prevention" should actually be "conflict transformation"--the process of limiting the destructive aspects of the conflict so that the constructive aspects can come to the fore. The following essays discuss the costs (which are generally prevalent) and also the potential benefits of well-managed conflict. 

  • Costs of Intractable Conflict
    The twentieth century was the deadliest in all of human history. With eight million Jews murdered and one million Rwandans, it was named "the age of genocide." However, human casualties merely scratch the surface of the true cost of conflict. This essay discusses the human, economic, social, and political costs of intractable conflict.
  • Relationships Damaged / Destroyed
    People on opposite sides of a long-running conflict tend to distrust or even hate each other. This takes an emotional toll on both parties and prevents them from working together in the future.  
  • Violence--Overview
    This article examines the nature of political violence and what can be done to stop it. It also introduces nine other essays on particular forms of violence. Read at least three of these essays in addition to the overview essay to complete this assignment.
  • Interpersonal Conflict and Violence
    Interpersonal violence is the use of physical force to harm another person. It can also take the form of emotional abuse where language or behavior, not physical harm, causes emotional damage. This essay explores how interpersonal violence is both a cause and a consequence of intractable conflict.
  • Victimhood
    In the early 1930s, millions of Ukrainians died under Stalin's violent policy of forced collectivization. The depth of pain, fear, and hatred that continued to characterize the Ukrainian attitude toward Russians is typical of all victimized people. This essay examines the causes and consequences of a sense of victimhood.
  • Benefits of Intractable Conflict
    Conflict is change. Without it, attitudes, behavior, and relationships stay the same, regardless of whether they are fair. Although conflict is often understood as something negative, this essay explores its many benefits.

Unit III Assignment:

Choose an intractable conflict. (It can be one you discussed in Unit I or II, or it may be a different one.) Using Google or other documentable sources, try to determine what the costs of that conflict have been over the last several years. (Try, for example, to search for the region, such as Sudan and "casualties." How many lives have been lost (if any)? What else has been lost? (Property? Sense of security? Trust? Relationships... think as widely as possible to detail both costs that can be measured and documented and those that cannot.) Don't worry if you can't find up-to-date numbers. Just try to get some idea of the vastness of the costs. 

 Now use your imagination. What if the negative aspects of this conflict were brought under control? Are there some benefits of the conflict that then might become apparent? What would these be? (Suggested length of answer to both questions together: 3-4 pages.)

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Unit IV: Conflict Dynamics

Again, each conflict is different. But all seem to go through stages (though not always in the same order, and often with periods of regression to an earlier stage) and most have significant socially and psychologically driven dynamics, escalation, and complexity. Read the following essays, listen to some of the comments, and then answer the questions at the end of this unit.

  • Factors Shaping the Course of Intractable Conflict
    The parties, issues, setting, and history are among the factors that shape the course of conflicts.
  • Conflict Stages
    Most conflicts go through a series of stages, which may or may not occur in order. They start as latent conflict. They then emerge, escalate, de-escalate and are resolved--sometimes permanently, sometimes temporarily--until they emerge or escalate again. Once conflicts escalate for awhile, the parties often reach a stalemate: neither party can win, but neither party wants to back down. At this stage the parties have two options: continue to bleed each other dry, or look towards resolution. This is an introductory essay; essays on each of the stages individually are provided in links.
  • Social Psychological Dimensions of Conflict
    These dimensions include emotions (fear, distrust, hostility) as well as processes such as framing, stereotyping, and scapegoating. These factors significantly influence the way a conflict is perceived and responded to. This introductory essay discusses social psychological dimensions in general; links are provided to many more specific essays.
  • Frames / Framing / Reframing
    Frames are the way we see things and define what we see. Similar to the way a new frame can entirely change the way we view a photograph, reframing can change the way disputing parties understand and pursue their conflict. This introduction to the concepts of frames and framing serves as a gateway to many more essays on different kinds of frames and the process of reframing. 
  • Destructive Escalation
    Escalation is an increase in the intensity of a conflict. The number of parties and issues tends to increase, tactics become heavier, malevolence increases, and overall destructiveness generally increases as well. This essay explains how and why this occurs and touches on what can be done to stop it (although that is dealt with more specifically in later sections).
  • Complexity
    Complexity refers to the numbers and interrelationships of factors involved in a conflict: the numbers of parties, issues, technical facts, etc. Complex systems are even more difficult to understand and deal with than "complicated systems" from which they must be distinguished. This essay describes the differences between complex and complicated systems and explains how both make transformation or resolution a challenge.

Unit IV Assignment:

Answer any 3 of the following 5 questions (be sure to read some of the "underlying" essays as well as the introductory essay in the stages, social psychology and framing sections if you choose to answer those questions.)

1. Choose three of the conflicts listed in the Unit I assignment or another conflict with which you are familiar. What stage is this conflict in? Why do you say that? (Suggested length: 1 page)

2. Choose one of the conflicts listed in Assignment 1. What social psychological factors are contributing to the conflict's intractability? How are these factors affecting the conflict dynamics? (1-2 pages)

3. Again looking at one of these conflicts, how do the various sides "frame" the conflict? Are the frames compatible? Different? Do the frames affect the conflict dynamics? (1-2 pages)

4. Which of the conflicts listed in Assignment 1 exhibit destructive escalation? Choose one and explain your answer for that one. Are any of these conflicts de-escalated? Explain your answer. (You do not need to explain for all, nor do you need to research conflicts about which you know very little.) (1-2 pages total.) 

5. Do any or all of these conflicts show signs of complexity? Explain your answer. What does that imply about how the conflict should be addressed? (1-2 pages)

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Unit V: The People in Intractable Conflicts

The people in intractable conflicts can be divided into three categories: first parties (those who take a side in the dispute, third parties (those who do not take a side, but are trying to intervene to fix it), and bystanders who aren't first parties or third parties, but are nevertheless caught up in the negative consequences of the conflict. These essays discuss those different roles and then suggest that there are actually at least 10 "third side" roles that can actually played by first parties, third parties and bystanders to try to make conflicts more constructive. 

  • People Involved (Parties)
    This essay gives a brief introduction into the roles people involved in an intractable conflict can play.
  • Disputants (Stakeholders or First Parties)
    Disputants are the people primarily involved in a dispute. They are the ones most affected by the outcome of the conflict and the ones who are pursuing it.
  • Leaders and Leadership
    James MacGregor Burns observed, "Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth." These resources examine the dynamics between a group and their leader and the role leaders play in conflict escalation and/or transformation.
  • Grassroots Actors
    In prolonged and violent conflict, life at the grassroots level is characterized by a survival mentality. People struggle daily to find adequate food, water, shelter, and safety. This struggle gives people a very different understanding of the conflict than that held by leaders, and it puts grassroots citizens in an especially important role in all peacebuilding efforts. Even in prolonged nonviolent conflict, grassroots actors often have very different concerns than the leadership. This essay discusses things that everyday citizens can do, independent of those in leadership positions, to reduce a conflict's destructiveness.
  • Formal Intermediaries
    Formal intermediaries are ones who act as professional third parties: mediators, arbitrators, facilitators and judges. They are contrasted with informal intermediaries, who play the same roles on an informal basis. This introductory essay provides links to information about different types of formal intermediaries, though most of those will be explored in more detail in Unit VI, so you do not need to do the subsidiary reading yet.
  • Informal Intermediaries
    It is not necessary to be formally trained to have a positive effect on conflict. Ordinary people can act as facilitators, mediators, or even arbitrators (ask parents!) to help resolve disputes. This essay introduces the notion of informal intermediaries, which is much expanded in the following "Third Sider" section.  
  • Third Siders
    Third siders act in a community threatened with destructive conflict as an immune system acts in a body threatened by disease. Average citizens, such as teachers, journalists, artists and police officers can play key roles in preventing, de-escalating and resolving conflict. Bill Ury has labeled these people "third siders." Please read the introductory essay and several of the individual essays on different third-sider roles.

Unit V Assignment:

Consider an intractable conflict that you know quite a bit about--perhaps one of the ones listed in the initial list; perhaps another one. Answer the following questions with respect to that conflict:

1. Who are the primary disputants? Who are the leaders? How much influence do they have over the course of the conflict (and why do you say that)?

2. Are there any formal intermediaries? If so, who? Briefly, what are they doing or trying to do?

3. Which of the third side roles are being played and by whom? Which roles are not being filled?

(Total length of answers should be about 3-6 pages.)

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Unit VI: Other Important Contributing Factors

Several other factors often play a key role in difficult and intractable conflicts. In the developing world, development and conflict are closely intertwined. Development tends to cause conflict, yet conflict can hamper effective development. The introductory essay on Development and Conflict provides links to nine other essays on different aspects of development, based on the Millennium Development Goals. Power is almost always a key factor, though it can be used as a benefit or a curse. At a minimum, it must be understood and utilized to one's advantage. The power essay is also an introduction to several more essays examining different forms of power, power inequities, and means of empowerment and capacity building. Like development, in conflicts involving different cultures, the cultural effects are almost always significant. The introductory essay on Culture and Conflict serves as a gateway to several more essays on culture and conflict. Finally, the link to "facts" is not an essay, but a link to a section of Beyond Intractability that addresses facts and factual disputes that often plague complex intractable conflicts. Read the introductory essay on "theories of knowledge" and then at least the introductory essay on factual disputes and fact-finding. Then branch out from there if you care to (or need to) to complete the end-of-unit assignment.

  • Development and Conflict 
    Societies are always changing. Some improve, while others fail. Development theory aims at explaining both processes. This essay explores how development theory can be used to deepen our understanding of intractable conflict. It also shows how an understanding of conflict processes informs development theory and serves as a link to the other development essays.
  • Power
    If power were one-dimensional, we could agree on who has more and who has less. However, we are often surprised when a seemingly less powerful party holds a more powerful party at bay. This essay discusses both potential and actual power, the forms power can take, and its role in causing and solving intractable conflicts.
  • Culture and Conflict -- Overview
    People from different cultures often have such radically different worldviews that what seems like common sense to one side, is anything but sensible to the other. Different cultures and worldviews can lead to completely different understandings or frames of a conflict, making resolution a challenge.
  • Facts
    Getting the facts straight is necessary for resolving conflict. However, fact-finding is often much more difficult than it appears

Unit VI Assignment:

Choose two of these four focus areas (development, power, culture, and facts), and read the introductory essays and 4-6 of the associated essays. Also read the basic introductory essay on the other two topics. Then answer two of the following four questions:

  1. How do development and conflict interact in your conflict (in other words, how does each affect the other)?
  2. What kinds of power are being utilized by whom? Are there opportunities to use exchange power or integrative power that are being overlooked?
  3. What is the impact of cultural differences in this conflict? How are they being addressed?
  4. Explain what factual disputes are important in the conflict and what, if anything, is being done to address them.

You may focus on one conflict for both essays, or different conflicts for each essay, but overall look at two of these factors, not all four.

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Unit VII: Strategies for Conflict Transformation, Management, or Resolution for Use by Disputants or "First Parties"

While third parties are often focused on resolution, first parties often are not. More likely, they are more focused on "winning" or "getting out" of the conflict if they see it as more damaging than beneficial. (As we said before, this is a "ripe" time for resolution.) The following essays are but some of those available in the full Beyond Intractability Knowledge Base that examine options to transform conflict.

  • Conflict Assessment
    Conflict assessment is the first stage in the process of conflict management and resolution that begins by clarifying participants' interests, needs, positions, and issues and then engages stakeholders to find solutions.
  • Conflict Transformation
    Many people believe that conflict happens for a reason and that it brings much-needed change. Therefore, to eliminate conflict would also be to eliminate conflict's dynamic power. In transformation, a conflict is changed into something constructive, rather than destructive, but it is allowed to continue so that the beneficial aspects of the conflict can still be achieved.
  • Limiting Escalation / De-escalation
    De-escalation tends to proceed slowly and requires a lot of effort. This essay describes some key strategies available for slowing escalation and then de-escalating a conflict.
  • Interpersonal / Small-Scale Communication
    Robert Quillen wrote, "Discussion is an exchange of knowledge; argument an exchange of emotion." These resources explain why interpersonal communication breaks down and how to make it more effective.
  • Apology and Forgiveness
    These are two sides of the multi-faceted "diamond" of reconciliation. Both are necessary for true reconciliation to take place.
  • Respect
    Treating people with respect is key to conflict transformation. When they are denied respect, people tend to react negatively, creating conflicts or escalating existing ones.
  • Improving Relationships
    There are many tools people can use to repair relationships after they have been damaged by conflict. Some of the most common are explored in this introductory essay; others are explored in subsidiary essays.
  • Option Identification
    Once the parties have identified the issues under contention, they should systematically list all options that they see available to them for advancing their interests. Option identification helps parties develop creative, realistic solutions to their conflict.
  • Negotiation
    Negotiation is bargaining -- it is the process of discussion and give-and-take between two or more disputants, who seek to find a solution to a common problem. This overview essay discusses basic strategies and tactics of negotiation. More details are then found in the sections on negotiation theory and negotiation strategies.  
  • Negotiation Theory
    This short essay explains what we mean by "negotiation theory" and gives links to subsequent essays that describe some of these theories in more detail. 
  • Negotiation Strategies
    Most literature on negotiation focuses on two strategies, cooperative bargaining versus competitive bargaining. This essay briefly defines and compares these two bargaining styles and links to other essays that give more details.

Unit VII Assignment:

Consider one of the intractable conflicts listed in the Unit I assignment or another conflict of similar scope. Do you see any of the disputing parties making efforts toward conflict transformation, management or resolution? If so, what are they doing? What change strategies are they using? Are they doing anything to try to improve relationships? If so, what? Are they negotiating? What strategy do they seem to be using? If not, what might be done by disputants themselves to make the conflict less destructive and more constructive? (Suggested length: 3-4 pages.)

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Unit VIII: Third Party Intermediary Strategies (Part I)

This section looks at third party intervention very broadly and then focuses in on mediation, one of the most commonly recognized forms of third-party intervention. As in earlier sections, some of these essays are free standing, but the one on mediation strategies and techniques links to a series of more detailed essays. You need not read all of those--just the ones that are of interest.

  • Theories of Change
    Theories of change are theories that explain how particular interventions (such as dialogues or problem-solving workshops) influence people and change their behavior enough to change the character of the entire conflict in which they are involved. All interventions should have a theory of change, and should assess its validity by outcome evaluations as much as possible.
  • Intervention Processes
    Most intractable conflicts require outside intervention in order to be constructively transformed or resolved. This essay introduces the many forms of intervention and discusses their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Meta-Conflict Resolution
    Many conflict resolvers emphasize mediation, dialogue, or problem solving workshops as solutions to conflict. But intractable conflicts usually need a much more comprehensive approach. This article describes such an approach and articulates the various roles that must be carried out to successfully transform these conflicts.
  • Preventing Interpersonal Violence
    This essay examines what can be done to prevent violence at the interpersonal and small group level (as opposed to the international level). The prevention of family violence, gang violence, and violence in the schools are examples of topics considered in this essay.
  • Preventive Diplomacy and International Violence Prevention
    Violence prevention has evolved from being focused almost exclusively on short-term interventions. It now refers to long-term initiatives that target the root causes of conflict.
  • Mediation
    Mediation is a conflict resolution process in which a third party assists the disputants to communicate better, analyze their conflicts and their options and to develop a mutually satisfactory solution.
  • Mediation Strategies and Techniques
    These essays outline the basic steps needed to conduct a successful mediation.
  • Consensus Building
    Consensus building is used to settle conflicts that involve multiple parties and complicated issues. The approach seeks to transform adversarial confrontations into a cooperative search for information and solutions that meet all parties' interests and needs.

Unit VIII Assignment:

Consider one of the intractable conflicts listed in the Unit I assignment or another conflict of similar scope. Are there (or have there been) any efforts made at mediation, consensus building or violence prevention? If so, what are was (or is being) done? What was/is the result? If not, what kinds of intervention might be helpful? (Suggested length: 3-4 pages.)

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Unit IX: Third Party Intermediary Strategies (Part II)

This section focuses on "peace processes" that are commonly used in international, and broad-scale ethnic, religious, and nationalistic conflicts. After reviewing the nature (and meaning) of peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding, the unit goes on to discuss where these processes are carried out and the challenges of making them work on a large enough scale to have a significant effect. Even more than in other units, the primary essays on peacebuilding and peacemaking are actually introductions to large segments of materials. Read the introductory essay, and pick and choose among the subsidiary essays as your interests suggest. The essays on Democracy, Transitional Justice (a unit, actually), and Dispute Systems Design are optional, depending on whether or not they relate to a conflict you are interested in.   

  • Peace Processes
    This introductory essay explains the term "peace process" and its components: peacemaking, building, keeping, and violence prevention, among many others. 
  • Peacemaking
    Peacemaking is the term often used to refer to negotiating the resolution of a conflict between people, groups, or nations. It goes beyond peacekeeping to actually deal with the issues involved in the dispute, but falls short of peacebuilding, which aims toward reconciliation and normalization of relations between ordinary people, not just the formal resolution that is written on paper.
  • Peacekeeping
    Peacekeeping is the prevention or ending of violence within or between nation-states through the intervention of an outside third party that keeps the warring parties apart. Unlike peacemaking, which involves negotiating a resolution to the issues in conflict, the goal of peacekeeping is simply preventing further violence. Peacekeeping can also happen at lower levels of conflict, in families, communities, or organizations.
  • Peacebuilding
    Peacebuilding is a long-term process that occurs after violent conflict has stopped. It is the phase of the peace process that takes place after peacemaking and peacekeeping.
  • Peacebuilding Levels of Action
    This essay explains John Paul Lederach's "triangle," which describes three levels of society at which would-be conflict resolvers might work: the grassroots, the leaders, and the middle level. While peacework must be done at all three levels, the middle level is especially important, Lederach says, as it links the top with the bottom as well as linking across party lines.
  • The Scale-Up Problem
    Much conflict resolution takes place around the table or in small-group processes. Yet, intractable conflicts often involve whole communities or even societies. So methods must be found to widen or "scale-up" the small group processes to the larger society.
  • Democracy and Conflict Management
    In many ways, democracy is a system of conflict management in which the outcomes are unknown but the fundamental rules of the game provide a safe arena in which to compete.
  • Nation Building
    The general public sees nation-building programs as those in which dysfunctional or "failed states" are given assistance. This essay looks at the history of nation building and how it has been interpreted differently over the years.
  • Transitional Justice
    After extreme violence, it can be difficult to return a society to a peaceful, functioning state. This section covers some tools and theory to help with this process.
  • Designing New Dispute Resolution Systems
    Dispute system design refers to the process of creating an entire routinized system for repetitively handling similar types of disputes. Applied domestically to labor-management and workplace disputes, it also is applied at a national level to help societies develop new conflict management procedures and entire justice systems as part of the democratization process.

Unit IX Assignment:

Consider one of the intractable conflicts listed in the Unit I assignment or another conflict of similar scope, and answer 3 of the following questions:

1) Are there (or have there been) any efforts made at peacemaking? Peacekeeping? Peacebuilding? What has been or is being done, and by whom?  

2) What is being done (or could be done) to address the scale-up problem and/or to work across all the levels of action?

3) What, if any, transitional justice mechanisms have been or are being applied? What has the effect been?

4) Are there any aspects of this conflict that could benefit from the design of a new dispute resolution system? What kind of system is needed? How might it work?  

5) Is democratization a concern in this area? If so, is it seen as a goal to be achieved or avoided? By whom, and why? What are the obstacles to democratization?

(Suggested length: 2-3 pages/question, 6-9 pages overall.)

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Unit X: Outcomes, Monitoring, and Evaluation

These essays look at the hoped-for end result of conflict transformation, and ways of evaluating whether or not interventions worked.   

  • Evaluation as a Tool for Reflection
    This essay argues that evaluation and systematic reflection provides for the learning and knowledge necessary for effective dispute resolution processes. At the same time, evaluation poses significant difficulties.
  • Tolerance
    William Ury explained, "tolerance is not just agreeing with one another or remaining indifferent in the face of injustice, but rather showing respect for the essential humanity in every person."
  • Coexistence
    In a state of coexistence, the parties agree to respect each other's differences and resolve their conflicts nonviolently.
  • Stable Peace
    This essay introduces the idea of a stable peace, or "a situation in which the probability of war is so small that it does not really enter into the calculations of any of the people involved."
  • Peace Agreements
    This essay lays out an outline for understanding different types of peace agreements. The subsidiary essays discuss each type of agreement in more detail.
  • Monitoring of Agreements
    Peace agreements can be lethal instruments when they are poorly designed and poorly enforced. For example, the 1994 Tutsi genocide in Rwanda occurred after the failure of the Arusha Accords. This type of failure can sometimes be avoided through outside monitoring of an agreement.
  • Enforcement Mechanisms
    Peace agreements fail, even when made in good faith, because parties are not able to enforce the terms of the agreement. In order to prevent this, enforcement mechanisms should be built into every peace agreement.

Unit X Assignment:

Look at one of the conflicts that you have been analyzing during this course. How close has this conflict come to being transformed into a constructive, or tractable conflict? Evaluate what has been done and what more might be done on the basis of what you have learned about the nature of intractable conflicts and ways to remedy them as you have gone through this course. (Suggested length: 4-6 pages.)

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Theories of Knowledge

            Factual Disputes
              »  Factual Disputes   
              »  Technical Facts   
              »  Historical Facts   
              »  Legal Facts  
              »  Land and Property Rights in the Peace Process  
            Fact Finding
              »  Fact-finding  
              »  Distinguishing Facts from Values
              »  Uncertainty  
              »  Obtaining Trustworthy Information  
              »  Neutral Fact-finding  
              »  Joint Fact-finding   
              »  Oversight / Review Committee 
              »  Truth Commissions  
              »  Amnesty  
              »  International War Crimes Tribunals  
»  Communicating Facts



            Relationship Problems
              »  Damaged or Destroyed Relationships
              »  Identity Issues 
              »  Face  
            Improving Relationships
              »  Establishment of Personal Relationships 
              »  Networking  
              »  Cooling off Periods 
              »  De-escalating Gestures  
              »  Confidence-building Measures  
              »  Managing Interpersonal Trust and Distrust  
              »  Trust and Trust Building  
              »  Respect   
            Conflict Transformation
              »  Conflict Transformation 
              »  Reconciliation  
              »  Apology and Forgiveness 
              »  Interpersonal / Small-scale Communication 
              »  Channels of Communication  
              »  Misunderstandings 
              »  Creating Safe Spaces for Communication 
              »  Dialogue 
              »  Narratives and Story-telling 
              »  Conversation as a Tool of Conflict Transformation 
              »  Empathic Listening 
              »  I-messages and You-messages 
              »  Escalation-limiting Language
              »  Communication Tools for Understanding Cultural Differences 
              »  Cross-cultural Communication  
              »  Metaphors 
              »  Rumor Control  
                    »  Large-scale Communication 
                    »  Mass Media  
                    »  Media Strategies
                    »  Political Communication   
                    »  Public Diplomacy  
                    »  Propaganda


Mediation Strategies and Techniques

              »  Mediators Without Borders: a Proposal to Resolve Political Conflicts  
»  Convening Processes
              »  Ripeness-promoting Strategies  
              »  Ground Rules  
              »  Sequencing Strategies and Tactics  
              »  Reframing
              »  Option Identification
              »  Focusing on Commonalities
              »  Caucus  
              »  Reality Testing  
              »  Consensus Building   
              »  Costing
              »  Policy Dialogue  
              »  Shuttle Diplomacy
              »  Action-forcing Mechanisms  
              »  Trust in Mediation 
              »  Codes of Conduct for Intervenors


Transitional Justice

              »  Truth Commissions   
              »  International War Crimes Tribunals  
              »  Lustration 
              »  Power Sharing   
              »  Land and Property Rights in the Peace Process