Professor Emeritus, Sociology, University of Syracuse; author of numerous books on intractable conflict
Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003
This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).
A: By the '70s that whole movement towards conflict resolution really began to flourish, for a variety of reasons. There had been some of this research based, theoretical work, there had been some studies, negotiation, and past work on negotiation and labor-industrial relations, but also there was an interest in what can be called alternative dispute resolution. I was interested in self-help, a reaction to the developments of the '60s, in fact they produced some sense that some conflicts really were healthy and necessary. The reaction to some of that research was to begin to figure out ways in which it could be done better and ways in which the conflicts could be resolved in a mutually satisfactory fashion. I found all of this very appealing Suddenly, I felt that I was riding a wave with a lot of other people, and it was very gratifying.
Q: Is the realization that some conflicts are good, where the phrase, or the title of your book, "Constructive Conflicts" come from?
A: Well, it comes from 2 things. One is from a basic principle of conflict resolution theory which is that conflicts are not inherently bad; in fact, not only are they inherent in social life, but they are often necessary to advance justice, to maintain autonomy, to promote freedom. There are good values that often seemed to be gained only through struggle. I had always believed that and some of my interest in this field was also to advance justice, yet the struggles often seem to be counter-productive when they go on too long and too destructively for all parties.
So I wanted to emphasize the concept that conflicts can be waged in a way that is mutually not destructive so the results as well as the conflict can be constructive. It was a way for synthesizing a lot of my interests, not conflict resolution narrowly conceived as what goes on at the negotiating table, in negotiations that are mediated by some 3rd party, but all that leads up to that and follows that in way that a conflict erupts, and escalates badly or not so badly. How it can be transformed, how once an agreement is reached, it needs to be implemented, and changed as conditions change. I wanted to elaborate that, to make that accessible to people who may enter for a variety of reasons and not from a relatively narrow perspective.