Summary of "Theory and Practice in Ethnic Conflict Management: Theorizing Success and Failure"

Summary of

Theory and Practice in Ethnic Conflict Management: Theorizing Success and Failure

by Marc Howard Ross and Jay Rothman


Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff

Citation: Theory and Practice in Ethnic Conflict Management: Theorizing Success and Failure. Marc Howard Ross and Jay Rothman, eds. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999, 263 pp.

Theory and Practice in Ethnic Conflict Management: Theorizing Success and Failure contains a series of essays and case studies focused on the topic of ethnic conflict management. The work is one of a series of books on ethnic and inter-community conflict, which is geared toward recognition of the many ethnically driven, long-lived, small-scale internal conflicts throughout the world. The persistence, or intractability of many of these conflicts and the inability or unwillingness of the United Nations to address many of them, reflects the changing nature of conflict in the contemporary world and the increasing difficulty of policing the globe.

This work, edited by Marc Howard Ross and Jay Rothman, attempts to lay out the dynamics of conflicts and how they evolve and change over time, eventually reaching the point of transformation. Throughout the work, the authors place emphasis on the articulation of goals in intervention situations. It is assumed that the more clearly defined the objectives of conflict resolution activities are, the more effective an intervention will be in the long-term. Interestingly, however, many of the projects profiled gave relatively little thought to how their own specific activities were likely to impact the larger conflict. While most were effective in achieving their own narrow goals, the authors note a significant difference between the goals of different actors. As a result, they report, "many observers see conflict resolution work as either ineffective or naïve" (p. xii). This book shows how better articulation of conflict resolution goals can improve both the image and the reality of such work.

The main body of the volume consists of case studies from the former Soviet Union, South Africa, Macedonia, Turkey, the American West, Northern Ireland, the Middle East, Cyprus, and Guatemala. The studies present a collection of insights into a variety of conflict management interventions and how the practitioners involved evaluated their work. The nine case studies are supplemented with more general chapters on the relationship between theory and practice in conflict resolution and ethnic conflict management as well as evaluation of interventions.

Emphasis is placed on the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) throughout the work. The intent of the editors in putting together the chapters, is to analyze and understand how these organizations function in conflict-ridden circumstances -- the strategies they devise, the goals they set, and most importantly how these organizations define success and failure. Rather than the authors evaluating the conflict resolution intervention efforts based on their own criteria, the aim of the work is to clarify what NGOs were trying to accomplish in particular contexts and what criteria they employed to determine if they had achieved success.

The two chapters concluding Theory and Practice in Ethnic Conflict Management: Theorizing Success and Failure focus specifically on the divide between theory and practice in conflict resolution intervention projects. In Chapter 12, Joe Folger reviews some main themes regarding how to go about evaluating interventions' success. In the final chapter, Ross and Rothman offer their conception of "action-evaluation," a research method meant to bridge the gap between theory and practice in conflict resolution intervention. While focusing primarily on one approach to bridging the theory-practice gap, this book asks critical questions and provides insight into several key issues or problems in the conflict management and peacebuilding fields. It should be read and considered carefully, both by scholars and practitioners who hope to positively influence ethnic conflicts.