Understanding Conflict Resolution II: The Management, Transformation and Resolution of Conflicts

In my previous post I argued that the field of Conflict Resolution is broad and includes various sub-fields. I identified conflict prevention, settlement, and transformation as sub-fields and argued they are processes in the CR field. In this post I will address the debate around the terms of conflict resolution, management (in which I include conflict prevention, and settlement), and transformation.

Conflict management vs/and conflict resolution

Conflict management can be characterised by “any actions to control or contain an ongoing conflict between politically motivated actors operating at the state or sub-state level typically through the involvement of a 3rd party. “[1]. Butler argues that conflict management is different than CR because its goals are limited to containing the conflict and settling a dispute without aiming to resolve the root causes[2].    Therefore, conflict management aims to bring warring parties together to agree to an end of conflict[3]. Managing conflicts (attempting to prevent them, or negotiating a ceasefire) should not be seen as different from resolving conflicts, but rather, as part of the process. If successful, conflict management would set foundations for further actions which will address the root causes of conflict.

What about transformation?

Lederach argues that conflict transformation is different than conflict resolution[4]. This results from his perception that conflict resolution focuses on immediate solutions, and on methods for de-escalation[5].  He also argues that transformation is in fact preoccupied with de-escalation, as well as looking for opportunities to engage conflict for the purpose of a constructive change[6].  Rather than seeing conflict transformation as a separate process/field, it is fair to argue that it is embedded into the concept of conflict resolution, as the practises it advocates aim to create long lasting peace by going deeper into the issues that caused the conflict.[7] Also, the concept of conflict resolution that Lederach argues against, has less characteristics of the overall field, and sounds almost identically with conflict management, which as mentioned earlier in this post, is just one part of the process.

Some coherence, please?

Although the field of Conflict Resolution is relatively new, it is starting to lose its coherence. This is not helping the overall evolution of the field. How can we solve conflicts in practice, if the theory itself revolves around a conflict, and a multitude of debates? We have to question everything, yes, but the problem is, how do we question things that lead us to deepen our understanding, and unite us for future development, instead of dividing us?

[1] Michael J. Butler, International Conflict Management, (New York: Routledge, 2009), pp 13-14

[2] Ibid p 15

[3] Hugh Miall, Conflict Transformation-A multidimensional task (Berlin: Berghof Foundation, 2004), p 3

[4] John Paul Lederach, The Little Book of Conflict Transformation, (Pennsylvania: Good Books, 2003), pp 28-33

[5] Ibid, p 31

[6] Ibid

[7] Oliver Ramsbotham, Tom Woodhouse, and Hugh Miall, Contemporary Conflict Resolution (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2011), p 9


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