Conflict, Social Change and Conflict Resolution – An Enquiry

The literature dealing systematically with the connections between change and conflict is hardly extensive, and that directly dealing with precise relationships between change and conflict resolution is even more sparse. In a way, this is surprising, for many writers in the field have made implicit, and in some cases explicit, connections between some form of change and the formation of conflicts, while others discuss conflict “dynamics” as well as those changes that are needed before any kind of resolution of a conflict can realistically be sought. A recent (and admittedly unsystematic) search of one university‚Äôs modest library revealed over 420 entries combining the words “change” and “conflict” in their title, while a similar search of a data bank of dissertation abstracts produced over 3,500 such citations. The essay, then, starts with an attempt to set out a framework for thinking systematically about the relationship between conflict and change, distinguishing between changes that create conflicts and those which make conflict more intense or which help to ameliorate it. This leads to a discussion of the nature of “change” itself, and the kinds of change that seem relevant to creating or resolving protracted conflict. The latter half of the paper switches focus to consider changes necessary to bring about the resolution (or transformation) of a conflict, once it is thoroughly under way – as well as common obstacles to bringing about such “resolutionary” changes. Finally, I suggest ways of thinking about possible actors that can help to bring about resolutionary change, and what strategies might be necessary to move protracted and intractable conflicts towards some lasting and self supporting solution.