Friday, August 29, 2014

Peace teams: Conflict de-escalation, social and interpersonal

Peace teams (monitors, marshals, vibeswatchers, peacekeepers, nonviolent security) are on hand at demonstrations to de-escalate destructive conflict and, if possible, transform it into constructive conflict. Huh? WTF is "constructive conflict"? Isn't that a functionally oxymoronic notion?

No, it is actually the basis for most of society's best ideas, greatest advances, and golden eras. It is what a real democracy should look like. It is what the most rigorous scientific, philosophical, political, and cultural discussions should feature. Without constructive conflict, little societal creativity would occur. In truth, conflict undergirds the very best and very worst of what humans have to offer.

Why, then, do we get stuck in destructive conflict? How long will we remain bogged down in perduring, protracted, mutually ruinous conflict?
The question is whether there is any reason to believe that such a new era may yet come to pass. If I am sanguine on this point, it is because of a conviction that men and nations do behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives. Surely the other alternatives of war and belligerency have now been exhausted.
--Abba Eban, speech to the UN 
Don't we wish? Eban's phrasing on this concept was brilliant (turns out he used a few versions in a few notable speeches) and I am chagrined to say he made this sanguine prophesy 47 years ago, in June 1967. Sanguine, ironically, can mean relaxed and confident or it can mean bloody. Clearly the bloody sense is the groundtruth of his eloquence. Indeed, it was so articulate that many others have stolen his concept, even his phrasing, often without attribution, leading to misattribution of the notion to several notable speakers, including Winston Churchill and good buddy Apocryphal. 

What does it mean to those who study conflict? 

[M]ost security studies and conflict resolution experts are unfamiliar with the rich scholarship and empirics on civil resistance, given their narrow focus on armed conflicts and their termination through military means or negotiated settlements. --Véronique Dudouet, Journal of Peace Research, 2013 (p. 401)
Véronique Dudouet
Dudouet is one of the most brilliant and innovative conflict researchers, with a reach of mind that brings together the academic silos of thought about civil resistance, security studies, and social movement analysis. Her special study of late has been when armed insurgency shifts to civil resistance, from violence to unarmed strategic nonviolent struggle.

There are many variables in her elegantly complex theoretical structure, but herein I mention two that peace teams can think about.

One, leadership. Does the peace team have the clear mandate from the leadership of the movement to insist on nonviolent behavior by all participants who wish to identify as part of that movement? If so, it is possible for that peace team to assert that strategically moral leadership by proxy, to reference the movement leadership without hesitation or doubt. Anything less can easily muddy the waters in the field and dramatically reduce the value and capacity of the peace team.

Two, partnerships. In the case of social movements, that would include the peace team. We are nonpartisan, explicitly not a component of any movement, but in service to them all (all who identify a behavior code of nonviolence for participants). Even if we are a peace team created especially within a movement, we represent a sort of special faction, a coalitional partner in creating the strongest movement possible with the most sustainable protection.

While analogizing from the behavior of mass movements to the interpersonal can be dicey, the notes from researcher Dudouet help us frame our work more robustly. And just as we demonstrate the efficacy of nonviolence by being strategic and disciplined, we also model the conditions we seek when we are a strong and confident peace team. Not arrogant, not authoritarian, but operating with the imprimatur of clear movement leadership.

Reference List

Dudouet, Véronique. 2013. "Dynamics and factors of transition from armed struggle to nonviolent resistance." Journal of Peace Research 50, no. 3: 401-413. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed August 29, 2014).

No comments: