Complexity of Conflicts

Louis Kriesberg

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 ???).

Q: One of the parts of that book that particularly interested me was a section on the impact of global forces on local conflict. It seemed after I read that chapter I was a little disheartened by the possibilities of effecting change through some sort of intervention or even advocacy, because in that chapter you talk about economic forces globally, social-political forces can influence conflict so there seems like there is very little that can be done in the meantime.

A: Well that's one possible reaction I fear, but I would put a little cast on it. The world is increasingly integrated, but forever the disputants are not neatly bounded entities, they always have been and always will be open systems of openly porously bounded groupings and it is that very fluidity of it and non-boundness, that gives you the chance to transform a conflict so that it's less destructive. It isn't as though these are fixed entities that must be locked into a conflict, they are a part of a larger whole and in a larger context they might seek to be mutually beneficial possibilities of cooperation or shared identity. It also means that you can find allies throughout the world and that opens up all kinds of possibilities for change.

Furthermore no conflict is controlled by any party or any particular actor if it were, it wouldn't really be a conflict; order would be already established. So the change requires participation and engagement with many different kinds of people at many different levels. I see that as meaning that everybody makes a difference rather than making you feel helpless that should make you say, "Hey! What I do does matter! Even if it is to avoid and walk away, that has an effect too." Each of these conflicts is made up of a whole set of other conflicts that are internal to it and external to it, we just happen to define it one way or another, but we can redefine it...