Cultural Variation in Conflict Resolution: Alternatives to Violence

Cultural Variation in Conflict Resolution: Alternatives to Violence

Cultural Variation in Conflict Resolution: Alternatives to Violence

Cultural Variation in Conflict Resolution: Alternatives to Violence


This volume's central purpose is to provide a clearly written, scholarly exploration of cultural variation regarding conflict resolution and in so doing, highlight certain alternatives to violence. It presents an interdisciplinary examination of how conflicts are perceived and handled in a variety of cultural settings. Drawing on data and models from anthropology, psychology, and political science, the chapters analyze conflict resolution across the societal spectrum, including cases from Western and non-Western traditions, complex and tribal societies, and violent and non-violent cultures. While demonstrating the extremely important impact of culture on conflict resolution processes, the book does not solely emphasize cultural specificity. Rather--through introductory chapters, section introductions, and a concluding chapter--the volume editors draw attention to cross-cultural patterns in an attempt to further the search for more general conflict principles.

An explicit message throughout the book is that alternatives to violence exist. The volume demonstrates that at various levels--from the interpersonal to the international-- conflicts can be handled in ways that cause far less pain and destruction than violence. Chapters by psychologists discuss social and cognitive processes for facilitating the learning of alternatives to violence among children and youth. Anthropology contributors explore mechanisms for dealing with social conflict which allow some cultures to remain relatively peaceful and consider implications of their work for reducing violence in other societies. Chapters by former President of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias, and by political scientists examine how non-violent political solutions can be employed as alternatives to warfare and violent resistence.


The foundation of human culture is verbal speech. There is only one human characteristic, whether behavioral, physiological, or anatomical that is truly unique, and that is the capacity to convey information through words, whether spoken or written. Speech gives humans the power to convey information regarding the making of tools. Among those archeologically preserved are flint arrow and spear points, as well as knives. These must have been used for hunting but easily could have been used to injure and kill fellow humans. As a result of our developing these tools, we have become the most dangerous species on earth, both to ourselves and to other species.

But humans also have the capacity to invent tools that serve for conflict resolution. As with all sciences, one of the major tools in the study of conflict resolution is a descriptive and comparative one. Thus this book contains a group of chapters that describe cultural differences. This evidence of cultural differences not only shows major variation in the expression of aggression and conflict resolution but also suggests that new ideas might be transmitted across cultures.

One of the interesting results from such cross-cultural studies is the fact that with respect to individual homicides, industrially organized cultures are sometimes more peaceful and stable with respect to killing individuals than are tribally organized societies. Paradoxically, industrially organized cultures are able to wage extremely destructive wars, and they have waged two World Wars within living memory. The hope is that, similarly to conflicts within cultures, this situation can be controlled by world-wide organization, but the issue is still in doubt.

This brings up another major problem: How is desirable cultural change brought about? A primary function of scientific research is to discover accurate information, and to make it available to those who can profitably use it, as is being done in this volume. Accurate knowledge about conflict resolution is the best hope for freeing humanity from destructive conflict.

As we know, it is relatively easy to change individual behavior through early and continuing education and training. Bringing about institutional change that affects whole populations is far more difficult. Obviously, we should start with educational . . .

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