Academic journal article International Journal of Peace Studies

Reconciliation: Aspects, Growth, and Sequences

Academic journal article International Journal of Peace Studies

Reconciliation: Aspects, Growth, and Sequences

Article excerpt


This paper explores the several aspects of the process of reconciliation: the units engaged in reconciliation, the dimensions of reconciliation, and the degree and symmetry between the units along each dimension. Various combinations of these aspects characterize diverse patterns of reconciliation over time. Attention to these aspects help account for the expansion of reconciliation efforts and alternative sequencing of reconciliation acts. Four sets of factors help explain these variations: trends in ways of thinking, trends in material conditions and social relations, contextual events, and local conditions. The analysis yields implications for theory and practice.


Throughout history, many people have engaged in personal or representative acts of reconciliation. (1) In recent years, such reconciliation efforts are widely discussed and frequently undertaken (Kritz 1995; Weiner 1998). Reconciliation between antagonists in a destructive conflict is often an important part of establishing a mutually acceptable coexistence between them. The condition of reconciliation, however, varies in degree and over time. It also varies along many dimensions and differs among the diverse groups constituting the opposing sides. The process of antagonists reconciling with each other, therefore, is hugely complex. This article focuses on three issues: the increase in reconciliation efforts around the world, the patterns of reconciliation, and alternative sequences of various aspects of reconciliation.

Processes of reconciliation between large entities such as peoples and countries are unending; whatever kind of reconciliation is attained is not permanent. Changes in the reconciliation achieved between peoples occur years, decades, or even centuries after an inter-communal accommodation has been imposed or mutually reached. For example, the nature of the relationship between Native Americans and the dominant ethnic groups in the United States has undergone many transformations. Recently, examples abound of compensation and apologies made by representatives of the dominant party to the group whose members have been victimized and marginalized. The U.S. government apologized and provided some compensation to the Japanese Americans who were interned during World War II, the Spanish government acknowledged that the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 was wrong, and the Canadian and Australian governments only recently acknowledged their long denial of basic rights to indigenous peoples.

Too often, the multi-faceted character of reconciliation is disregarded, resulting in misunderstandings, unspecified generalizations, and unrealistic expectations. Therefore, I first explore the many, sometimes contradictory, dimensions and other aspects of reconciliation. Then, explanations for the variations in reconciliation and for changes in reconciliation over time are analysed. Finally, I discuss the implications of this analysis for theory and practice regarding the sequences of various components of reconciliation, following destructive, large-scale conflicts.

Aspects of Reconciliation

The term reconciliation generally refers to the process of developing a mutual conciliatory accommodation between enemies or formerly antagonistic groups. It often refers to the process of moving toward a relatively cooperative and amicable relationship, typically established after a rupture in relations involving extreme injury to one or more sides in the relationship. Reconciliation, clearly, has more than one meaning and people disagree about the relative importance of those different elements (Kriesberg 2007a; Lederach 1997; Kriesberg 1999). Thus, people vary in their emphasis upon forgiveness, redress for past injustices, and provision for future safety. Four aspects of reconciliation deserve attention: the units engaged in reconciliation, the dimensions of reconciliation, the degree of reconciliation, and the symmetry of each aspect. …

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