Conflict Management in
Douglas P. Fry
Any other adult in camp is related to any would-be aggressor by dozens of overlapping ties of kinship and marriage. Once a person attacks his victim he is like a fly that attacks an insect already caught in a spider's web. Immediately both are caught. If the combatants forget the sticky web in the heat of their anger, the onlookers do not. Real anger frightens and sickens the! Kung, for it is so destructive of their web of relationships.
Draper 1978, pp. 43–44
In each society, a variety of culturally patterned choices exist regarding how to deal with conflict (e.g., Hickson 1986; Nader 1990). Among the !Kung of the African Kalahari, for instance, conflicts find expression and resolution through gossip, ridicule, shunning, public discussions, and occasionally violence (Draper 1978). Among the Dou Donggo of Indonesia, in addition to aggressive self-help, choices for dealing with conflict include requesting one or more elders to mediate a dispute, appealing to the village headman for a decision, or pursuing a grievance in court, an option rarely used (Just 1991). Even in cultures that lack a central authority, acephalous societies, norms are enforced and disputes resolved through a variety of informal processes (Turnbull 1961; Merry 1982; Thomas 1994).
Although considerable cross-cultural variation exists regarding how conflicts are dealt with, simultaneously it is possible to note recurring patterns. On the one hand, conflict management mechanisms can be viewed as highly specific to the particular cultural system within which they operate (Avruch 1991). On the other hand, crosscultural comparisons reveal general mechanisms of conflict management. For example, a comparative perspective shows that mediation (i.e., thirdparty assisted negotiation of a settlement) occurs in many cultures, whereas at a more specific level, the subtleties of mediation processes vary with the plethora of cultural values, beliefs, institutions, social roles, and so on found in different societies.
The central goal of this chapter is to illustrate the cultural variation in conflict management, while