By Tatiana Carayannis, Vesna Bojicic-Dzelilovic, Nathaniel Olin, Anouk Rigterink and Mareike Schomerus
What is the evidence that existing approaches to the resolution of violent conflict have achieved their intended effects to improve the lives of conflict-affected populations? Violent conflict is one of the greatest challenges to development. Two decades of concentrated interventions to mediate, end, or transform violent conflict have generated heated debates and produced a burgeoning field of new scholarship as well as new tools on conflict resolution. Yet, communities worldwide continue to experience conflict every day. It is often unclear whether they experience attempts to resolve violent conflict as successful, or as improving their lives.
Our new JSRP Paper, ‘Practice Without Evidence: interrogating conflict resolution approaches and assumptions’, seeks to highlight the experiences of people at the receiving end of practices of conflict resolution, especially international activities. It reviews the evidence base that undergirds contemporary approaches to the resolution of violent conflict in an effort to improve the lives of conflict-affected populations. Through a systematic literature review, the paper explores academic work as well as grey literature that focus on the experiences of the ‘end-users’ of conflict resolution efforts.
Two overarching themes emerge from the literature surveyed. The first is the overwhelming yet under-addressed need to manage conflict complexity, including trans-national dynamics and the proliferation of non-state actors in conflict. The second theme is the omnipresence of normative concepts of conflict resolution, which describe how conflict resolution ought to work based on the liberal principles underpinning it, rather than the actual impact it has.
Despite notable advances that academic literature has made in certain areas of the conflict resolution field, the empirical knowledge base supporting the scholarship has overall been insufficiently robust. In particular, based on the findings from the literature reviewed, there is a need to pursue further research into, and strengthen the evidence base of three inter-related topics which are under-theorised, poorly-understood, or both. Namely: the changing nature of conflict and its diverse origins and manifestations; the conflict networks that emerge and develop through bargaining in the political marketplace; the resulting (and often hybrid) governance and authority structures.
Conceptualisations of governance
Contemporary conflict resolution frameworks revolve around the triangulation of governance, democracy and market-building as a way to stabilise conflict-affected societies. Most of the works on conflict resolution we surveyed do not interrogate what seem to be pre-defined notions of key governance and post-conflict reconstruction ‘outputs’ – for example, security, political stability, economic recovery, and more generally ‘good governance’ and the implied benchmarks for achieving these outputs (Luckham and Kirk 2012). Everyday concerns and priorities of diverse local populations seem to be largely absent from these notions. Similar observations apply to other key concepts within post-war reconstruction frameworks, such as civil society and justice (which are discussed further in the next sections). In fact, the meaning of such concepts is plausibly shaped by the idiosyncrasies of local context. Continue reading