Solution-Indicative Conflict Analysis: An Introduction to Galtungism

I was born in Berkeley, California, grew up in Lawrence, Kansas, and attended university in Washington, DC. Throughout my schooling, I was trained in Western (Occident I-will be discussed in a future blog post), Cartesian epistemology. In debate class I sorted through evidence that broke down world conflicts into their smallest, atomistic parts, so that I could beat my opponents by demonstrating that their plan would snowball into nuclear catastrophe. In social studies class, I learned about the development of Western civilization, Western economics, and Western culture. All other regions, civilizations and cultures were discussed as references reference points in Western history. Long story short, the West was all I learned and knew. This blog post is a reflection on the introductory materials for the Solution-Indicative Conflict Analysis (SICA) course, including:

(a)“Diagnosis, Prognosis, and Therapy

(b) “Constructing a Daoist social science epistemology”

(c) Prof. Galtung’s talk on Solutions Indicative Conflict Analysis (SICA) praxeology

(d) Professionalizing peace studies.

These articles have broken me out of the Cartesian straitjacket and exposed me to a new epistemology that, in combination with aspects of Cartesianism, is useful in understanding the complexity of social conflict as a set of phenomena ripe for sociological inquiry.

In his article “Epistemology: on the use of dichotomies,” Prof. Galtung asserts that dichotomies are the building blocks for a deeper understanding of a complex reality. This blog post will discuss one of Galtungism’s fundamental dichotomies: Cartesianism vs. Daoism. Cartesianism is associated with Occidental philosophy as primarily expressed in Occident I cultures. The Cartesian system rests on two assumptions: atomism and deduction. Reality is broken down into the smallest possible units and deductive reasoning links the units together through the construction of theory. The four Cartesian rules used to determine reality result in a reliance on empirical data. I was familiar with this approach. My history course analyzed Europe in the exact fashion demonstrated in the readings. The Treaty of Westphalia created the smallest unit in the international (inter-state) system- the state. Thus, a Cartesian analysis discusses Europe as a collection of states, with the continent being the largest unit.

Cartesianism is deeply engrained in the social sciences, but there is an alternative that can complement it well: Daoist epistemology. Under a Daoist analysis, inquiry first begins at the level of the holon, the superunit of whatever social system is being studied. Each holon which contains “faits sociaux” could be scaled up or down ad infinitum and contain an infinite number of dialectics along fault-lines such as gender, the humans & nature relation, race, generation, normal-deviant, class, nation, state, region and civilization.[1] My previous knowledge of dialectics came from Marx, who chiefly described the dynamic interaction between the force/counterforce of labor and capital. However, as Galtung describes, Marx’s epistemology is reductionist because only one fault line -class- receives any real attention while the others, all equally part of the human condition, are ignored. Imagining an infinite amount of dialectics is challenging, but it opens the door to understanding the complexity that lies at the heart of societal conflict. The Daoist epistemology merged with the Cartesian formula of four rules, gives us the following rules of cognition:

(1)Rule of intuition: Everything is part of a holon

(2)Rule of analysis: Every holon includes parts in opposition

(3)Rule of synthesis: Parts in opposition may attain harmony

(4)Rule of deduction: There is more than one holon and partition

For mediators, the Daoist epistemology serves to improve conflict analysis, as it increases the awareness of the manifold options for creative, solution-indicative conflict analysis, and offers new perspectives in thinking about conflict resolution before violence erupts. The atomistic nature of Cartesianism focuses attention to the smallest unit, when in actuality the most fruitful solutions could be based in changing the relationships of intertwined holons by viewing them as a part of even larger holons.

Once rid of all its metaphysical & metaphorical lore, the Daoist narrative reveals itself as a mode of intelligibility that can accommodate a vast array of actors and their goals, as well as the contradictions ensuing from their interactions.

For example, Galtung’s solution for Israel/Palestine is [1]-[2]-[6]-[20]. This peace-proposal starts with the smallest holon, but works its way up to larger holons by calling for the institutionalization of regional cooperation and organization in the Middle East between Israel and Arab and Muslim states. This approach stems from, among other things, a discovery Galtung made in the 60’s and 70’s while writing about methodology and conducting comparative sociology between Asia and Europe. Chinese Daoism appeared as a 4000 year-old systematic attempt to account for complex social phenomena by infusing an endless number of variables into the analytical framework. Once rid of all its metaphysical & metaphorical lore, the Daoist narrative reveals itself as a mode of intelligibility that can accommodate a vast array of actors and their goals, as well as the contradictions ensuing from their interactions. This approach lays bare more options and angles from which to gauge a given social phenomenon.

Conflict resolution with a Daoist epistemology becomes an exercise less concerned with creating a “final state” where there is an absolute, eternal solution to some conflict. Instead, the mission is anchoring stable harmony points between the manifold variables of a social system and taking note of the empirically observed dialectical patterns for future reference. The desirable or undesirable results of both past and present dialectics in the conflict formation indicate possible points of harmony and disharmony. Identifying these comes in handy when the mediator begins the intellectual task of constructing and delicately suggesting potential solutions to the conflict parties. At the end of the day, it will be in the hands of the parties whether or not they pursue solutions indicated by the mediator. This is the practical purpose of the Galtungian Daoist-Cartesian approach to conflict analysis.

The Daoist position does not fall into the positivist, empiricist trap of Western social science; the Cartesian paradigm creates theory by privileging data- secured, observable past phenomena. Because Daoist theory also accommodates the use of extant values to inform theory, the rule of the past need not be the rule in the future. Human volition and human creativity then shape the realm of all socially possible futures. This shift in approach is clearly more useful for the constructive conflict resolution practitioner interested in the preventive transformation of destructive ambitions expressed in a given social holon.

As in the previous blog on Project Camelot, I would like to focus the conclusion of this response on specific aspects of the axiological code for Peace Professionals.

There were three points that really stuck out to me-

(1) “Peace by peaceful means with the purpose of transforming conflict”

(2) “Don’t do anything that can’t be undone (you could be wrong)”- The Reversibility Principle

(3) “Conflict work is public service. The reward is to do it well.”

Many approaches to social movements and social change like Leninism and Trotskyism actually legitimize situational violence. Although it may seem obvious, I think that “peace by peaceful means” really calls into question the notion that “winning” resolves conflict. I have participated in many movements where the idea is to “win” some type of power over the Other, but explicitly using “peaceful means” to achieve “peaceful patterns of social interaction” requires mutuality, reciprocity, dialogue and both-and solutions. A one-way victory is neither a necessary nor a sufficient cause for peace. Taking action that can be undone relates back to dialectics and the Daoist conceptualization of history. Mistakes can be made, but the dialectics and contradictions will continue to wax and wane, oscillating between points of harmony and disharmony. If things become negative, there is still the possibility for transcendence of contradictions and a shift back to positive outcomes. This point is that there is always a possibility for transformation, because dialectics are never static. Practitioners shouldn’t be static either. Indeed the only point at which the waxing and waning stops is finitude: death. Or as an old Chinese idiom posits: The only man without a contradiction is a corpse.

“Conflict work is public service. The reward is to do it well.” This is a truly beautiful statement and why I study conflict resolution. It is a profession that requires a lot of work with little material benefit. For me, the reward is almost spiritual: feeling a connection with other people and knowing that you have positively impacted their lives or enabled them to think in a different way. What other reward do you need?

 [1] Johan Galtung, 50 Years: 25 Intellectual Landscapes Explored ([Oslo]: Kolofon Press, 2008). 20.

NOTE: I am currently working on a response to the 1-2-6-20 peace proposal for the Palestine/Israel conflict. If you have any input of reaction to the proposal, please comment on this blog or tweet me @kleggers with #octaguante.

Additionally, if this work is interesting to you, join the Solutions Indicative Conflict Analysis Working Group! It is an opportunity to work with the Galtung Institut and learn concrete conflict analysis and resolution skills through an online internship. Any questions, just ask!