For many (and especially the news media), conflict is the main element of “foreign relations”. It is what gets attention. Although the common focus in situations of international conflict tends to be on such factors as resources, power, and/or identity, such conflict can best be viewed as a crisis in human interaction. For this reason, the study of international relations can benefit from greater focus on interactions as they unfold between and among individuals, groups, and/or nation states.
The definition of conflict as “a crisis in human interaction” derives from the work of the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation, whose theory of conflict goes beyond a more narrow focus on satisfying competing needs, leveraging power, or exercising legal rights.
According to this theory, two key elements shape and influence the quality of human interaction — empowerment and recognition. Empowerment refers to the extent to which individuals or groups have influence, clarity, resources, or choices available to them. Recognition speaks to the experience of being heard, listened to, understood, and included in the process of change. Where interaction between parties provides opportunities for empowerment and recognition, positive shifts in the interaction can be expected. Where either empowerment or recognition opportunities are limited or denied altogether, a negative shift in the interaction usually results.
The following set of video clips presents specific examples and discussions relating to shifting dynamics of interaction. As your students watch, they should look for situations in which empowerment and recognition have been supported or denied. How is the interaction impacted between and among parties in conflict?
Conflict Analysis Video Links
“GMO’s as a single tactic therapeutic intervention” – Fred Kirschenmann
“Strategies: planning and diversification of crops” – Ann Tutwiler
“Conflict between conservation and agriculture” – Ann Tutwiler
“Regionalization and sources of conflict” – Andrew Guzman
“Diet trumps population?” – Jim Harkness
“Transportation and food costs; regionalization of food systems; farm-to-school” – Gus Schumacher
“Food assistance: calorie intake vs. nutrition; who pays?” – Final Panel
“Challenges of protecting a multi-state resource” – Final Panel
“Politicization of climate change” – Merrigan, Harkness, Gustafson
Study Guide Questions for Conflict Analysis
1. What is the nature of conflict?
2. What factors are supportive of reconciliation?
3. To what extent does the US contribute to moderation or aggravation of food and water issues?
4. What do we mean by “peace”?
5. How do empowerment and recognition contribute to conflict turning out positively or negatively?
6. What methods or strategies contribute to making outcomes positive or negative?