Online Journal of Peace and Conflict Resolution 1.4

Instituting Problem-Solving Processes as a Means of Constructive Social Change

Carlos L. Yordán

Everything is at flux and nothing is at rest....


Differences between classes, race, religious beliefs, ideologies, and ethnicity will inevitably be sources of social conflicts. Due to this reality, conflict becomes "a pervasive aspect of existence."(1) Conflict, however, should not only be seen as a negative social phenomenon, but instead, it also should be understood as positive aspect of social life. Due to this reality, Morton Deutsch avers that "conflict can be constructive as well as destructive."(2)

In a 'constructive' sense, conflict "is the root of personal and social change; it is the medium through which problems can be aired and solutions arrived at."(3) It becomes 'destructive' when social structures do not change according to the needs or demands of its people and when these structures perpetrate social injustices against different sectors of the society. Ultimately, destructive social conflict has the potential to escalate into armed rebellion and other forms of violence, thus challenging social structures and even leading to their demise.

In this sense, social change produces conflicts and conflicts bring about social change. Although this assertion seems simple, the relationship between conflict and change is not well understood. This is true because different forms of societal organization react different to conflict. In essence, there are two standard types of social organization: individualistic and organicistic societies. Conflict impacts these societies in different ways. In the former conflict is an asset and social change occurs in non-violently, while in the latter conflict is a liability and it usually develops violently.

The aim of this study is to construct a theoretical framework that demonstrates how organicistic societies can transform their social structures while addressing the challenges posed by social conflicts. In this context, this study is divided in different theoretical building-blocks. These will be put together in the conclusion to present an innovative way of understanding the relationship between conflict and social change.

1. First Building-Block: Defining Social Conflict

Conflicts between individuals are less of a threat to established social orders, than intergroup conflict. In this context, a conflict develops when interdependent parties perceive that their "current aspirations [or needs] cannot be achieved simultaneously."(4) Parties' perception of incompatibility forces parties to engage in a process of interference, where parties design and employ tactics to satisfy their needs. Among these tactics are competitive and cooperative ones. Which tactics are employed depends on social and psychological factors. To comprehend how these factors influence a conflict's intensity, it is important to understand Dean Pruitt and Paul Olczak's conflict model. This models holds that five components determine a conflict's development. These components are: motivation (M), affect (A), cognition (C), behavior (B), and the surrounding social environment (E). In simple terms, a change in one of these components can influence the other components. A change in the social environment (E), e.g. the creation of policies that discriminate against minorities, for instance, can foment feelings of distrust (C) that can lead to aggressive feelings (A). This in turn motivates (M) groups to act (B) in ways that either preserve or eliminate the discriminatory policies. In this sense, de-escalating a conflict takes place by changing one of these components.

This definition shows the importance of social interdependence and the relationship between social structures and perceptions. In essence, conflict weakens and fragments social relations, thus reducing communication and cooperation between conflicting parties. Social structures, on the other hand, can either provide obstacles that create perceptions of incompatibility or it can contribute by transforming these perceptions of incompatibility to perceptions of congruity. Is there one type of social structure or are there many types? This question is important to answer because, as explained above, different types of societies react differently to conflict and social change. In this sense, the following building-block will describe two general types of social orders and how these deal with social conflict.

2. Second Building-Block: On Organicistic and Individualistic Societies

According to Norberto Bobbio, "the entire history of political thought is riven by the great dichotomy between organicism (holism) and individualism (atomism)."(5) The former type of social organization is similar to that of a corporation, where all parts work to achieve the interests and needs of collective life, while the latter provide a social framework, where individuals can freely actualize their needs and interests. In this sense, the corporatism ethos of organicistic societies does not allow individual freedom. The individualistic society, in other hand, is rooted in its recognition of individual freedoms. Understanding the differences between these two forms organization is not only critical to understand the ideological struggle of the Cold War, but it will also highlight how different forms of social organization perceive and deal with conflict. In other words, this section is interested in answering the following questions: (1) How does social conflict affect these forms of social organization? (2) Is conflict an asset or a liability? (3) Can conflict transform social structure or lead to their demise?

To answer these questions, it is not only sufficient to grasp the differences between these forms of social organizations, but comprehend how civil society and the state relate to each other in each of these types of societies. In this sense, this chapter will first define concepts such as the state and civil society and describe how these two sectors are arranged in each form of social order.

2a. Defining the State and Civil Society

Political scientists and philosophers throughout history have been obsessed in trying to define the state and demonstrate its role in society. Not surprising, the concept of the state has changed throughout history. Therefore, there is not one definition of the state. Current explanations, however, derive heavily from Max Weber observations, which defines the state "in terms of its monopoly on the legitimate use of force."(6) This interpretation suggests that the state has both organizational and functional characteristics.(7) In this sense, the state is responsible for establishing social relations that give order, unity and continuity to society. The state, therefore, is compromised of government agencies and institutions that create and enforce laws, maintain public order, mediate social conflict, provide national defense, collect taxes, and reallocate economic and social resources to meet with society's interests and needs. The state, moreover, "maintains an essential element of sovereignty"(8) over a specific territory and people living within this territorial boundary, while actively creating ideologies and national sentiments, providing services and, when necessary, using force to forge social cohesion. Due to these characteristics, the state "has the capacity to shape and control the lives of individuals in a way no other institution can."(9)

Whereas the state has enjoyed the attention of social scientists and philosophers throughout the history of humankind, the civil society, thanks in part to the social changes that have taken place in Eastern Europe since the late 1980s, has attracted the interest of many contemporary academics. The concept of civil society, in the words of Ralf Dahrendorf, can be best described as "creative chaos."(10) In this sense, the civil society is consisted of an interdependent and interrelated web of non-governmental organizations, citizen advocacy groups, churches, charities, voluntary organizations, trade unions, media, grassroots and self-help community groups, to mention a few, that work against and with each other to express their grievances, desires, and hopes for a better society. Consequently, the civil society stands as a social sphere where social movements can become organized, thus forming social narratives that legitimate and regulate the acts and policies created and implemented by the state.(11) In essence, the civil society, when functioning properly, enables the "delimitation of government prerogatives and [creates] a context for constraining arbitrary or intrusive state power."(12) Due to these characteristics, the civil society facilitates political participation and holds the state accountable for its actions.(13) As a result, politics becomes public and individuals are empowered to articulate their needs and interests. In this context, the civil society creates social narratives that give rise to inclusive social institutions and structures. More critical, these institutions conceive and carry-out public and foreign policies that represent the interest and needs of the people.

The civil society, additionally, owes its existence to the state. As Chandhoke holds, the protection of the members of civil society is "encapsulated in the vocabulary and the institution of rights. Without the protection of juridically granted and enforceable rights of free expression, freedom to form associations, freedom to dissent, freedom to generate or disseminate public opinion, civil society is crippled."(14) These rights foster an ethos of plurality and tolerance, two necessary ingredients of individualistic societies. In this sense, civil society materializes in individualistic societies, while organic societies aspire to eradicate its existence. In light of this analysis, two types of societies develop: the individualistic and the organicistic societies.

2b. The Organicistic Society

The organicistic society is characterized by a strong state that aims at dominating social narratives and undermining the autonomous development of civil society. In this context, when the organicistic state comes into power it destroy independent civil society, but from its ashes the state recreates it. By building non-governmental organizations, such as universities, media, and research institutes to name a few, the state reconstruct a civil society similar to that found in individualistic societies; the only difference being that these organizations are not voluntary and cannot question the ideology of the state.(15) Without the mechanisms to challenge and question the state's ideology or its "ultimate truth," the people are unable to influence public and foreign policies. Individuals of this social order, just as civil society, have to be recreated. Individuals that oppose the state' policies and ideology are incarcerated, exiled, or even murdered. Coercion, fear, violence, and the restrained civil society are tools employed by the state to further its ideology and construct a social environment, where the values endorsed by the state are accepted by the entire society. Zbigniew Rau maintains that these individuals experience a process of "social engineering," which aspires to engender a new 'human being' that does not question or challenge the state's ideology, social narratives and values, but instead embrace, further, and even protect them.(16) Accordingly, policies aimed at recreating individuals and civil society aspires to arrest change and to perpetuate the state and its ideology. Because of these characteristics, the organicistic state perceives change or any agent of change as a threat to its social structures. As any menace, the organicistic state works to eradicate it. When the state is unable to impede intergroup conflict and change, the state, usually, dismembers in violent fashion. Conflict in the organicistic society, tends to be destructive; bringing change at the expense of the other's needs and interests.

2c. The Individualistic Society

Different from the organicistic society, the individualistic society is grounded on principles of individual liberties, natural and civil rights, tolerance, and equality. The state, therefore, and recognizes and emanates from the co-existence of public and private spheres. The former being related to issues of general interests, and the latter to concerns of private individuals.(17) How does the state emerge? Individual pursuit of self-interests will inevitably counter the self-interest of others. In this sense, a perception of incompatibility arises and without any social order it will inevitable progress into violence. Individuals fearing this condition of anarchy, give rise to the public sphere. In this setting, the public sphere becomes a set of institutions that give order and continuity to society. Two institutions develop: the state and the civil society. The former as describe above give order to society by: (1) establishing accepted social practices, (2) mediating social conflict, (3) protecting and guaranteeing individual rights and liberties, and (4) reforming social structures according to the needs and interests of its citizens.

The civil society, as the defined above, is the connection of the private and public spheres. In other words, the concerns of each individual is voiced in civil society. As more citizens join civil society, different associations emerge; each representing different interest and plans to construct a better future. In this way, the individualistic society does not ascribe one single truth. On the contrary, the myriad of different interest groups and associations does not permit the state or any group to force its ideas to other individuals. Civil society, hence, is both a communicative system that builds trust and tolerance among citizens and an institutional counterweight to a state hegemonic ambitions.

Because this system does not ascribe to an ideology, and because it is controlled by citizens, conflict is perceived as constructive element of social change. When feelings of incompatibility threaten the social order, the state interferes an mediates between conflicting parties. If the conflict persist, the state is forced to reform social structures and create conditions, where the parties can satisfy their interest and coexist peacefully.

2c. Deduction

In concluding this building-block it is important to keep in mind that the goal of this study is to not only show the virtues of the individualistic societies, but to also describe how to transform the pathological structures of the organicistic society non-violently. This can be achieved through mechanisms of conflict resolution. With this in mind, the next theoretical building-block aims at illustrating the potentials and limitations of conflict resolution.

3. Third Building-Block: The Limitations and Potentials of Conflict Resolution Processes

The discipline of conflict resolution is one of the most recent academic development in the field of international relations. While many academics have develop concepts and frameworks to meet the increasing amount of conflicts between and among nation-states, there is still much confusion in this discipline.(18) There are many terms that are used synonymously, but do not mean the same. For instance, alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and conflict resolution are used interchangeably to describe efforts to solve and prevent destructive social conflicts. In this sense, this building-block plans to differ ADR processes from conflict resolution mechanisms, and demonstrate the discipline's limitations and potentials.

The main differences between ADR and conflict resolution is that ADR provides a settlement and conflict resolution aspires at resolving and preventing conflicts. In light of these facts, a settlement can be defined as "negotiated or arbitrated outcomes of disputes, while resolution refers to outcomes of a conflict situation that must satisfy the inherent needs"(19) of those involved in the conflict. In addition, ADR works within a established normative systems and social structures, and does not attempt to change these structures or systems. Conflict resolution, on the other hand, aims at transforming social systems and creating or reforming social structures to meet with the changing needs of the people.(20) In other words, conflict resolution implies that social structures that deprive human needs have to be changed in order to solve existing conflicts, thus creating social orders that can lead to the prevention of future destructive conflicts.

Whereas ADR accomplishes its objectives through arbitration, adjudication, negotiation, mediation and other processes, conflict resolution employs problem-solving workshops to achieve its aims. In general terms, ADR processes are similar to those employed by the judicial system. Robert Baruch Bush's study, "Dispute Resolution- The Domestic Arena: A Survey of Methods, Applications and Critical Issues," shows that ADR emerged in the United States during the early 1970s to address the many legal cases that the courts could not or were not willing to consider.(21) Conflict resolution, on the other hand, uses very informal problem-solving workshops, where a third party assists conflicting parties to find solutions to their problems. The philosophy of these workshops is not to force the parties to accept a settlement, but to provide an informal atmosphere, where the parties can exchange their perspectives about their needs and conceive solutions that satifies the needs of those involved in the conflict.

The objective of these problem-solving workshops is to build channels of communication that enabled the parties to learn more about each other. This process, in other words, transforms negative stereotypes and negative images constructed during the development of the conflict. This transformation is the key to the resolution of conflicts. A group that perceives the 'other' as an enemy will not be able to undergo meaningful dialogue. This dialogue is the basis of the resolution of social conflicts, as communication between parties can heighten conflicting parties understanding of each other needs, leading the parties to create new social structures and institutions that resolve the conflict.

In sum, when referring to social conflict, where social structures are depriving people of their needs, it is better to use conflict resolution approaches instead of ADR. ADR cannot satisfy the people's needs because it does not aim at transforming social structures; even if these are unjust. Conflict resolution is a way of empowering deprived social groups, leading them to find solutions to the conflict in nonviolent fashions.(22) In psychological terms, conflict resolution processes can channel a group's frustration, thus permitting the solution of conflicts in constructively without having to use aggression or violence.

While conflict resolution has the potential to solve and prevent destructive social conflict, it is important to notice that the discipline of conflict resolution still has one important limitation. This limitation relates to the institutionalizing of conflict resolution practices as means of resolving and preventing conflicts, as illustrated by Burton's seminal studies. According to Burton, conflict resolution can be seen as a form of 'conflict provention.' Provention, in this context, is defined as systems that "seek to eliminate the causes of conflicts by looking ahead and dealing with their sources,"(23) prior to their escalation. Not only do conflict resolution processes resolve destructive conflicts, but it also prevents them from escalating into high levels of violence and armed rebellion. Burton, in this sense, avers that a society can be more stable by institutionalizing problem-solving processes. While this proposition seems encouraging, Burton's inability to present a coherent framework to institutionalize these problem-solving processes raises questions about the validity of these conflict resolution theories. In fact, Burton, instead of creating this framework, has pleaded to the academic community to create theories and guidelines that assist human beings to establish new social institutions that provent 'destructive' conflicts from taking place.(24)

Nonetheless, Burton's research explicitly demonstrates that certain types of societies are more prone to experience violence and armed rebellion than other type of societies. Holsti's War, the State, and the State of War shows that 'destructive' conflicts are pervasive in the 'weak states' of the Global South and former communist world, while conflicts tend to unleash innovative transformation in the 'strong states' of the West. Holsti's criteria of a strong or weak state are not related to the state's monopoly of violence, but on levels of legitimacy; strong states being legitimate and weak states tending to be illegitimate. Legitimacy, as demonstrated above, flows from the community or the civil society, which is an aspect that is not adequately covered by Holsti's study. Raimo Vayrynen's research, nevertheless, compliments Holsti's analysis because it documents how societies that have an active and influential civil society are more likely to minimize violence, than societies that have inactive civil societies.(25) This proposition establishes that civil society's fabric provides problem-solving mechanisms for the non-violent resolution of social conflicts. In this context, conflict resolution practitioners and theorists have to enhance their analytical frameworks by searching for ways to transform the social pathological structures of organicistic societies via civil society's structures .

4. Putting the Blocks Together: Transforming Organicistic Societies By Fostering Civil Society

From this analysis, two inferences come quickly to mind. First, organicistic societies arrest social change, thus fostering destructive social conflict in the form of political violence. Lastly, transforming these social structures is attained by instituting problem-solving processes by fostering and strengthning civil society. Is there a model that can illustrate the non-violent transformation of an organicistic society? The answer is yes. The non-violent transformation of the Polish communist society stands as an example for other organicistic societies to follow. The Solidarity Movement, although organized as a labor movement, permitted political dissidents to wage a non-violent struggle against the principles advanced by the communist regiment, not the state per se. As Martin Krieger holds, Solidarity's effectiveness was its ability to organize the masses, without directly challenging the state.(26) In essence, a non-political web of associations proliferated across Polish society. The Polish communist state, consequently, lost its monopoly over its ability to control and implement the communist ideology. The emerging civil society questioned the moral foundations of the communist order. This slowly led to regiment demise and to society's ability to individualize and democratize.

The Polish case of 'organicistic transformation' highlights three important lessons that have to be used in the future transformation of organicistic societies. First, individuals have to establish a network of non-governmental organizations outside of the control of the state. Second, this network has to service as a communicator of society's needs and interests. This should not only challenge the ideology of the state, but incite people's hearts and invite them to join the cause. Lastly, it is important for the leaders of this social sphere to refrain from using violence against the state and security forces. This will not only give moral legitimacy to these social movements, but it will also prevent the escalation of violence.

In conclusion, this study constructs a conceptual framework that illustrates how fomenting civil society in organicistic societies will permit social change to occur in a constructive manner. This in turn produces a individualistic society conducive to tolerance, cooperation, and peace.

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1. Morton Deutsch, "Subjective Features of Conflict Resolution: Psychological, Social and Cultural Influences," in New Directions in Conflict Theory, Raimo Vayrynen, ed., (London, England: Sage Publications, 1991), 26.

2. Deutsch, 27.

3. Deutsch, 27.

4. Jeffrey Z. Rubin, Dean G. Pruitt, and Sung Hee Kim, Social Conflict: Escalation, Stalemate, and Settlement, 2nd ed., (New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1994), 5.

5. Norberto Bobbio, Liberalism and Democracy, Martin Ryle and Kate Soper, trans., (London, England: Verso Books, 1990), 41.

6. Phillip Smith, "Civil Society and Violence: Narrative Forms and the Regulation of Social Conflict," in The Web of Violence: From Interpersonal to Global, eds., Jennifer Turpin and Lester R. Kurtz, (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1997), 93.

7. See, Patrick Dunleavy and Brendan O'Leary, Theories of the State: The Politics of Liberal Democracy (New York, NY: The Meredith Press: 1987), 1-12.

8. Kalevi J. Holsti, The State, War, and the State of War, (Cambridge, England: Cambridge Univesity Press, 1996), 83.

9. Neera Chandhoke, State and Civil Society: Explorations in Political Theory, (London, England: Sage Publications, 1995), 46.

10. Ralf Dahrendorf, After 1989: Morals, Revolution, and Civil Society, (London, England: MacMillan Press, 1997), 56.

11. See, Smith, "Civil Society and Violence: Narrative Forms and the Regulation of Social Conflict."

12. This phrase was quoted by Andrew Levin from the works of Alexis de Tocqueville. See, Andrew Levin, "Civil Society and Democratization in Haiti," Emory International Law Review 9(Fall 1995),

13. Chandhoke, The State and Civil Society, 9.

14. Chandhoke, 9.

15. Zbigniew Rau, "Introduction," in The Emergence of Civil Society in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, ed. Z. Rau (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1991).

16. Zbigniew Rau, "Human Nature, Social Engineering and the Emergence of Civil Society," in The Emergence of Civil Society in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, ed. Z. Rau (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1991).

17. Antoni Z. Kaminski, "The Public and the Private: Introduction," International Political Science Review 4(1991): 263.

18. For more in depth analysis, see, Joseph A. Scimecca, "What is Conflict Resolution?" Peace Review --(1993): 391-399.

19. Burton, 55.

20. Richard E. Rubenstein, "Analyzing and Resolving Class Conflict," in Conflict Resolution Theory and Practice: Integration and Application, in Dennis J. D. Sandole and Hugo van der Merwe, eds., (Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1993), 146-57.

21. Robert A. Baruch Bush does a great job in tracing back the history of ADR to this day in the United States. Moreover, Baruch Bush's article serves as a great introduction to those that desire more information on ADR processes. For more on this issues, refer to: Robert A. Baruch Bush, "Dispute Resolution- The Domestic Arena: A Survey of Methods, Applications, and Critical Issues," in Beyond Confrontation: Learning Conflict Resolution in the Post-Cold War Era, John A. Vasquez, et. al., eds., (Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press, 1995), 9-37.

22. Rubenstein, "Analyzing and Resolving Class Conflict," 146.

23. John W. Burton, "Conflict Provention as a Political System," in Beyond Confrontation: Learning Conflict Resolution in the Post-Cold War Era John A. Vasquez, et. al., eds., (Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press, 1995), 115.

24. Burton, 126-7.

25. Raimo Vayrynen has not made this assertion in an implicit manner. Nevertheless, his study emphasizes the importance of 'people's power,' as a mechanism that "kindles a process of transformation" (p. 14) that gradually removes the sources of destructive conflict. In this context, "people's power is based on the mobilization of the civil society to take control or overtake state power" (p. 14) thus opening society and permitting social actors redefine relations and structures and minimize conflict. For more on this issue see: Raimo Vayrynen, "To Settle or to Transform? Perspectives on the Resolution of National and International Conflicts," in New Directions in Conflict Theory, Raimo Vayrynen, ed., (London, England: Sage Publications, 1991), 1-25.

26. Martin Krygier, "Virtuous Circles: Antipodean Reflections on Power, Institutions, and Civil Society," East European Politics and Society 11(1997): 36-88.