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Introduction to Peace and Conflict VI

Introduction into Transrational Peaces and Elicitive Conflict Transformation
UNESCO Chair for Peace Studies
University of Innsbruck
Wolfgang Dietrich

Elicitive conflict transformation

One of the most important peculiarities of the MA in Peace Studies at the University of Innsbruck is “elicitive” conflict transformation. What exactly does that mean? “Elicitive” refers to extraction of something that is already there. The main idea behind the elicitive conflict transformation is that the energy for transformation is already within the relation of the parties.

Conflict, on the other hand, is the dysfunction in that relation. The problem is NOT in the conflicting parties, but in what is between them. The parties feel uncomfortable with what they have. Peace-makers are there only to help them develop the already existing relation (elicitive) – however, the decision of whether they want to change it remains solely on the parties. Conflict workers are always visitors, and should never become a third party in the relation.

Trans-rational Peaces
transgress the limits of Modernity and Post-modernity. They are rational and so much more: (1) sexual-familial, (2) emotional-communal, (3) mental-societal, (4) spiritual-policital.

System of layers and levels that help us understand what is happening beneath the surface of a story:

1. Sexual-familial
Sexual orientation is very early influenced by events from childhood. We are familial beings – meaning: we cannot grow up alone. Our “functional family” (NOT always biological; the people who frame our orientation and feelings in the sexual sphere) defines our sexual performance, ultimately designing what our family will be like in the future.
The development of the “I” happens in the first four years of life. At the time of birth, the human being is traumatized. Confused. Can only think about basic needs: food or death. Now. Satisfying basic needs makes the character. The formation of this “I am” character takes four years to develop.
Family experiences from our early childhood biologically influence our later behavior, which is afterwards very difficult to reverse or change.
Relations of sexes around them influence children to a great extent. Mothers helps girls identify as women and fathers takes on the role of the male figure, which are biologically subjects of seduction. For example, girls who have suffered sexual abuse in early years tend to marry violent men, perpetuating the cycle of continuous victimization. We, the humankind, prefer well-known suffering to unknown improvement.
Another example our sons of single mothers – it will be very difficult for them to define their male polarity since they lack the role model from early years.
Of course, we are not only our family. We are not only our sexualities. Yet, we are so close to them that we need to distinguish between these different layers that “shine through the skin”.

2. Emotional-communal
We have the need to belong as communal beings. In Indonesia, the word for “peace” means to “find your place and act accordingly”. This expression perfectly addresses the desire of belonging to a community (people you really know, extended family, friends etc.). We have to have a place in the group of people.
We do not long for being leaders. In fact, we just want to be respected. We need other people to appreciate what we are doing. That said, modern competition helps to deconstruct communities. The notion of freedom has become twisted. In the past, freedom was a punishment – the people who were not allowed to enter the cave were “free”. The warmth of the community was not open for them anymore. Communities ostracize the trouble-makers, and they cannot survive alone for long.
Additionally, being somebody you do not want to be in a community creates tension and dissatisfaction.
All these factors need to be considered when talking about balancing the layers of human beings, whose misbalance constitutes the deep roots of conflict.

3. Mental-societal
We are all equipped with the potential to think. What we learn from the community can be extracted into the bigger community – society.
Our version of the society in a nation-state is very limited. The mind abstracts parts of the imagined picture from the limited sample of acquaintances from a certain society. We can then either identify with people of our own state – majority of which we do not know personally – with flags, anthems, and similar features. Following this train of thought, we also develop fear from the imagined about the unknown society, from which we know very few individuals as well. The mind plays games with us, creating imagined communities.
A great part of every society is language. Language frames our thoughts. When we are born, we do not speak. The brain is not yet structured for the application of languages, or the structure of thought. The baby is completely attached to the mother, and cannot separate its own experience. It is in the languages that the “I” is formed. Languages are the relational expression of societies. For example, certain languages do not have a subject – and thus constitute a very different world and belief system.
Friedrich Nietzsche said: “The subject is just a grammatical fiction.” Subject exist only because of the fantasies in our languages. With language, people can be manipulated and manipulate even without conscious effort. The structure of the language does it for them.

4. Spiritual-policital
We are beings in time and space. Time and space only exist because we perceive them. We cannot meaningfully talk about spirituality, since it cannot be expressed in language. The words are simply not strong enough. Society is in the self-constructed reality of time and space, and therefore cannot talk about spirituality – it can only experience it.

Where in the societal ladder can we best start to incite an influence?

Lederach’s Pyramid identifies three levels of a society:
1. Top Leaders (presidents, ministers, ambassadors etc.)
2. Middle Ranges (local leaders in different aspects: regional influences of governors, bishops, business people, artists, journalists etc.)
3. Grassroots (mass of people)

The problem with the first level is the possibility of contact: How to talk to those on the top? Additionally, they usually act from the desire to stay in power, win and overcome the resistance of the “others”. The problem with acting on the grassroots-level can be found in areas of civil war for example – what to do when the people there are divided amongst themselves? Also, grassroots are much more difficult to monitor.

Middle Ranges on the other hand can make the biggest change – an approach that was adopted from the wars in Bosnia, Somalia and Rwanda. People on this level know the concrete suffering in the conflict best, and have realistic access to the story. It is best to start with them. Not only do they know what is happening in a given situation, but they are also the stake-holders, who often have access to top leaders too. This allows for a communication on both other levels.

Wolfgang Dietrich concluded his last lecture on Introduction to Peace and Conflict with explaining the concept of mapping elicitive conflicts and feelings – methods often used at the MA Program for Peace Studies at the University of Innsbruck. His lectures from Sunday to Tuesday were designed so as to prepare the participants for working with local organizations in Imst – without the illusion of having the capacity to “solve” conflicts, but with the readiness to listen, be “good guests”, and conflict transformators. 
The mapping method was later on practically addressed in a workshop by Karin Michalek, Student Adviser and Representative for the Alumni Network at the Peace Studies program in Innsbruck.

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