From our experience at the editorial desk we wish to share something with our readers and potential writers. It is about a two-way thinking in which we often seem to get involved. On the one hand there is the specificity that is supposed to be one of the crucial characteristics of proper research. On the other hand there is the boundary-defying generality of our particular field of research.
Academic tradition is of course strongly oriented towards specialisation. So much so that a witty description of the academic hierarchy has been coined: the junior lecturer knows something about everything, the lecturer more about less, the senior lecturer much about a few things, and the professor knows everything about nothing. This little saying may elicit a benign smile, but it may also cause a sigh about the absurd extremes to which the fame of specialisation can tempt sane academics.
At this a point we might just shrug our shoulders and dismiss the topic, or we can welcome a debate on academic specialisation and responsibility. Should we, as researchers, keep probing into minute details, expecting to penetrate to microscopic discoveries? Or should we research in an exploratory mode, hoping to arrive at findings based on wider-angle views? Or should we specialise in both specificity and generality, prioritising the one or the other according to needs and circumstances? Should we expect cases where we may have to accept the apparent paradox: that general observations can enhance specific insights, and that specific perspectives can add value to general contributions?
Instead of trying to answer all these questions, let us briefly focus our attention on the one about the limits of our field of research. Clarity in this regard may help us find contextual answers to the questions above. So, how definitely can the legitimate terrain of conflict resolution be demarcated? Or does it happen to be a field with no real boundaries?
Academically, conflict resolution is usually described and practised as an interdisciplinary area of study. It is made up of valuable contributions from the broad spectrum of human sciences dealing with the social and cultural, individual and gendered, behavioural, moral and educational, economic, political and legal aspects of human co-existence. In addition to, and because of, its interdisciplinary character, the field of conflict studies also accommodates other forms of boundary-transcending integration. Due to its life-related nature it self-evidently has to be made up of theory and practice. Due to the fact that conflicts are caused and resolved by left and right brained human beings, conflict studies can justifiably be called a combination of science and art. And due to the ancient but never-ending history of conflicts and responses to them, conflict studies is a field in which good use can be made of diachronic traditions and synchronic innovations.
Historically, this kind of study has emerged out of a variety of life situations. Through the millennia conflicts have undoubtedly been waged and resolved (in some way or another) in all areas of human interaction. When, during our most recent century, a specific focus developed for dealing with conflict, it took place in an assortment of conflictual contexts: wages and service conditions, civil and political rights, partner and child abuse, state and international affairs.
Culturally, the field of dealing with conflict cannot afford any sign of exclusiveness or compartmentalisation. An unprejudiced openness should be maintained towards all cultures with their commonalities, differences and peculiarities. Many conflicts are caused precisely by cultural clashes, ranging from minor dissimilarities to shocking incompatibilities. Not only when such deep-rooted conflicts are dealt with, but generally and constantly, genuine culture-friendliness should be shown. Here an interesting paradoxical combination may be kept in mind. When scope is given to a group of people to practise their particularistic cultural assertiveness, it may produce the surprising result of an inclusive cultural understanding, respect and even unity.
Ethnically, a similar symbiosis of own group affirmation and unrestricted xenophilia may be encouraged. So, ethnically as well as culturally, or simply ethno-culturally, the field of conflict resolution should be regarded as completely unlimited. In the first edition of this journal we have expressed the hope “to share something special about insights and skills from South Africa and Africa”. “African” is indeed the first word in the names of both the journal and ACCORD. But our hopefully justified focus on Africa does not mean that we are monastically fencing ourselves in in one part of the global village. As far as possible we wish to integrate our continental accountability with a planet-wide docility.
Extensively, therefore, the field of conflict resolution has grown into a comprehensive one indeed. The names we use for it, and also for our journal and organisation, are merely convenient abbreviations for much more than conflict resolution. The noun “resolution” and the verb (and noun) “resolve” happen to function in very appropriate semantic fields: separating into constituent parts, putting an end to a difficulty or discord by reaching a solution, adopting a decision and duly formulating it in writing, and being determined to implement what has been agreed upon. There may be circumstances, however, such as the firm entrenchment of a root cause, or the intransigence of a party, when resolution is not, or not yet, a feasible option. Other options have therefore secured their warranted positions within the field, such as conflict accommodation, management, transformation and prevention. And of course, conflict itself its reasons and objectives, escalation and de-escalation, procedures and strategies inevitably deserves an important place in our field of study.
This brief reminder about the variety of directions into which the field of conflict resolution extends and can extend was intended to encourage us to increase our receptive openness. With regard to our research, and the publishing of research material, we should obviously maintain our valid academic traditions of profound, penetrating and concentrated investigation. At the same time, however, we should be flexible enough in applying our criteria and categories. We should remember how widely inclusive our field of study happens to be. A topic, approach or method that we may at first thought be inclined to refer to another field of study may prove to be of indirect but definite value in our own field. After all, the study of the realities of conflict and responses to conflict is of world-wide applicability. It is of everyday relevance to all of us as human beings, regardless of gender, age, looks, work, address, language or culture.
Our message from the editorial desk may therefore be summarised as follows:
Let us keep in mind the very wide-ranging scope and relevance of the field which we conveniently call conflict resolution. Let us live up to our commitment to do thorough research whether it takes us in conventional or unconventional directions.
We trust that you will find meaningful ideas and encouraging inspiration in this issue. The articles deal with important aspects of the peace-building role of African women, intra- and inter-ethnic conflicts, indigenous methods of conflict resolution, and risk assessment in a particular conflict. Two are sequels to previous articles, but can be read on their own without first referring back to the first contributions by the same authors (Gwexe and Osamba).