When, twenty-five years ago, I was making my first study of academic courses in the field of dealing with conflict, a professor told me that they teach their students not to give advice to any party in a conflict situation. Suggestions may of course be given, but they should not be phrased as advisory prescriptions. The reason was that in most cases the parties are adults who regard themselves as grown-up enough to be independent of the advice of others, and who would almost feel insulted when being given advice. Through the years, I have therefore passed on this suggestion to my students, and kept reminding myself to practise it from my side. And so, when writing a foreword, I usually try to refrain from advising our readers about what they should read, how they should read it and what they should learn. In my previous foreword, I was prompted by the thrust of several articles to discuss ‘a few aspects of receiving and responding to “lessons”‘, but I hope I have managed to do it in a non-sermonising way.
With regard to the contents of this issue, I am once again sure that without any assistance readers will surely come across worthwhile insights, findings and recommendations in each article, and in the issue as a whole. At the same time, however, I take it for granted that an editor’s comment may be allowable in a foreword. My overall, synoptic impression is that the articles in this issue emphasise the importance of understanding the complexities of conflicts in their settings, and the challenges going along with methods of dealing with conflict. We have case studies of land ownership, religious and identity conflicts, and more general discussions of intrastate, interstate and international aspects of conflict and conflict resolution.
As always, we appreciate the research undertaken by the authors of the articles. We normally also take note of the literature review part of their work, but this aspect probably deserves more attention. We may, for instance, recognise the contribution of the authors quoted or referred to. In this issue, the six authors refer to the work of just about 250 others. The contributions typically range from appropriate quotations to substantiating references, and the authors referred to vary from well-known to relatively unknown; but in each case there was someone who wrote something that shaped the thinking of our six authors.
As students and researchers, we are indeed indebted to a large body of fellow-academics who are or have been working in our own fields of study, or related fields. We may happen to know some of them – through personal acquaintance or meeting at conferences, or through reading their work – but in many or most cases they are to us only the bearers of the names we enter in our reference lists. We may find it inspiring, however, to be aware of a virtual community of academically motivated human beings who are exploring relevant topics and making their findings available. In a modest but purposeful way, this journal is trying to promote this community spirit and commitment.
This sense of fellowship may sooner or later become threatened by the information explosion we are currently experiencing. We happen to work in the time when the era of printed material, which started about five and a half centuries ago, is being overlapped by the era of electronic information. Some of us may still give preference to books, while others are understandably fascinated by the infinite variety of scholarly (as well as entertainment) material that can be called up in split seconds. What I am inclined to suggest, as an editor who sometimes feels uneasy about the quality and the ephemerality of internet material, is that we use websites but not neglect books (or use books but not neglect websites). And with regard to books, I would add that we should by all means make use of the latest publications, but without disregarding older ones. Too often up-to-date authors try to avoid any appearance of rehashing ‘old stuff’, but thereby they may deprive their readers of worthwhile reminders about notable earlier insights.
I do realise, however, that such a suggestion is easier made than implemented. The amount of available material has become overwhelming, even in our relatively young (about six decades old) field. We need to be realistic, therefore, and search intelligently. We may search for key words as our computers do, but we should also remember that some lateral thinking may lead us to valuable data or perspectives that are not categorised under our pet key words. And as far as we go, we should obviously assess the quality, relevance and significance of what we come across. At this point, however, before a concluding thought on quality, I wish to insert two comments from the editorial desk of this journal on the quantity of sources.
First, we consistently use the heading ‘Sources’ and not ‘Bibliography’. We therefore make sure that all the sources listed are indeed referred to in the article. If an author would prefer to include more than just the sources referred to, however, we will be ready to negotiate one of two possibilities: adding a second list under the heading ‘For further reading’, or calling the whole list ‘Bibliography’ (with an explanatory footnote).
Second, we include in our own statistics of articles already published (131 articles in 25 issues over 13 years) not only the number of words, but also the number of sources referred to. For all these articles, the average number of sources per article is 36,4. This is merely an interesting average, and not at all an indication of what we expect in each article. What we have sometimes done, however, was to explain to an author trying to submit an article with a relatively low number of sources that such an article may not compare favourably with others.
After this little excursion into the sources used by authors, we have to get back to the articles themselves, and especially to their quality. As said above, literary review is only part of academic research, and as we all know, an academic article cannot be made up of a concatenation of quotations and references. It is the original and/or creative contribution of the article’s author that is the crucial part of an article of good quality. The above-suggested recognition of colleagues at work in the research laboratory of our global village is therefore meant as a non-prescriptive addendum to our constant appreciation of authors submitting their work to us. We trust that the never-ending processes of research reading, thinking and writing will go on and on – in this field, related fields and other fields.