Stories matter---they are material. They have gravitas and this is particularly the case in the context of conflicts, where narratives anchor hatred and fear, justify violence, authorize colonization, and perpetuate social injustice. They are grave indeed.
Grave stories arise from, and recursively anchor, material conditions that fit these stories for the people who tell them. The wall that Israel has built anchors, for the Palestinians, their narrative of “occupation” and “violation;” it feeds the “Nakba” narrative that frames the birth of Israel as “catastrophe.” And of course, that same wall arises from, and justifies the Israeli’s story that the Palestinian, like all Arabs, wants to destroy the state of Israel, and kill its Jewish citizens. And as history unfolds, events are woven into these grave narratives, solidifying them. It all makes sense, to either side, but the sense that is made requires the persistence of the conflict and ongoing threat of violence.
Conflict intervention, from this perspective, is, in turn, depends on, turns on, the evolution of these conflict stories. And here enters at least one of the core paradoxes of a narrative approach to conflict resolution: conflict stories reflect and create the conditions which anchor the conflict, so changing the stories requires changing the conditions, yet the conditions are anchored by, and anchoring the stories that people tell. This recursive relation between the material facts on the ground in a given conflict and the meaning that is given to those “facts” creates a “chicken/egg” problem, and indeed, traditional negotiation has set out to try and reach agreements that will, over time, change the facts on the ground. But we have only to take a cursory look at Bosnia to see that negotiated settlements do not settle the matter---they do not change the stories that are being told. Problem-solving workshops clearly are attempts to alter the stories that are told in elite/influential networks, in an effort to the lay the ground for negotiated solutions to conflicts. But in the context of conflicts, interaction between and within social networks “polices” the nature of the stories that can be told, so even though there could be important evolution within a portion of the network, the power of the existing conflict narrative is manifest in its ability to block, thwart, or compromise the ability of a new story to circulate. Mediation is yet another conflict resolution practice that has potential to alter “local” stories between parties. But how do stories travel, within and across networks? In summary, there are a variety of existing conflict resolution practices that can be re-drafted, harnessed to a narrative lens, but even then, there is much to learn in relation to ongoing problems, such as “re-entry” which are impacted by social network dynamics.
This course, focused on narrative dynamics, aims to provide students an opportunity to explore the transformation of conflict narratives, providing them expertise in conflict resolution as narrative practice. To this end, there are several learning goals for this course; students will be able to:
- Understand Arendt’s notion of “praxis” as distinct from “practice”
- Identify core narratives in texts (written and spoken)
- Interview parties in conflict in ways that elaborate the emerging narratives;
- Identify the features of conflict narratives and the associated interactional patterns they generate/anchor;
- Develop competence in micro practices associated to narrative transformation, including externalization, reframing, circular questions, positive connotation;
- Identify and address the ethical issues associated to narrative intervention in conflict resolution processes;
- Design and conduct conflict interventions using scenario building, reflecting teams and World Café processes;
- Design programs/projects that function as narrative intervention for conflict transformation;
- Evaluate narrative-based conflict intervention projects;
- Reading and class discussions and group presentations
- Experiments in social network dynamics
- Simulations and role plays
- Narrative project design as conflict prevention/transformation
- Narrative evaluation of conflict prevention/transformation programs/project