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Peace, Conflict & Social Work – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute

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Peace, Conflict and Social Work

Session Report
Priyanka Negi

The second session of the eighth day of the LPPYF program, organized by IMPRI, Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, on 28th June, 2023, was a thought-provoking discussion on the intricate relationship between peace, conflict, and social work. Prof Vibhuti Patel, Visiting Distinguished Professor, IMPRI, presided over the session, with Dr. Gladstone Xavier, a distinguished faculty member and former head of the Social Work Department at Loyola College, Chennai, as the esteemed speaker.

Nikita Bhardwaj, a research intern at IMPRI, had the honor of introducing Dr. Gladstone Xavier.

Conflict in Human Progress

Dr. Gladstone Xavier initiated the session by emphasizing the omnipresence of peace, conflict, and social work in our lives. He referred to the movie ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ to illustrate that these topics are not confined to policymakers or peace builders; they permeate
every aspect of society. Dr. Xavier delved into the origins of conflict, explaining how stress has played a crucial role in human progress over thousands of years. He highlighted the two primary factors behind human survival: collaboration and adaptation. Using the example of climate change, he illustrated how humanity has evolved and accelerated its actions, resulting in various conflicts.

In the discussion Dr. Gladstone Xavier presented a structured classification of conflict. This classification encompassed two main dimensions:

  1. types of conflict
  2. levels of conflict.

Types of Conflict

Within the realm of conflict types, five key areas were highlighted. These included ideological/worldview conflict, where disagreements stem from differing beliefs and perspectives; value-based conflict, arising from conflicting sets of values and moral codes; relational conflict, which disrupts interpersonal connections during times of stress; resource
conflict, involving disputes over limited resources like land or economic assets; and ethical conflict, characterized by moral dilemmas and conflicting ethical principles. Additionally, need-based conflicts, driven by competing needs or requirements, were acknowledged as a significant category.

Levels of Conflict

The discussion also shed light on different levels of conflict.

  1. Surface conflict, the first level, was described as relatively superficial and lacking deep-seated consequences.
  2. In contrast, deep-rooted conflict, the second level, was portrayed as long-standing and often rooted in factors like ethnicity, cultural differences, or historical grievances, potentially becoming highly toxic over time.
  3. Open conflict, the third level, was distinguished by its visibility and intensity, with its costs and manifestations clearly evident.

Dr. Xavier underscored the importance of discerning the specific type of conflict being addressed, emphasizing that conflict, beyond being a societal issue, also serves as a source of entertainment in the media – the axiom being, “no conflict, no story.”

To provide a comprehensive framework for understanding conflicts in various contexts, Dr. Xavier further classified conflicts into nine distinct types. These ranged from intra-personal conflicts, arising within individuals during acute stress and involving personal dilemmas, to community vs. systems/structures conflicts, characterized by tensions between communities and systemic structures with power imbalances, such as patriarchy. The highest level of conflict involved conflicts against the environment, encompassing issues related to environmental degradation, resource depletion, and ecological sustainability.

This structured classification of conflict, as presented in the session, equips individuals and organizations with a more nuanced understanding of the diverse forms and levels of conflict. Such an understanding can be instrumental in approaching conflict resolution and peace-building efforts in a more informed and effective manner, taking into account the
intricacies of each situation.

Human vs. Environment Conflict

Following his discussion on the various types and levels of conflict, Dr. Gladstone Xavier engaged the audience by prompting them to share real- life instances of conflicts between humans and the environment. In response, the audience offered earnest examples, highlighting the complexities of these conflicts.

These included instances such as the challenges posed by human settlements in the slums of Mumbai, where urban development intersects with environmental concerns, as well as the
devastating floods of 2005 that brought to the fore the delicate balance between human habitation and the forces of nature.

Additionally, the audience shared the poignant case of Arikomban, an elephant who had been captured, tranquilized, and relocated multiple times in an effort to prevent it from encroaching on human settlements in search of sustenance. These examples underscored the multifaceted nature of conflicts that arise when human activities intersect with the environment, prompting thoughtful reflection on the challenges of coexistence in a rapidly changing world.

Dr. Xavier defined conflict as a result of incompatibility in behaviors and goals. He introduced terminologies associated with conflict, such as prevention, settlement, management, resolution, and transformation, and discussed the escalating stages of conflict. Dr. Xavier explored the role of social work in conflict resolution, touching on Bronfenbrenner’s ecological
systems theory, which elucidates the growth of an individual within various environments.

Tools for Conflict Resolution

Dr. Gladstone Xavier proceeded to illuminate the array of tools available to social workers for effective conflict resolution.

  1. Firstly, he emphasized the significance of employing a historical tool, which involves gathering narratives from all parties involved. This historical context helps to unravel the underlying factors contributing to the conflict.
  2. Secondly, he introduced the concept of the conflict tree, a valuable instrument for conducting root cause analysis. By delving into the conflict’s origins and identifying the core issues sustaining it, social workers can gain deeper insights into its dynamics.
  3. Thirdly, Dr. Xavier discussed the utility of conflict mapping, a technique that aids in visualizing the intricate web of relationships, interests, and dynamics involved in the conflict. This visual representation facilitates a better understanding of the conflict’s complexities.
  4. Fourthly, he introduced the Iceberg analysis, drawing an apt analogy that one often observes only the tip of the iceberg – behavior – while missing the submerged aspects of attitude and context. To drive meaningful behavior change, it becomes imperative to address underlying attitudes and contextual factors.
  5. Lastly, he emphasized the crucial role of intervention, underlining the importance of knowing an individual’s story and thoroughly understanding the nuances of their situation. This knowledge serves as a foundation for crafting effective strategies to provide assistance. Dr. Xavier emphasized that interventions are most effective when conducted within small groups, allowing for more personalized and impactful support.

In essence, these tools empower social workers to navigate the intricacies of conflicts, enabling them to facilitate positive change by addressing the underlying causes and providing tailored assistance to individuals and communities in need.

Prof Vibhuti Patel raised thought-provoking questions about community- level policies and the challenges of applying universal moral standards in a diverse cultural landscape.

The session concluded with Dr. Gladstone Xavier addressing a pertinent query raised by Dr. Arjun Kumar regarding social work and conflict resolution in India compared to other nations,
taking into account India’s diversity.

Prof Vibhuti Patel shared her final remarks on the session’s key takeaways, emphasizing the importance of addressing conflicts for a harmonious society. Nikita Bhardwaj extended a formal vote of thanks, expressing gratitude to the speaker, chairperson, and the engaged
audience for their active participation.

In this insightful session, participants gained valuable insights into the complex dynamics of conflict and its relevance to social work, fostering a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities for conflict resolution in our diverse society.

Acknowledgement: Priyanka Negi is a research intern at IMPRI.

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