Social Justice and Conflict Resolution
An Interest-Based Approach

Created by Jesse Baen and Duncan Autrey, 2019

Integrating the Values, Skills and Wisdom of Social Justice and Conflict Transformation

Many of the values that motivate social justice movements are also foundational to conflict resolution. Conflict resolution methodology has the potential to facilitate and support progressive social change; however, social justice activists and conflict resolution practitioners may also encounter tension between different theories and strategies. The heart of this dilemma was expressed in Martin Luther King Jr.’s chant outside a prison holding Vietnam War protesters in 1967: “There can be no justice without peace and there can be no peace without justice.”  Real social transformation must include both justice and peace and sustainable solutions must address the needs and interests of everyone involved.

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From Power And Rights To Interests

Political conflicts can only support justice and serve as engines of constructive social, economic and political development if the means and methods by which they are resolved promote equitable, collaborative and democratic ends. Yet the principal means we have used to resolve political conflicts for thousands of years have relied on the exercise of power over and against others, triggering cascades of war, genocide, rape, terror, domination and suppression directed primarily at those seeking change, self-determination and justice.

What we now require are interest-based methods for resolving social, economic and political conflicts that integrate peace with justice and undermine the temptation to resort to aggression and war.

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Conflict And Social Change

Conflict is the principal means by which significant social, economic and political changes have taken place throughout history. Wars and revolutions can therefore be understood as efforts to resolve deep-seated and chronic social, economic and political conflicts for which no other means of resolution were recognized or accepted by either or both sides, blocking interest-based evolutionary change and systemic improvements.

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Conflict Transformation + Social Justice = Transformative Justice

Conflict transformation looks to not simply “resolve” conflict, but to change the underlying causes of a conflict. When this interest-based approach is applied to social change efforts, social justice takes on the form of transformative justice. Transformative Justice doesn’t rely upon rights-based institutions, rejects traditional forms of power, and strives to meet the underlying needs and interests of all people involved.

Transformative justice responses and interventions…

  • Do not rely on the state (e.g. police, prisons, the criminal legal system, I.C.E., foster care system) though some do rely on or incorporate social services like counseling;
  • Do not reinforce or perpetuate violence such as oppressive norms or vigilantism; and most importantly;
  • Actively cultivate the things we know prevent violence such as healing, accountability, resilience, and safety for all involved. (Mingus)

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Reflection Questions

Encourage a Balance Between Conflict Resolution and Social Justice

  • Does the process recognize the right of all stakeholders to be involved?
    • Are marginalized voices included?
  • Does the process avoid neutrality in the face of systemic oppression and power imbalances?
    • What actions can be taken to balance power?
  • Does the process consider and address the deep underlying needs of those involved?
  • Does the process consider long term systemic change? Or does it seek quick peace or quick justice?
  • When is the right time to use power as a strategy?

Tools and Tips

Guiding Principles for Just and Sustainable Movements

  • Chronic conflicts are traced to their systemic and structural sources where they can be prevented and redesigned.
  • Do not sacrifice justice for peace. Value peace only in so far as it advances the basic human interests of all parties involved in the conflict.
  • All interested parties from all levels of a community or organization, regardless of identity, are included and invited to participate fully in designing and implementing content, process, and relationships.
  • Parties’ participation in any process is voluntary.
  • Processes are designed to locate power and agency in voices that have been previously marginalized or excluded from prior processes, so as not to reproduce  power imbalances from the larger society in the conflict resolution process. Process facilitators encourage the group to develop awareness of power dynamics.

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Challenging Questions

Exploring the deep and real concerns about the tension between Conflict Resolution and Social Justice

When and how can you negotiate with the opposition (the enemy)?

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What is the best way to respond to oppression/extreme power differentials? (When do you advocate and protest through a rights-based system? When do you choose an interest-based, collaborative approach?)

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Is violence ever justified in social justice struggles? Is it ever strategic? Is nonviolent resistance a moral absolute or a strategic choice? Or both?

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In choosing an interest-based, rather than a rights or power-based approach, do we risk duplicating or reifying power imbalances and injustice that exist in the larger society?

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Books & Articles

Barker, M. & Heckert, J. (2011). “Privilege & Oppression, Conflict & Compassion.” Originally published by The Sociological Imagination.

Cloke, Ken. Politics, Dialogue and the Evolution of Democracy. GoodMedia Press, 2018.

[1]Cloke, Ken. Conflict Revolution. (Second Edition) Goodmedia Publications, 2015.

Cloke, Ken “Conflict and Movements for Social Change: The Politics of Mediation and the Mediation of Politics.”

Haight, Jonathan. Righteous Mind. Vintage, Reprint edition, 2013.

Kahane, Adam. Collaborating with the Enemy: How to Work with People You Don’t Agree with or Like or Trust.  Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2015.

Lederach, John Paul. Preparing for Peace: Conflict Transformation Across Cultures, Syracuse University Press, 1996.

[2]Mia Mingus, “Transformative Justice: A Brief Description”

[3]Save the Kids “Defining Transformative Justice” (Anthony Nocella)

[4]Just Associates, “Dynamics Of Power, Inclusion And Exclusion” (Excerpt from: Drawn from VeneKlasen, Lisa with Valerie Miller. A New Weave of Power, People & Politics: The Action Guide for Advocacy and Citizen Participation. Oklahoma City: World Neighbors, 2002.)

[5]Heather McLeod Grant, “Stretching Toward Solutions,” Stanford Social Innovation Review, Fall 2017.

[6]“Nonviolent resistance proves potent weapon” Harvard Gazette, Feb 2019, review of Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict by Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan.