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Peeling the Layers

Rita Manchanda

By Peter M. Kellett
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 287, price not stated.


Professor Kellett’s ‘how to do’ textbook using narrative theory to excavate the layers of meaning in inter personal conflicts and as a way of moving towards dialogic negotiation to manage the conflict – is an innovative contribution to the expanding body of analytical resources in the disciplines of behaviour and management sciences. Increasingly, however, these micro studies of inter- personal conflicts and dispute resolution are being positioned as relevant to conflict resolution of macro-political processes i.e. group conflicts, civil wars and inter state conflicts.   Also, within the conflict resolution literature, such transversal linking from the micro to the macro-political in theorizing conflict and negotiation, is not unusual (Conflict, Conflict Resolution &Peace Building ed Jayadeva Uyangoda 2005). Disagreements, disputes and quarrels resulting in a conflicted or adversarial relationship is a ‘natural’ occurrence in human life. Arguably, at its essence, conflict is a relationship between two or more human beings or groups who have or think they have incompatible gaols. While conflicts can have positive and constructive consequences, the highly destructive consequences of violent armed conflicts need to be resolved or at least managed. Negotiation is what human relationships are about and techniques of ‘Getting to Yes’ or accommodating the explicit interests of the parties in the conflict in an understanding that seems fair are skills honed in our every day lives in managing inter-personal relations. These are sought to be extrapolated to the management of macro political conflicts.   This epistemic and policy emphasis on a behavioural approach to the management of macro-political conflicts comes with assumptions about the relevance or irrelevance of overarching social theories that seek to explain conflicts and the possibility of change in the structures of power to resolve the root causes of conflict. The assumptions in the knowledge structures incubated in American universities and policy think tanks need to be explicated and problematized. For example, in the behavioural and management science approaches to conflict resolution, implicit is the tendency to displace engagement with the systemic structures of state power, hierarchies of citizenship, class, caste or gender power and possibilities of structural transformation, to focus on better ‘managing’ the conflicted relationship.   At one level, it is a reflection of the intellectual movement away from the tradition of overarching social theories towards partial ways of knowing and fragmented theories and narratives. Beyond the meta narratives of great historical events and the high ‘elite’ politics there is the subaltern shift ...

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