Breaking the Cycle of Violent Conflict with Johan Galtung

Sunday 3 December 2023

YouTube. University of California, 2011.

This speech by Galtung explores his thought, in particular, his theories of reconciliation and positive/negative peace. Galtung problematises unresolved conflict as the seed of violence: since it does not solve conflicts, violence is very unlikely to remove its own source. He lays out his method for approaching complex conflicts, where a skilled mediator meets with actors one by one, questioning, rather than debating, each. Crucial instantiations of this questioning include asking “What does the [relationship/region/world] you want to live in look like?” and “Was there a time in the past where the relationship was OK?”. He stresses seeking a multipolar collaborative state, decided on according to their legitimacy. This legitimacy can be derived from law, human rights and fulfilling essential needs; proposals to solve conflicts must incorporate all legitimate claims, while rejecting the illegitimate. He points to the innate understanding of this style of conflict resolution that pre-teens have, especially in its application to situations where many participants have a legitimate claim to one thing. A central theme of Galtung’s lecture is that there are almost always more actors in a conflict than meets the eye and that to truly resolve a conflict, all must be consulted. Finally, his examination of Afghanistan and its parallels to Switzerland provide a counterintuitive yet profound avenue for sustainable development.

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