Background

The Berghof Handbook for Conflict Transformation offers a continuously updated online platform for both academics and practitioners to discuss new ideas and exchange experiences in the field of conflict transformation.

The website content comes in form of commissioned state-of-the-art Articles by leading experts and a Dialogue Series on cutting-edge or controversial issues by scholars and practitioners from different disciplines and world regions.

Experts from a wide variety of disciplines, backgrounds and countries have contributed to the Handbook over the last 15 years. A first print edition of Handbook Articles was published in 2004, a second one followed in 2011. Berghof Handbook Dialogues are also available in print.

All contributions in the Berghof Handbook are published in English. Translations of selected Handbook Articles are available in eight languages.

The Berghof Handbook is not attempting to summarise the consolidated knowledge of a well-established discipline. It is an effort to draw attention to established practices and concepts, as well as to thorny issues and challenges. Instead of presenting a collection of recipes or ready-made tools, our goal is to put these established practices into a broader conceptual framework in order to understand their functions, strengths and weaknesses.

Conflict Transformation as defined in the tradition of Berghof Foundation’s support for peace and peace constituencies rests on four guiding principles.

  • First, war as an instrument of politics and conflict management can and should be overcome.
  • Second, violence can and should be avoided in structures and relationships at all levels of human interaction.
  • Third, all constructive conflict work must address the root causes that fuel conflict.
  • And fourth, all constructive conflict work must empower those who experience conflict to address its causes without recourse to violence.

In short, conflict transformation must provide those who experience violence with appropriate and innovative methods and approaches, and assistance by a third party if necessary. Ultimately, this is about changing individual attitudes and addressing the issue of structural reforms. Our vision, then, is to create conditions that allow for conflict to be dealt with in constructive and peaceful ways, i.e. to transform the relations of violence that too frequently define the experience of conflict.

Several terms are used to describe the range of efforts to mitigate conflict, including conflict management, conflict resolution, conflict transformation, conflict prevention and peacebuilding. In our view, the term “conflict transformation” is the most comprehensive of these, as it encompasses all the activities that influence inter-group conflicts with the aim of promoting sustainable peace and social justice. This understanding pertains to structure- and process-orientated endeavours for crisis prevention, strategies for empowering groups and building communities, conflict management and resolution activities, as well as rehabilitation, reconstruction and reconciliation efforts in post-war situations.

Our concept of conflict transformation was elaborated in specific response to one prototype of intra-state conflicts: the “protracted social conflict”. This term was first coined by Edward Azar in the late 1970s. It is now widely used to describe long, enduring ethnopolitical conflicts sharing common features. According to Azar, such conflicts have four key characteristics:

  • They are conflicts between identity groups, of which at least one feels that their basic needs for equality, security and political participation are not respected.
  • They are essentially about access to state-related power, often in the form of an asymmetric conflict between a government and an insurgent party.
  • They cannot be understood without also understanding various types of international linkages affecting the course of events (e.g. kin states, diasporas, international interference).
  • They are often based on deeply-rooted antagonistic group histories.

Stressing the need for transformation as it relates to protracted social conflicts means that all four constituent aspects must be addressed. For example, the legitimacy of ethnic demands in multi-ethnic political systems has to be acknowledged. Comprehensive concepts of power sharing and state reform are necessary. The roles of international actors and the international community have to be properly assessed and some kind of integration of the violent and painful past will be necessary. Furthermore, the need for transformation is based on the experience that long, enduring bloody conflicts not only take lives, destroy livelihoods and damage social, political and economic infrastructures, but also undermine the overall social capital of the society. Therefore, conflict transformation efforts address a wide range of issues: relief, rehabilitation, resettlement and reconstruction, as well as regaining humanity and working on reconciliation.

Based on this comprehensive understanding of the problem of violent conflict, we choose the term “conflict transformation” as the central concept for the Berghof Handbook.

See also: Conflict Transformation in Berghof Glossary >

In 1998/99, the Berghof Research Center took the initiative to produce this Handbook as a response to the contemporary challenges of violent ethnopolitical conflict and recent developments in the field of conflict transformation. The project is based on the conviction that responding constructively to inter-group conflicts requires more ingenuity, creativity and hard work than has so far been invested in this area.

One of the main challenges in the field of conflict transformation is the weak relationship between practice, research and theory. Along with many colleagues, we share the belief that the time is ripe for a systematic presentation of the current state-of-the-art in practical, empirical and theoretical knowledge. In addition, this project aims to meet the challenges of identifying lessons learned, best practices and cutting-edge thinking.

The overarching principles informing the Handbook’s approach are to:

  • narrow the gap between practice and theory in conflict transformation; in particular supporting the voices of practitioners in the debate, and making the best of new and relevant academic thinking available in practical form;
  • support and engage scholars and practitioners, especially those from the global South and other developing regions;
  • play a coordinating and clarifying role among the diverse voices and organisations in this multi-disciplinary field.

Beatrix Austin | Co-editor (since March 2004)
Special interests: victimhood in conflict and peacebuilding; dialogue, coexistence and reconciliation in conflict and post-conflict societies, notably the Middle-East and former Yugoslavia; theory and practice of conflict transformation; training in negotiation and conflict transformation; facilitation of reflective practice and learning in organisations.

Dr. Martina Fischer | Co-editor (since January 2000)
Special interests: research on the role of civil society in conflict transformation; dealing with the past and reconciliation in post-war societies; peacebuilding in the Western Balkans; strengthening of structures for civilian crisis prevention and conflict management.

Prof. Hans J. Giessmann | Co-editor (since October 2008)
Special interests:
creative approaches to conflict transformation and peacebuilding; inclusive governance, dialogue support and facilitation.

Former Editors…

Former members of the Berghof Handbook team include Alex Austin, David Bloomfield, Clem McCartney, Norbert Ropers, Reiner Steinweg and Oliver Wils.

Most of the articles contain short authors’ biographies at the very end. Or you can peruse the alphabetical list of authors.

This publication platform is made possible as an investment of the Berghof Foundation into and for the community of conflict transformation practitioners and scholars.