Berghof Glossary on Conflict Transformation

Here we present you with the Berghof Glossary on Conflict Transformation – 20 Notions for Theory and Practice. We hope that this booklet will entice our partners, friends and colleagues to reflect and discuss the 20 notions further.

  • You may download the full PDF (2019 version) that is currently translated into German.
  • If you are interested in a hardcopy version of the Berghof Glossary, you can order one in our shop for €10 plus shipping.
  • You can also download the full PDF of a previous version or browse its individual chapters (2012 version).
  • Curious? Learn more about the glossary and how it developed over the years.
  • If you wish to join the discussion, we are looking forward to hearing from you. Please feel free to contact us.

Here you will find the individual links to each of the glossary chapters. You can also download the entire booklet or order it from our shop.

All articles are available in English and German.

This glossary defines and discusses 20 core terms related to conflict transformation in the work of the Berghof Foundation. Why another glossary, and why especially a glossary on conflict transformation? more >

“Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional”

- Max Lucade

A conflict is a clash between antithetical ideas or interests -within a person or involving two or more persons, groups or states pursuing mutually incompatible goals. Like all social phenomena, conflicts are usually complex and may emerge on different levels. more >

“The more we sweat in peace, the less we bleed in war”

- Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit

Conflict may be a necessary – even formative – part of human existence, but violent conflict is not inevitable. So how and when is it possible to prevent a conflict from becoming violent? more >

“Conflict transformation is ... about transforming the very systems, structures and relationships which give rise to violence and injustice.”

- Responding to Conflict

In the face of violence, there are three main impulses. The first is an immediate one – to stop it. more >

“In true dialogue, both sides are willing to change.”

- Thich Nhat Hanh

Dialogue can be viewed as one means – if not the classical one – of dealing constructively with conflicts. As the saying goes, as long as you’re talking, you can’t be shooting. more >

“The road to peace is paved with dignity”

- Donna Hicks

Dignity is a term indicating that all human beings have an inalienable right to respect and ethical treatment. Dignity became a key term in the age of Enlightenment and in the human rights movement of the 20th century. more >

“There is much to be done.”

- Georg Zundel

Ending violence and building peace require not only patience and experience but also financial resources. Yet total funding for non-violent approaches to conflict transformation is miniscule compared to the world’s military budgets. more >

“We must become the change we want to see.”

- Mahatma Gandhi

How can people live in a self-determined way and acquire the capabilities to act and deal with conflict non-violently? This is the core issue of multiple approaches to empowerment. more >

“You can't always get what you want / but if you try, sometimes you might find / you get what you need.”

- The Rolling Stones

Negotiation can be broadly defined as a face-to-face discussion for the purpose of reaching an agreement on a situation that is perceived as a problem or conflict. Roger Fisher and William Urycall it “a fact of life”. more >

“Women hold up half the sky.”

- Chinese proverb

Thinking in images is a useful exercise to understand how deeply gendered our associations with war and peace are and how none of us can escape “doing gender” as part of our everyday thinking and actions. Because habitual thoughts are the ones we question least, gender studies are a helpful tool in making us aware of how individual identities are shaped. more >

“The beauty of peace is in trying to find solutions together.”

- Dekha Ibrahim Abdi

Can peace be defined? In debates about peace definitions, the distinction between negative and positive peace put forward by Johan Galtung has gained broad acceptance. more >

“Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice.”

- Kurt Lewin

As a social phenomenon, conflicts are inevitable components of human development and social change. Violence in conflict, however, is not inevitable - and conflict transformation research seeks to explore conditions, strategies and policies for sustaining patterns of non-violent behaviour amongst conflicting parties, particularly in protracted social and ethnopolitical conflict. more >

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

- Margaret Mead

“Peace constituency” has become a bit of a catchall term for networks and individuals engaged in peacebuilding activities. These activities are aimed at preventing the escalation of violence, ending violence in hot conflicts or engaging in reconciliation efforts in the aftermath of war. more >

“That since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.”


Peace education aims to reduce violence, support the transformation of conflicts, and advance the peace capabilities of individuals, groups, societies and institutions. Peace education builds on people’s capacities to learn. more >

“Experience determines reality.”

- Ernst von Glaserfeld

Research has shown that the success of learning interventions is largely reliant upon the education method chosen. In other words, the teaching or facilitation process itself is critical in achieving positive learning outcomes. more >

“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”

- Leo Tolstoy

One of the basic insights from post-Cold War international efforts to prevent, terminate and transform protracted conflicts is that they take time, not only years, but often decades, before they reach a phase of irreversibility. In many cases, they move through long and painful phases of “no war, no peace”, with actors in the international community and peace activists on the ground struggling with the question of what can be done to initiate and support peaceful change. more >

“Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

- Samuel Beckett

In a complex setting, such as a protracted conflict, practitioners trying to improve the situation must reduce complexity and identify key dynamics.This is challenging, and we often find in hindsight that we could have done better. more >

“Human beings the world over need freedom and security that they may be able to realise their full potential.”

- Aung San Suu Kyi

Security, in the literal sense of the word, means a state free from care (lat. se cura). Since the first nation-states emerged in the mid 16th century up until the end of World War II, security was commonly understood as the primary concern of states to maintain external sovereignty and to avert any threats from the outside, particularly military threats from other states. more >

“Ground yourself in unpredictability.”

- Louise Diamond

A systemic approach to conflict transformation builds on best practice in the field of peacebuilding and conflict transformation and combines this with systemic methods from family therapy, organisational development and cybernetics. Given that a great variety of valuable concepts for peacebuilding and conflict transformation already exists, the aim of a systemic understanding is not to reinvent the wheel and to present something completely new, but to offer ways forward in challenging areas. more >

“Violent conflicts destroy the confidence in a social contract ... The process of reconciliation has to ... rebuild trust and confidence.”

- Dan Bar-On

Over the past two decades, scholars and practitioners have focused increasing attention on the question of how countries and societies can come to terms with a history of violence, war and oppression. The concept of transitional justice (TJ), originally introduced by the human rights movement, has come to play a prominent role in such debates. more >

“Nonviolence doesn't always work - but violence never does.”

- Madge Micheels-Cyrus

Academic debates on the concept and definition of violence have played a major part in the emergence of the field of peace and conflict research and its historical development from a “minimalist” focus on preventing war to a broader “maximalist” agenda encompassing direct, structural and cultural forms of violence (as defined by Johan Galtung). Nowadays, there is a general consensus that violence includes much more than the use of physical force by persons to commit acts of destruction against others’ bodies or property. more >

The annex contains an index of abbreviations and acronyms as well a general overview of the Berghof Foundation and its publications. more >

The first Berghof glossary was published in 2004 as part of the first print edition of the Berghof Handbook. Due to its intitial success, it was greatly sought after and soon translated, revised and expanded into several other languages (see Translations). Then, in 2012, the Berghof Foundation published a new glossary, in which we further investiged the terms that mark our endeavours in conflict transformation. This was revised and updated in 2019.

You may ask: why another glossary? The Berghof Foundation produced it for three reasons. First, we believe that the concept of “conflict transformation” is still relatively new, disputed and by no means clearly understood. Hence it remains important to make explicit what we mean when we speak of conflict transformation. Second, we believe that language and terminology are fluid and keep developing. Hence it is necessary to revisit terms and keep discussing them within and between organisations, rather than taking a once-understood interpretation for granted. Third, as the Berghof Foundation started afresh in 2012, bringing together previously independent areas of peace education, peace support, conflict research and grant-making, it was exciting and instructive for the staff within this new organisation to engage their subject matter jointly and systematically.

*Please note that the multimedia contents referred to in the single Glossary chapters (podcasts, videos) will become available at a later stage.