Conflict Resolution and Post-Conflict Reconstruction do not need to look far or innovate anew to find a general guide or theory that can be useful in practice. Social interaction, communicative construction, or social constructivism, by whatever name you call it, is easily adaptable to the various situations faced in resolving and reconciling conflict. Constructivism is already a cannon of theory in international relations (IR), with ideological roots in social constructivism (Dunne, et al. 189). This essay will focus on communicative interaction which is a part of social constructivism, as a means of understanding the identities and socially constructed realities of those in conflict and of those trying to mediate conflict. Thomas Luckmann’s 2008 article “On Social Interaction and the Communicative Construction of Personal Identity, Knowledge, and Reality” is used to underpin and explain the abstract ideas of social constructivism, or communicative construction.
Communicative construction begins with the simple assumption that social sciences cannot be defined or become absolute in the same manner as physical sciences. Luckmann explains this in saying, “the physical sciences seek to explain a cosmos that has nothing to say – except in a metaphorical sense” (280). He then continues in saying, “the social sciences investigates a world that does have something to say, which, in fact, was saying something long before there were any scientists listening” (280). He brings these two quotes into terms useable for IR in saying, “they are the result of human activity over the generations. More or less obligatory ways of doing things, traditions and institutions are not genetic programmes; they are constructed – and sedimented in a collective memory – in social, primarily, of not exclusively, communicative interaction” (281). These interactions over time build an identity both in person, community, and arguably the state (Luckmann 286).
However, Kathryn Sikkink’s 1998 article “Transnational Politics, International Relations Theory, and Human Rights,” brings us even closer to Conflict Studies than Luckmann. In quoting Sikkink, she states, “virtually any explanation of the rise of human rights must take into account the political power of norms and ideas and the increasingly transnational way in which those ideas are carried and diffused” (517). Admittedly, her article is specifically about the rise of human rights policy. Her quote does apply to Conflict Studies in general because there are arguably very few conflicts that have played out on the international stage that did not come without the clarion call of human rights violations.
What makes the need to investigate the social construction of norms and interactions that build identity so necessary for conflict resolution and reconstruction? To answer as bluntly as possible, who, what, where, when and why are all valid questions that must be answered to understand a particular conflict between specific actors fighting for finite reasons in intra or interstate conflicts. Since the end of the Cold-War, the international community has seen an outbreak of intrastate level conflict (Bercovitch and Jackson 3). As well, since the end of the Cold-War, we saw a rise in non-state actors having an impact on relations (Bercovitch and Jackson 11). Without understanding the identities and interactions that boiled over into physical conflict or the interaction and identities of a particular non-state actor, their potential effects on the international community will not be fully realized. And at the worst, any response without proper understanding could exacerbate the situation.
If you do not understand the people fighting, why they are struggling and where they came from, how can a credible plan for resolution and reconstruction be implemented? This essay has shown using communicative construction and in general, constructivism will aid in understanding the interaction, norms, and identities of those in conflict and will allow those trying to stop conflict greater knowledge in the proper measures to implement.
Bercovitch, Jacob., and Richard Jackson. Conflict Resolution in the Twenty-First Century : Principles, Methods, and Approaches.Ann Arbor: University of Michigaess, 2009. Print
Dunne, Tim, Milja. Kurki, and Steve Smith. International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity.3rd [rev.] ed. Oxford etc.: Oxford University Press, 2013. Print.
Luckmann, Thomas. “On Social Interaction and the Communicative Construction of Personal Identity, Knowledge and Reality.” Organization Studies 29.2 (2008): 277-290.
Sikkink, Kathryn. “Transnational Politics, International Relations Theory, and Human Rights.” PS: Political Science & Politics 31.03 (1998): 517-523.