Reviewed by by Carrie Menkel-Meadow
Professor of Law, Georgetown U Law Center
Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco, 2000; 649pp.
This review is dedicated to the memory of James Boskey, whose contributions as an ADR book reviewer and field leader are incalculable and are truly missed.
Make room on your bookshelf for a weighty (in intellectual value and space) new tome. This newly published collection of field-synthesizing essays presents the work of an outstanding group of theorists and practitioners (and researchers and trainers!) who are trying to
practice what we all preach – having conversations across a variety of divides. Of what use is theory if it cannot be tried and tested in the fields
it attempts to explain? How can we make sense of our practice and intervention choices? Are they effective? Effective for what? Can our
“tools” in conflict resolution really be used to reduce violence, improve collaborative problem solving, enhance democratic discourse, affect
both group and individual decision making and most challengingly, achieve “justice”?
This group of scholars and conflict resolution practitioners present about thirty chapters of material, reviewing (mostly from the
perspective of the discipline of social psychology) what we have learned from studies and theorizing about intrapsychic, interpersonal and
intergroup processes, the role of conflict, culture and creativity in change, and what we know and don’t know about difficult and intractable
conflicts. Informed by the work of many, but inspired by the life-long work of social psychologist Morton Deutsch of Columbia University
(author of the classic, The Resolution of Conflict: Constructive and Destructive Processes (1973)), these essays link research in social group
processes, as well as individual problem solving and decision making, to several practice settings (including mediation and anti-violence
programs in the schools) and explore the significance of particular findings and patterns for training and education. The book’s chapters
explore such fundamental topics as trust, justice, power relations, communication patterns, motivation and intentionality, personality,
persuasion, aggression and violence, conflict, culture, creativity, and internal (as well as social) processes for problem solving, decision making
and conflict resolution. In this, the Handbook serves as an excellent reference work for anyone in the conflict resolution field seeking to
uncover the roots of our models of working and the assumptions and realities of human behavior on which they are based. But beyond this
usefulness as a “reference”, the Handbook goes further, with virtually every chapter concluding with some suggestions about the relation of the
particular theoretical or research insight to the world of practice, including some suggestions for training and education in the field.
The book grew out of conversations across the theory/practice divide at Columbia’s International Center for Cooperation and Conflict
Resolution, and we are the richer for the inevitable tensions and challenges that we all know occur in those settings. Informed by paradigms of
competition and cooperation and destructive and constructive conflict, and applied to settings as diverse as international and diplomatic
conflict, as well as national and individual acts of aggression and violence, peacekeeping efforts in schools, and mediation interventions in many
environments, these essays explore the breadth and depth of our new field.
The Handbook of Conflict Resolution now takes its place alongside at least two other volumes that have attempted to straddle helpfully
the theory and practice divide — Lawrence Susskind et.al. (eds.) The Consensus Building Handbook (Sage Publications, 1999) and Kenneth
Arrow et.al. (eds). Barriers to Conflict Resolution (Norton, 1995). These books seek to inform our practices by explaining distortions in
individual and group cognitive and social processes (attribution theory, loss and risk aversion, the availability heuristic, reactive devaluation,
judgmental biases, framing) and then suggesting correctives, in both individual and group processes (creativity, collaborative problem solving,
decision-making, both rational and naturalistic) to enhance the quality of both processes and ultimate outcomes. The Handbook of Conflict
Resolution, by linking research and theory to practice and training issues, goes beyond the “piling on” of negative cognitive and social
psychology, and suggests (with models, charts and graphs where appropriate) how more positive skills can be taught and implemented to
improve human interaction.
The Handbook’s authors never leave far behind its senior editor’s concern for justice and its various forms (distributive, equitable and
procedural) and thus the book is particularly appropriate for those of us who teach conflict resolution in law schools and are most concerned
about the interaction of conflict resolution, dispute resolution, and legal and social justice.
The Handbook goes a long way in providing a common vocabulary for those of us who work in this field, across disciplines. If I had any
one complaint about an otherwise superb volume, it is that the book might have drawn from more multi-disciplinary resources. “Problem
solving” and “decision making,” as well as “culture” and “justice,” are concepts that legal scholars, anthropologists, sociologists and political
scientists have also used and tried to explicate in the context of dispute resolution. Perhaps the next Handbook will be a truly multi-disciplinary
volume (which both the Susskind and the Arrow books aim for at different levels of theory and practice). In the meantime, we have an
excellent resource book from which to explore the core concepts of our field and from which to develop teaching units and training modules.
Indeed, as a recent gathering of dispute resolution professionals at Columbia discovered, the book itself provides an excellent exercise in
brainstorming teaching concepts — pick your favorite chapter (mine are chapters 9 (“Problem Solving and Decision Making in Conflict
Resolution”), 16 (“Creativity and Conflict Resolution: The Role of Point of View”), and 24 (“Teaching Conflict Resolution Skills in a
Workshop”)), then write a lesson plan and develop some experiential exercises!
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