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Is conversation key to conflict resolution?

by Archives January 21, 2004

During the lecture on “How Pluralism Impoverishes Conflict Resolution,” University of Montreal professor Charles Blattberg marked his audience with his intellectual enthusiasm Monday evening at Concordia’s D.B. Clarke Theater.

The lecture, organized by professor Avery Plow from Concordia’s political science department, was the third of its kind in the “Pluralism and Conflict Resolution Lecture Series.”

For this event, students eagerly gathered in the theater well before the starting time of 6 p.m. and lingered in the vicinity to converse with Blattberg and Plow well past the end of the lecture.

Having studied at the University of Toronto and Oxford University, Dr. Blattberg is a political philosopher who advocates “conversation” as a possible and ideal means of resolving conflicts that occur both nationally and internationally.

Blattberg said while pluralism highlights the differences between conflicting groups and recognizes negotiation as the only feasible means of reaching a compromise, the conversation model stems from the holistic philosophy of Adamism, which views a given conflict as a whole comprised of various parts.

The seemingly conflicting and contrasting values that make up a particular problem are, in fact, related. They should be reconciled through conversation whenever possible. Rather than force negotiation and compromise, this model emphasizes the importance of conversation as a way of reaching a state where “everyone is a winner,” said Blattberg.

He added that for an effective conversation to take place, “symmetry is needed among the interlocutors, not equality of power,” which means an ideal conversation grants all individuals a voice.

The questions and discussions among the students at the end of the lecture indicated a high degree of skepticism. Applying Blattberg’s principles to various current events and incidents, students grappled with the notion of “symmetry.”

Blattberg’s suggestion that conversation must be encouraged in order to overcome political conflicts was met with resistance and sparked a series of critical questions. Repeated references were made to political situations such as the Arab-Israeli conflict. Can such a model be applied to a region where there are starkly contrasting value systems?

One student asked: “where can conversation lead? What is its eventual goal?”

Another student, who seemed to agree with Blattberg, wondered how we can have a conversation that extends beyond the reaches of the “big players” and includes everyone-especially our youth.

Students emerged from the lecture with an understanding that Blattberg was simply proposing that conversations should be encouraged as an alternative to the negotiation process that has conditioned society through the ages. Also, the effectiveness of a conversation strongly depends upon the nature of the conflict.

Plow expressed his “hope that conversation can lead to a better mutual understanding,” though “in some political situations, encouraging conversation may worsen the problem.”

The next lecture in the series will be held Feb. 2.

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