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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 1 .


Constructive Conflicts: From Escalation to Resolution
Louis Kriesberg

(Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 1998)
320pp. Index. Hb.: $65.00: ISBN 0-8476-8891-7. Pb.: $24.95: ISBN 0-8476-8892-5



Louis Kriesberg's book is a gift to those of us attempting to make sense of what often seem to be senseless conflicts. We must thank him! He takes a forensic, step-by-step approach to understanding the escalation of conflict. His aim is straightforward: 'People need to hear the stories of struggles that have avoided extreme contention and violence, had limited destructive episodes and resulted in considerable mutual benefits.'(1) While an optimistic core runs throughout the book, Kriesberg has few illusions about the resilience of contemporary conflict. Furthermore, he makes it clear that conflicts are complex, operate at multiple levels and are prone to unexpected developments.

The book is organised according to the course of a conflict, with chapters devoted to emerging, escalating and de-escalating conflict. There are also chapters on the basis of social conflict, alternative conflict strategies, intermediaries and negotiations. Each is subjected to a thorough analysis. The chapter on intermediaries, for example, begins with an explanation of thirteen activities intermediaries can play in a conflict.(233-230) This is followed by an annotated list of nine roles intermediaries can occupy in a conflict situation. After that, the importance of the context in which intermediaries operate is explored. Links are made with the literature from a wide range of sources and challenging ideas are promoted.

The book is highly recommended, not least because it is written in comprehensible English. It is unburdened by jargon and avoids the stream of consciousness literary style so favoured by many in the field of conflict studies.


Roger Mac Ginty
Lancaster University




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