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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 1 .


Searching for Peace: The Road to TRANSCEND
Johan Galtung and Carl G. Jacobsen

London: Pluto Press, 2000
296pp. Paperback 15.99; Hardback 45.00 (ISBN 0-7453-1614-1613-1 and 1614-x).



The use of medical metaphors to describe social disorders has plenty of precedents. Roger Fisher and his colleagues at Harvard, for example, use it as a central metaphor for treatment of deeply divided societies. It is again enthusiastically embraced in this book. The forty cases cited by Johan Galtung in the body of the book are approached under three headings, Diagnosis, Prognosis and Therapy.

The principal danger in this conceit is that the analysts are often the equivalent of medical consultants rather than general practitioners. Their knowledge and skills lie more in the general state of the art than in the details of their patients' condition. Clearly such knowledge is necessary to advance general understanding, but the edifice is sometimes constructed on imperfectly understood data. The Northern Ireland ailment, for example, is treated by an embarrassingly superficial set of prescriptions. These include the introduction of a version of the Euro for Northern Ireland, in apparent ignorance that the Irish and British currencies have significantly different values and fluctuate on a daily basis; it is further suggested naming it an 'ulster', in apparent ignorance that this is a disputed term. It is equally difficult to see either demand or function for another of their proposals, the creation an Ulster passport. In the case of Sri Lanka the section on Therapy concludes: 'it can only be hoped that the Sinhalese will produce a leader capable of thinking the unthinkable, a Tamil state, and doing the so far undoable; and that the Tamils will join in a giant reconstruction and reconciliation operation'. Fine, but it falls a long way short of a convincing prescription.

The book is structured in four parts. The two chapters in Part 1 provide an overview of recent developments in peace research and peace-making, and the defining parameters of war culture. They present a useful review of similar material to that covered recently by Miall, Ramsbotham and Woodhouse (Contemporary Conflict Resolution, Polity, London, 1999), and would provide an excellent introduction for Graduate courses in conflict and peace studies. The second part, entitled Conflict Formations for the Twenty-first Century, has a short introduction by Galtung and three geographical surveys of Russia-China, Eurasia and South Asia by Jacobsen. A Practice for Peace, the third and longest part, is a celebration of forty years of the TRANSCEND approach, which is closely associated with Galtung; it classifies forty conflicts in which the TRANSCEND ('a network of scholars-practitioners, doing action/training/dissemination/research within fifteen programmes') approach was applied. The two chapters in Part 4, by Kai Frithjof Brand-Jacobsen and Finn Tschudi, speculate about new approaches and new actors.

Galtung's writing always provides succinct and important insights. He stresses, for example, that 'conflicts cannot be prevented, but violence can be prevented' (p.107). He also identifies what he describes as three basic mistakes in 'conflict practice': the liberal fallacy, which refuses to confront real contradictions; the conservative fallacy, which believes that behaviour can only be modified by putting the lid on aggressive action; and the Marxist fallacy, so obsessed by the contradiction between labour and capital that it ignores the personal costs involved (p.208).

In the end, however, sharp observations are not enough. Searching for Peace: The Road to TRANSCEND may be seen by some as a magisterial book, by others as a lazy one. In some chapters the citations are quite inadequate. There is insufficient willingness to be critical of, or even to evaluate, the TRANSCEND approach, so the reader is left unconvinced of its impact. The index contains 58 references to TRANSCEND (not to mention another 97 to its three components, Diagnosis, Prognosis and Therapy. The United Nations merits a grand total of 18.

Nevertheless, the book has appropriate and important targets: it seeks to uncover the general truth among the particular complications; it does not draw back from proposing courses of action; it confronts serious tasks. Unfortunately, it does not quite accomplish them.


Prof. John Darby.



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