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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest


Encyclopedia of Violence, Peace and Conflict, vols i-iii
Lester Kurts (ed)

San Diego, London, Academic Press, 1999
ISBN 0-12-227011-8.

It is quite hard to believe that the field of conflict studies has progressed to the stage where it can now produce its own encyclopedia. But indeed it has - 3 volumes of over 2500 pages in total. This book is an absolute delight for the proverbial rainy day, when the brain needs to be stimulated beyond one's normal field of interest, to range far and wide and plunge at will into the cornucopia of knowledge encompassed by these volumes. The approach is much more satisfying than the normally truncated approach of most encyclopedias - the articles are often quite satisfying in length, with extremely useful historic and current referencing on almost 200 topics in the field.

What is most admirable is the variety that these articles encompass - written as they are by psychologists, political scientists, biologists, security specialists, etc. The topics are both perennial in interest including such topics as the arms trade, political economy of violence, decision and game theory, but also surprisingly current in their inclusion of articles on civil society, evolutionary theories (current in that they are daring to raise their heads again), ecoethics, drugs and violence, etc. Authors too represent the history of the field, as in Elise Boulding, Gene Sharp, Anatol Rapoport and the up-coming generation such as Ho Won Jeong, Mike Wessells, and Martin Shaw.

It?s a credit to the editor Lestor Kurtz and his advisory board that they permitted themselves to be so inclusive in their range. This very inclusiveness will of course frustrate some, particularly those who like to confine themselves to depth of theory rather than width of approaches. Cross-referencing is also a bit of a challenge - given that the articles are alphabetical in sequence. Another problem that will no doubt soon present itself is that, given the rapidly developing nature of the field, the encyclopedia will probably not have a shelf rate beyond five years or so, as by then most of the articles will need updating, at the very least in their referencing. It is, for example, hard to imaging any article on terrorism that does not now take into account the tragedy of 11th September being satisfying enough for too long - although there is in fact a surprisingly up-to-date article by David Rapoport on Terrorism in Vol 3 whose last paragraphs are possibly prophetic in their prescience on the future of terrorism.

Whether you like these volumes may well depend upon the sort of scholar or reader that you are - if you see variety of focus as invigorating, if you are energetically curious about the multitude - and emerging - perspectives in the field, and if have a porous approach to what kind of knowledge you can take seriously - then these are definitely for your shelf - or, given their size and cost, for the shelf of your institution's library. And given the speed at which the field is developing - its easy to imagine that the next editions will, or should be available on CD, or, ultimately online where updating will do justice to the quality of this effort.

Professor Mari Fitzduff, Director, INCORE

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