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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2005, Vol. 5 No. 1 .

Transcend and Transform: An Introduction to Conflict Work
Johan Galtung

London: Pluto Press, 2004,
189 pp PB 15.99 ISBN 0-7453-2254-9

All those interested in peace and conflict studies should make space for this book in their libraries and offices, but might also find it useful to keep a copy handy in the car, on the coffee table or amongst any hidden piles of self-help guides. For this book wins the reader over to the intellectual technique employed by TRANSCEND - the mediation organisation Johan Galtung currently directs - and it is to be applied as much to how you live as to how you work.

The seven chapters of the book bear the names of the days of the week, mirroring the structure of a one week TRANSCEND course. This arrangement re-emphasizes that this is a book for living as well as reading and ensures it avoids the exhausting lists, systems and tables prevalent in many of Galtung?s other works.

The book begins with the basics of conflict transformation, arguing that conflict is the existence of incompatible goals, is normal, and presents an opportunity for constructive change. In a conflict with two parties, the TRANSCEND method is to shun either-or solutions with one party realising their goal, the other not; neither-nor solutions with both parties withdrawing and neither achieving their goal; and compromise solutions with neither party being fully satisfied. Instead, the task is to create a both/and solution, or ?transcendence? (p. 13). This range of possible solutions is neatly mapped out in a graph.

Galtung then applies this technique to a vast array of conflicts including infidelity, integration of schools, private/state ownership, Israel/Palestine, North/South relations and Christianity/Islam to name a few. In doing so, the book collapses distinctions between conflict at different levels, that is, within and between persons, within society, among states and nations, and among regions and civilisations.

It is in this practice that the TRANSCEND theory comes alive and from it Galtung draws lessons about how to achieve both/and solutions. First, it is critical to ?escape from the tyranny of the number 2? (p. 76) by introducing more goals (or differentiating goals already there) and introducing more parties to whom the outcome of the conflict is important. Second, creativity must be fostered. The most interesting discussion here centres around the ?deep? culture, behaviour or structure that may drive parties without them being fully aware, for example, ?CGT syndrome? or ?we are a Chosen people with a Glorious past suffering from countless Trauma.? (p. 151). All of the above is to be achieved through a ?questioning? dialogue (p. 166) which Galtung contrasts sharply with the practice of negotiation ? taking entertaining shots at Roger Fisher and William Ury, Edward de Bono, and Marshall Rosenberg along the way.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of this book however, is that it suggests the TRANSCEND method can pass the acid test of any scientific theory, that is, it can not only explain and describe, but predict. In doing so, Galtung pushes the frontier of peace and conflict studies forward. Yet the conclusion of this book is something of an anti-climax as Galtung leaves the reader with the slightly perplexing thought that perhaps, after all, not all incompatibilities or contradictions need to be transcended, and it is in the striving towards transcendence that we really overcome conflict.

Helen Lewis
Local International Learning Project Coordinator

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