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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2006, Vol, 6 No. 1 .

Transforming Ethnopolitical Conflict: The Berghof Handbook
Alex Austin, Martina Fischer, & Norbert Ropers (Eds.)

Wiesbaden: VS-Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 2004, 473pp, PB, ?39.90, ISBN 3-8100-3940-3

The conclusion of the Cold War did not lead to an equivalent conclusion of violent conflicts throughout the world, as one would have expected. If anything, it led not only to an increase in their scale and number, but to the increasing reappearance of intra-state conflicts in an effort to maintain or gain political power, civil rights, cultural identity, economic advantage or natural resources. The variety of responses from the international community, in the form of humanitarian assistance, development aid, crisis prevention and conflict resolution programmes have exacerbated as much as enhanced opportunities for sustainable peace. As many of us are all too aware, attempts to understand what works, what lessons can be learned and how to transfer best practice usually comes in the form of evaluations of individual projects or programmes, few of which are presented for further discussion in the academic field or for use by practitioners. The Berghof Research Center for Constructive Conflict Management has produced this Handbook ?in response to the contemporary challenges which have to be faced by those who are working in and on violent conflict. The intention is to give an overview of recent developments in the field of conflict transformation from various perspectives: from academic analysts and practitioners as well as from experts representing different areas of work inside and outside of conflict zones? (9).

This inspirational overview of the state-of-the-art of conflict transformation contains contributory discussions of the core issues and recent developments from some of the most respected theorists and practitioners in the field, aiming to ?make a particular contribution to well informed, enlightened and effective practice? (12). These contributions are presented under five broad headings. Firstly, concepts such as conflict management and resolution are examined along with a focus on cross-cutting challenges including culture and gender. Next, tools for analysing and predicting conflicts such as early warning systems are reviewed and current debates around impact assessments of conflict interventions are highlighted. The third section examines activities for enhancing capacity for handling and intervening in conflicts on interpersonal and inter-group levels, with the primary concentration here being on the psychosocial dimension of conflict transformation. The fourth section focuses on structural reforms, institution-building and violence control as preconditions for conflict transformation and peacebuilding, with the fifth section finally presenting a discussion on the challenge of conflict transformation to reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation in post-war situations and war-torn societies.

The Berghof Handbook is a practical work-in-progress which was first launched a number of years ago as a series of successive articles on the Centre?s interactive website (www.berghof-handbook.net). This format provided for the gathering of feedback and commentary from users on the content and focus of the articles. The addition of further articles allowed for the creation of an evolving manual and reference guide to reflect developments in the field of conflict transformation. This hard copy version was published for those academics and practitioners who requested the complete compilation of all contributions. Unfortunately the web-based discussions on peace and conflict impact assessments (PCIAs) are not included in this volume as they have already been published separately through the Centre?s Dialogue Series. Nevertheless, this volume is an extremely valuable guide for both seasoned academics and practitioners alike and makes a great reference book for those just beginning their work in this field, by comfortably guiding the way through a field that is still newly emerging and lounging in a definitional morass. It is enthusiastically recommended to those trying to get to grips with the key concepts and themes central to transformational theory and practice. However, further debate and more detailed explorations are required. Happily however, this first edition is not the end, merely the interim, as the Center intends to develop this project further, a development which is eagerly anticipated.

Sandra Buchanan, Ph.D. Candidate, School of History & International Affairs, University of Ulster, INCORE Associate

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