Histories of Violence

What can history tell us not only about war
but about lasting peace?
Jean-François Rioux, director of the school of Conflict Studies at St. Paul University, asks us to think about what conflict resolution has looked like over the past century.
100 Years Ago
WWI is a recent memory but
the Russian Civil War is far from over.

The Treaty of Sèvres divides the Ottoman Empire into different European zones of influence, setting the state for numerous conflicts in the Middle-East during the 20th Century.
75 Years Ago
The atomic bomb is dropped in Japan. Some claim it was a terrifying act that nevertheless saved lives by potentially ending the war early.
50 Years Ago
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty enters into force.

The October Crisis in Quebec, Canada, provides a context for the final use of the War Measures Act (giving the gov't emergency powers to detain without cause).
25 Years Ago
Quebec separatism is decided by referendum – the region remains part of Canada. Local terrorism has been absent for years.

The military intervention in the Bosnian war leads to the signing of the Dayton Accords, thus ending the last European war of the 20th Century.
10 Years Ago
The Arab Spring begins in Tunisia.
6 Years Ago
The Crimean peninsula is annexed by the Russian Federation, leading to a war in East Ukraine and the estrangement of Russia and the West.
It hasn't been a boring century, and by studying history we can see certain patterns repeat themselves. But while traditional history places a great emphasis on war, over the next three months we'll be talking about peace – or at least conflict resolution.

There are many definitions of conflict, but for the purposes of our time together we will say that a conflict is an "apparently unsolvable dispute with a hostile dimension." This is different than the definition we use in the other courses (which are heavily influenced by Johan Galtung and other major thinkers in the field of peace and conflict studies).

But like the frameworks in other programs this term (theory, ethics), we will be looking at conflict on several levels: local, national and international. We will also be analyzing both negative and positive aspects of conflict and peace.

You can look at conflict through a range of different themes and lenses, and we'll be using some of these:
  • Orientation
    The goals and values of different groups or actors.
  • Governance
    Who governs and how?
  • Organization
    Hierarchy dynamics and the distribution of labour.
  • Rights
    Individual and group rights.
  • Protection
    The safety and security of people.
  • Property
    Ownership, contracts, trusts and so on.
  • Responsibility
    Grievances, torts, recourses and more.
For our purposes, conflict resolution (CR) refers to resolution, transformation, mitigation, management and prevention. And there are a number of strategies that people use to achieve this.

First there are disappearance strategies, where the conflict seems to go away through voluntary (extinction, renunciation) or involuntary (forgetfulness, evaporation) mechanisms. Domination strategies also fit into two categories, imposition (allocation, adjudication) and submission (surrender, deterrence). Then there are agreement strategies: by trial (contest, lottery) or by deliberation (negotiation, mediation).

But discussing histories of conflict and its resolution is about more than facts, dates and strategies – it comes down to the nature of how we view history itself. It's often written by the victors, and so recovering the voice of different sides can challenge our interpretation of the facts. And so emerge issues of truth and validity, or problems of interpretation or anachronisms.

That's all Jean-François will be getting into today, but he states his commitment to an approach that's broad, multidimensional, non-deterministic and non-relativist. And we start, next week, with a discussion of archaic civilizations and hunter-gatherer societies. Then slowly make our way back to today.
Jean-François Rioux is the director of Conflict Studies at Saint Paul University.

Josh Nadeau is a freelance writer and dialogue practitioner.
He studied conflict and ethics at Saint Paul University in 2020.
Banner photo by Messir on wikicommons
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