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Preparing for Peace (Book Review)

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John Paul Lederach’s Preparing for Peace, presents a case for considering how we approach conflict resolution training across cultures. His approach in this book is to draw the reader into considering the objectives and mechanics used to achieving the goals we set forth for training and to also to be open minded in our consideration of conflict; peoples’ cultural resources; and conflict transformation. This is not a “how-to” book on training, but one that encourages leaving the imagination open to endless methodologies of training approaches.

Lederach’s main points are as follows. The first deals with the values and goals we hold as peacemakers. The goals are empowerment and social change, so he values a framework that speaks to this end. The peacemaker must understand and integrate those processes that are culturally appropriate for the training goals to be met. He argues that training processes are not universal and do not apply across the cultural board. What would work in North America would not work in Latin America or Somalia and must be considered not only when crossing ethnic and cultural lines, but also class lines as well.

The second point underscores the relationship between the trainer and the participant. Lederach describes a prescriptive approach to training in which the expertise of the trainer is passed on to the trainee as the correct way, or the elicitive approach in which the trainer acts more like a facilitator who assists the participants to find and create methods of conflict resolution that are based in their own cultural knowledge. Lederach argues that the trainer can employ both techniques of training by choosing elements from each after determining what is appropriate for the group in training.

Third, Lederach believes that culture is based in social knowledge and cannot be “mastered and overcome through technical recipes” (p.120). Culture is a resource for designing models and approaches to conflict resolution. The way to handle conflict lies in the roots of social knowledge and the understandings derived from social knowledge that are implicit and allow people to become explicit in developing strategies and methods of conflict resolution. Lederach believes that when people deal in their own social knowledge about conflict resolution they become creative and through that, empowered with the knowledge that they can do it their way.

Lederach presents the two models of training in their pure forms and then explains that he draws from both for practical purposes. There is value in the expertise that the trainer can bring to the group, but not at the expense of the local cultural resources. Transferring training expertise as an explicit tool is only one among many vehicles that may be used in training groups for peace making.

Another point Lederach makes is that any models used in training should be scrutinized for the “cultural assumptions ” (p. 121) within. Participants should be told that the model is applied to a particular cultural setting and may or may not work in their context. Participants should be able to discuss and critique the model and reject it if it does not apply to their culture and setting, and explore their own cultural knowledge and heritage for the conflict resolution models appropriate in their setting.

Lederach, John Paul. (1995) Preparing for Peace. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press.


Bonita Para

Bonita Para is a certified mediator, trainer and educator. She is a Master's degree candidate in the Department of Conflict Analysis and Dispute Resolution at Nova Southeastern University. Bonita is the owner of Southeast Mediation in Richland, Washington and specializes in family/divorce, workplace and organizational dispute resolution. She holds membership… MORE >

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