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Tarja Väyrynen


"A man ahead of his time" is one of the many tributes given to John Burton.1 His influence on the Anglo-American conflict analysis tradition is comparable with Johan Galtung's influence on the Scandinavian peace research. Burton is one of the pioneering scholars and practitioners of so called "problem-solving workshop conflict resolution." Furthermore, his theory of the relationship between basic human needs and the development of protracted conflict has brought in a set of new issues and evoked a lively theoretical debate among conflict analysts and peace researchers (Burton, 1990a). Even for scholars who do not share Burton's enthusiasm for the idea of universal human needs, his theories, and critiques, of them have provided fruitful starting-points for the development of new approaches to conflict (Avruch et al., 1991; Avruch & Black, 1991; Merry, 1987).

Burton's contribution to International Relations and international conflict analysis is not limited to his version of human needs theory. For example, a variant of 'world society' approaches owes much to the thought and influence of Burton. In Burton's innovative world society model, the emphasis is put on transactions to the extent that the basic unit of analysis is considered to be a set of patterned interactions (1987a). Similarly, the topic of altering world environment and the need of governments for adapting policies to changing circumstances have been discussed by him (1962; 1965). Burton's conflict theory, on the other hand, can be called integrative, because it aims at giving a general explanation of conflict by combining all levels from individual to international.

Burton's texts provide a rich source for the analysis of the metaphorical structure of peace research as well as for the development of complementary approaches. Although his works are unique, they take part in a production of a research tradition or programme and, therefore, a limited amount of generalisations can be derived from his study. A purpose of the present article is, thus, to conduct an analysis of the medical metaphors of Burton's conflict theory. The article is based on the contention that since there is an intimate relationship between peace research and peace action-which in Burton's case refers to facilitated conflict resolution-it is necessary to be aware of our notions of reality (e.g. metaphors) which guide our actions.

From a methodological point of view, the article relies on hermeneutics (see e.g. Gadamer, 1979; Ricoeur, 1981). Burton's texts are considered to be works of discourse, whose underlying logic this author is interested in. Thus, despite the use of such phrases as 'for Burton' and 'according to Burton,' the focus is not on John Burton as a biographical person. Rather, the analysis of metaphors is a means of conducting an interpretative analysis. The fundamental aim of the interpretation is to show the philosophical and theoretical assumptions of a research programme in peace research.

Another aim of the article is to use Burton's ideas to overcome the 'medical discourse' of peace research. Problem-solving conflict resolution, especially, is re-defined and its dialogical, and even emancipatory capacities emphasised. The critique of Burton the article presents arises from the allegorical question: why do so many people turn nowadays to alternative and complementary medicine and means of healing? What is there which cannot be provided by the standard medical profession and practices? Maybe there is, in alternative medicine, a type of understanding concerning the uniqueness, as well as of the medical history, of a patient's symptoms which is lacking from conventional Western medical procedures. Analogically, it is argued that there is also a need in peace research and conflict analysis for approaches which stem from the cultural understanding of conflict and conflict resolution. In a world of increasing identity claims and politics, which can take the form of ethnic conflicts, there is a need for culturally sensitive modes of conflict resolution. Thus, an approach is suggested in the article which places cultural frameworks at the very centre of peace research as well as peace action.


Metaphors participate in the creation of the world to us. Metaphors are not about transposing an unusual name. Rather, according to a cognitive approach to metaphors, metaphors are essential to human understanding; they are a mechanism for creating new meaning. Language structures what we perceive, how we get around in the world, and how we relate to other people. In other words, language plays an important role in defining our everyday realities. Our conceptual system is, in terms of how we think and act, fundamentally metaphorical by nature. Since metaphors are vital for any understanding, they cannot be avoided in speaking 'objectively' or 'scientifically' (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980).

This view of metaphors clearly challenges an extreme objectivist picture of the world, which claims that there is an objective reality, and that we can say things that are objectively, absolutely, and unconditionally true and false about it. Science does not only provide us with a methodology that allows us to rise above our subjective limitations and to achieve understanding from an universally valid and unbiased point of view, but it will also, in the course of its development, give us a correct, general account of reality. According to the objectivist view, thus, to describe reality correctly we need words whose meanings are fixed, clear and precise (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980: 185-228).

The rejection of the extreme objectivist position does not necessarily lead to subjectivism-some versions of which, by relying on individual experiences, dismiss the existence of intersubjective and socially conditioned frames of reference. Given the understanding of metaphors suggested, it is possible to maintain that the intersubjective frame of reference, which is culturally and socially created, approved and maintained, ultimately constrains the imaginative understanding of the individual and his or her capability of producing new meaning (Berger & Luckmann, 1991).

It is justified to also assume that conflict and conflict resolution theories contain metaphors through which an understanding of the world and 'reality' is created. These metaphors often reflect traditions of thinking as well as epistemological and ontological orientations whose critical study should be an integral part of developing peace research (Rytövuori-Apunen, 1990). Furthermore, the development of alternative metaphors should be at the centre of the progressing research programme of peace research.

In addition to their theoretical importance, metaphors shape conflict management practices, especially in the context of problem-solving workshop conflict resolution. Since the theoretical introductory talks and other theoretical inputs provided by the facilitator are an essential element of this type of conflict resolution, the metaphors employed by the facilitator are directly fed into the conflict resolution process. By typifying and conceptualising conflict in a certain manner and by emphasising and rejecting certain theories of conflict and conflict resolution, the facilitator projects his or her understanding of the causes of conflict and the desired mode of solution onto the resolution process. Furthermore, facilitative techniques and procedures are chosen accordingly to the understanding.

Conflict as Pathology

For Burton, human behaviour is conditioned by needs. He argues that there are fundamental drives and motivations that cannot be repressed. The drives and motivations are based on universal and genetic basic needs, such as needs for identity, development, meaning and consistency in response.2 Needs can get cultural expressions, but they are not, according to Burton, determined by culture. Given the fundamentality of needs, there can be no long-lasting and authentic social stability unless the basic needs satisfaction of individuals is met (Burton, 1993: 13; Burton, 1996a: 7-10; Burton, 1997: 32-40; Burton & Sandole, 1986).

In Burton's view, human needs will be pursued by individuals and social groups regardless of consequences (1979: 140-150; see also e.g. Burton, 1979: 34). In every society there are, however, elite groups-and structures supported by them-which gain mostly through the maintenance of the status quo and, therefore, resist the demands of other groups in the society for needs satisfaction. If the institutional values, which often reflect the interests of elites, do not fully allow the satisfaction of human needs of all groups in the society, conflict will emerge.

Human needs as such do not lead to conflict, rather, conflict emerges from the frustration caused by unfulfilled needs. According to Burton, needs are something original and constructive in the sense that they include a potential for harmonious society. Institutional arrangements of a society may temporarily destroy originality, and conflict arises. The implicit medical metaphor in Burton's theory, thus, insinuates that dysfunctional conflicts and deviant behaviour are signs, like physical symptoms, of something else. Conflict, like symptoms of a disease, is not malign since it is merely a sign of structural failings-the failures of a domestic system to provide the needs of people. The ultimate sources of international conflicts can be found in the domestic level because internal conflicts spill over to international sphere (Burton, 1984; Burton, 1992: 373; Burton, 1997: 38).

In order to understand how conflict can be a symptom, two things have to be kept in mind. First, in Burton's theory, conflict is considered to be endemic, i.e., it is thought that conflict can be found regularly in human relationships. Second, it is assumed that functional conflicts can be differentiated from dysfunctional ones, or, at least, the functional value of conflict (e.g. the group-binding functions of a conflict) from its dysfunctional consequences. Since conflicts are endemic, the aim is to retain conflict which has functional value and "to control it so as to avoid perversions which are destructive of human enjoyment and widely held social interests" (Burton, 1987a: 138).

If conflict is a sign, what is the disease? The disease in the body social is alienation. The term can be best understood in Burton's theory through its negative connotations. The theological use of alienation established a meaning by speaking about isolation of humankind from God. Kant, on the other hand, took a first step to build a link between alienation and reification by imputing a negative value-judgement on the objectifying process of economic transfers (Der Derian, 1987: 15-20).
Although human needs are something original which cannot be suppressed, values imposed by institutions may try to alienate individuals from their human values, separating people from their true needs. As Burton explicitly argues, "alienation occurs in any system, if in practice, participation and identity are denied" (1990b: 94; see also e.g. Burton, 1996b: 15; 1997: 33-34). In other words, institutional values may cause alienation whose symptoms are deviant behaviour and dysfunctional conflict. The result is a sick society which is characterised by a further denial of human needs satisfaction.

In a pathological society, the major constraints of human behaviour, namely values attached to relationships, cease to work and, as a consequence, authorities lose their legitimacy. In Burton's words:

[...] the individual in society will pursue his needs and desires (some of which may be programmed genetically and may include some elements of altruism) to the extent that he finds this possible within the confines of his environment, his experience and knowledge of options and all other capabilities and constraints; he will use the norms common within society and push against them to the extent necessary to ensure that they work in his interests; but if the norms of the society inhibit and frustrate to the degree that he decides they are no longer useful, then, subject to values he attaches to social relationships, he will employ methods outside the norms, outside the codes he would in other circumstances wish to apply to his behaviour. In doing so he will be labeled deviant by society; but this is the cost he is prepared to pay to fulfil his needs (1979: 78-79).

Purification Through Professional Cure

Since the problems are, according to Burton, 'sick societies' and 'alienated people', a professional cure is needed in order for the conflict resolution process to be successful. When a conflict occurs the intervention done by a traditional mediator is, however, undesirable because it is often based on power and coercion. Given the fundamental tension in many conflicts between the preservation of institutions in the interest of social stability and the satisfaction of the needs of individuals, a problem-solving type of conflict resolution intervention is required, for it offers a way to take into account cost conflicting interests and strategies.3

Problem-solving conflict resolution takes place in problem-solving workshops which are academically-based, unofficial, small group discussions. Workshops bring together representatives of parties in the conflict for direct communication. A panel of scholars which facilitates and promotes communication between the parties is an essential part of this mode of conflict resolution.

The role of the facilitative third party differs from that of the traditional mediator. Unlike many mediators, facilitators do not propose or impose solutions. Rather, the function of the third party in the problem-solving workshop is to produce an atmosphere where innovative solutions can emerge out of the interaction between the parties themselves. The objective of the workshop is both to create analytical communication and to generate inputs into political processes (Doob, 1970; Kelman, 1972; Kelman, 1992; Kelman, 1995; Burton, 1987b; Burton, 1996a).

In Burton's view, the authority of the third party has to derive from a recognition by the parties of a professional expertise (1982: 121; 1996b: 28). The facilitator is expected to take the stance of an observer in a scientific role where he or she makes no assessments, judgements or value interventions. The primary expertise of the facilitator arises from his or her superior knowledge of the 'natural law based on needs' and of common patterns of human behaviour.

Burton relaxes the requirements of the ideal, scientific, facilitator by employing a metaphor of doctor. The facilitator, like the doctor, is assumed to have the expertise to recognise the symptoms of the sick body social. Since the disease is alienation, he or she helps the social groups help themselves overcome the malady. The professional help is needed because groups are often so deeply involved in their conflict (symptoms) that they do not know how to get the resolution (healing) process started.

Burton maintains that the study of conflict and its resolution and prevention are professions in the same way that medicine and engineering are professions. They are all universal walks of life in the sense that the basics of those fields do not vary across cultures. As with any other occupation, the profession of facilitator needs an universal ethical code which guides behaviour. Burton derives three general rules from medicine and proposes professionalism, secrecy and perceived neutrality for the facilitator who wants to follow an ethical code of conduct (1984: 149, 162-163; see also Burton, 1993: 30-32; Burton, 1996b: 45-49).

The type of skills necessitated in conflict resolution are not, however, those possessed by a general practitioner. They are, rather, therapeutic skills. The connection between psychotherapy and needs gratification is clear, for example, in Abraham Maslow's well-known needs hierarchy. Maslow saw therapy as a way to satisfy needs on an interpersonal basis (1970: 92-110). Similarly, the facilitative techniques used in the problem-solving workshops, which derive from T-group (T for training) experiments and social casework, have a psychoanalytic origin (Väyrynen, 1993: 507-508).

The therapeutic facilitator provides a filter for the problem-solving workshop participants. By employing a filter metaphor, Burton describes the facilitator:

What is required in a problem-solving forum is a 'filter' to screen out false assumptions and implications from existing knowledge, cultural and ideological orientations and personal prejudices. Probably the main task of the third party is to provide this filter. If the participants can use this filter, then they will be able to perceive realities accurately, to assess available theoretical and empirical knowledge, and arrive at reliable conclusions (1990b: 208).

Through the filtering processes, purification from prejudices, cultural elements and ideologies are assumed to be achieved, and the original condition of human existence-defined as knowledge of real human needs-is expected to be gained back. Disclosure, from the point of view of the participants, is the method of filtering. As the psychoanalyst helps the patient to reveal his or her inner feelings, so does the facilitator help the parties to disclose, first, their stereotypes and prejudices and, later, their fundamental and real needs. The positive side of disclosure is the replacement of conflict-loaded theories and information with an alternative, i.e. with a full understanding of the Burtonian human needs theory, that helps the parties to avoid dysfunctional conflicts and recognise the fundamental needs they share.

Social Engineering and Instrumental Rationality

The ideal behaviour of the facilitator, suggested by Burton both in his doctor and filter metaphors can be traced back to the principles of positivist natural sciences. According to them, the scientist was to remain an outside observer of the processes of nature. This idea was challenged, for example, in the 1920s, by an atom physicists. Heisenberg claimed that even in science, the object of research is no longer nature itself, but man's investigation of nature (North and Willard, 1984: 33). Although Heisenberg's argument disputed the hypothetical distinction between the researcher and the research object prevailing in natural sciences at that time, Burton retains the difference and applies it to mediation.

There is also a strong belief in rationality in Burtonian problem-solving conflict resolution. The elements which are thought to form an obstacle to conflict resolution are assumed to be tackled in a rational way. The filter metaphor insinuates that culture and people's ignorance of their true needs are such obstacles. It is suggested that human beings are capable of rational thinking and acting when an appropriate framework is offered. Problem-solving workshops are supposed to offer a framework where conflicting parties can scrutinise the nature of their relationships, analyse the ultimate roots of their differences and, finally, find commonalities in human needs which are universal. The analysis is expected to take place by exercising both instrumental reasoning about means to ends and, to a minor extent, dialogical reasoning about definitions and values.

Moreover, social scientists are assumed to represent instrumental knowledge and rationality par excellence as the metaphor of doctor demonstrates. With this knowledge they are supposed to be capable of social engineering within a problem-solving framework. In practice, they engage in social engineering by manipulating the setting and structure of the workshop; by choosing the participants; by acting themselves as intermediaries; and by controlling the conceptualisations of the conflict. There is an implicit assumption in Burton's problem-solving approach that the control of an environment-that is, managing inevitable changes at all levels of the physical and social world-for example, in the form of problem-solving workshops, is an integral part of human rationality. The Enlightenment idea of the universal man who is essentially rational and who, because of the rationality, is determined to control social as well as natural environments is, thus, fundamental for the problem-solving ideology advocated by Burton.

Social engineering and instrumental rationality coincide with the principles of (neo)behaviouralism which flourished in the social sciences in the 1970s. Behaviouralism was concerned with the underutilisation of the social and behavioural sciences in practical affairs. It was based on an uncritical trust in the existence of objective scientific facts and in their value in solving practical problems. Universalising tendencies in the spirit of behaviouralism can be found in the Burtonian view of problem-solving conflict resolution. The conception of instrumental rationality, culminating in the filter metaphor, leads his problem-solving workshop approach to assume that the methods used in workshops are universally applicable and thus suitable to all cultural contexts (see e.g. Burton, 1993: 20; Burton, 1996b: 23).

In addition to the conception of instrumental rationality, Burton's theory does consist of an element of emancipatory interest. The emancipatory interest manifests itself in a wish to create non-distorted and reciprocal dialogue which generates emancipation from domination, and finally, helps humans to achieve rational autonomy. However, this aspect is not fully developed by Burton himself.

Creating a New Reality

A view which challenges the medical metaphors of conflict and conflict resolution, as well as their implicit rejection of culture, can be founded on the social constructionist tradition of thinking (See Schutz, 1962; Schutz, 1964; Berger & Luckmann, 1991). Instead of being guided by biologically-based drives (needs), as Burton suggests, a person orients himself or herself in the world through cultural patterns which are peculiar to social groups, and which function to a member of a group as an unquestioned scheme of reference. The cultural pattern consists of all the peculiar valuations, institutions, and systems of orientation and guidance (e.g. mores, laws, habits, customs and fashions) which characterise or constitute any social group at a given moment in its history. The cultural pattern consists of a 'recipe'4 for interpreting and handling things, as well as for acting in order to gain certain results in the social world (Schutz, 1964: 91-105).

Furthermore, cultural patterns condition how the world is represented to a person. The world is represented in typical form; things are from the outset perceived as types.5 The outer world is not experienced as an arrangement of individual unique objects dispersed in space and time, but as, for example, 'books', 'lakes' and 'animals'. Typifications are not subjective. They are, rather, intersubjective, i. e., they are produced accordingly to cultural patterns which prevail in the social groups. Our experience of the world takes place in terms of intersubjective typifications which are produced in and through processes of interaction with our fellow men and women in the social world (Schutz, 1962: 7-11; Schutz, 1964: 233-234).

Burton's claim for universality makes him ground the commonalities between men on human needs. The social constructionist approach, on the other hand, emphasises a shared reality as a prerequisite for cooperation. It is argued that a common reality is defined through shared typifications. As Maurice Natanson maintains, to be with others is to share typifications, to respond to them, to participate with them, and to assume that others typify in the same way as we do. He argues that "when such a typification breaks down or is for certain reasons denied or severely circumscribed, then we have, at least in descriptive terms, evidence of fundamental differences or basic prejudices" (1970: 59). If shared typifications break down, a common reality, the undergirding structure of shared reality, collapses. The breakdown of language and communication is merely a symptom of this 'fractured sociality.' When the breakdown is far-reaching, according to Natanson, we have some form of anomie in the society (1970: 58-60).

Anomie may take the form of conflict. What is at the centre of conflict-what is characteristic to it-is not the denial of needs satisfaction. Rather, at the centre there is a far-reaching breakdown of shared definitions of a reality, or a fundamental clash of typifications. Thus, what finally counts as conflict is culturally constituted through the processes of intersubjective typification. Natanson's notion of 'denied shared typifications' sets a task for conflict analysts. Shared typifications may be denied for several reasons, which we, cultural analysts-to use Avruch's and Black's expression-need to interpret, understand and contextualise separately depending on the case (1989). Conflict may appear either within an in-group which used to share typifications or between an in and out group whose typifications clash in the most rudimentary manner. Examples of the breakdown of shared typifications can be found in several internal conflicts. The collision, on the other hand, took place, for example, in the conquest, colonisation and destruction of the Aztecs by the Spaniards in the sixteenth-century.

Conflict always involves the struggle to impose one's definition of reality upon the other. Thus, the question is also whose description of reality is taken seriously, and even acted upon. Since a location for conflict is over definitions of reality, the study of power is of a great importance for conflict analysis. However, power should not be understood to be manifest in conflicts and visible in overt actions of coercion and domination. Neither should it be thought to lie in relationships and be manifest in the suppression of differences. Rather, power should be considered to be an attribute of discourse and manifest in the production and contestation of consensus.6

Conflict and conflict resolution practices are not free from power. They are also a 'machinery' in which and through which definitions of a reality are reconstituted. They are practices which produce "power structures and sociocultural grids of communication and interpretation at the present which limit the identity of the parties to the dialogue," set "the agenda for what are considered appropriate or inappropriate matters of institutional debate," and 'sanctify the speech' of some parties over others (Benhabib, 1992: 48).

Given the understanding of conflict introduced, problem-solving conflict resolution can be re-assessed. It can be seen as an attempt to find a shared-not identical but congruent-reality between the parties in conflict for the purposes at hand. As Avruch and Black argue, "part of successful conflict resolution or management entails the creation or constitution of a new reality which all the participants share" (1989: 192). The creation of a new reality does not exclude dissociative solutions, i.e., the possibility that the parties agree to disagree without conflict.

The problem-solving workshop deals mainly with the interpretative schemes of the participants. It does not deal with universal needs in the sense Burton suggests, because human needs are constructed in the processes of the social world. However, Burton is correct to claim that the possibility to give interpretations to the conflict at hand, its issues, history and parties in the workshop is vital. It is important, because it facilitates the finding of a shared reality by offering the parties a framework within which they can scrutinise each others typifications. Underlying the 'complementary' definition of problem-solving conflict resolution is, thus, the assumption that a new interpretation of a reality needs to be and can be 'negotiated' in problem-solving workshop conflict resolution in such a way that either cooperation or agreed dissociation result.

Ethical Participation

The problem-solving facilitator is not an outside observer in the workshop context. The facilitator is a participant in a communicative situation, and the participation does not limit his or her possibilities to act as a nonpartisan third party. The facilitator participates in the workshop situation by facilitating communication, offering theoretical insights and keeping discussions within an analytical framework. He or she may occasionally adapt the role of observer, but the type of observing is not accurately grasped either by the Burtonian notion of 'scientific observer' or the doctor metaphor. A more fruitful metaphor to describe the facilitator and his or her position in the workshop can be found in the sociological conception of 'participant observer' which refers to the status of the observer as well as the dialogical nature of the relationship of the researcher and his or her research objects. In the situation of participant observation, the status of the investigator, or rather here of the facilitator, as an outside agent is consciously reduced to a minimum and an ongoing dialogue is established between the 'object' and 'subject'-the facilitator and the parties.

The legitimacy of the facilitator does not need to be justified by claiming that he or she possesses superior knowledge of the causes and processes of human behaviour or that his or her position is that of an outside observer, as Burton recommends. The knowledge the facilitator possesses may be different, but not superior to the knowledge of the participants. It is different, because it implies communicative and dialogical skills. A culturally sensitive facilitator does not ground his or her conduct on rules, rather he or she founds his or her legitimacy on situational ethics (Dreyfus & Dreyfus, 1991). The facilitator is bound to face moral problems in the workshop, such as what is good and ethical conduct in a particular situation. A situational approach leads him or her to be open to different and variable contexts, to be ready to relativise each situation and to recognise the unique characteristics of the conflict at hand. In other words, the facilitator does not detach himself or herself from an unique situation to universal principles as a traditional doctor would do. Rather, he or she develops a sensitivity to uniqueness and to contextual properties of different conflicts. In Seyla Benhabib's words, "the more we can identify the different viewpoints from which a situation can be interpreted and construed, the more will we have sensitivity to the particularities of the perspectives involved" (1992: 54). On the basis of the particularities, problem-solving workshop, as a true communicative space, can be created and maintained.

Healthy Organism

How is it possible to maintain the healthy situation achieved in a problem-solving workshop that provides a society with preconditions for permanent, but dynamic, harmony? Functional cooperation is Burton's answer (1975: 238; 1979: 166-167; 1996b: 18-22). He claims that "right and wrong are irrelevant notions in a conflict situation: there are problems to be solved" (1992: 371). Burton maintains that conflict resolution must be based on functional arrangements which are designed to meet a specific set of social, economic or technical needs. Legitimate functional arrangements establish a control mechanism by building up and maintaining valued relationships in the society.

Burton's view of harmonious society comes close to functionalist David Mitrany, who writes on New Deal's political strategy:

Each and every action was tackled as a practical issue in itself. No attempt was made to relate it to a general theory or system of government. Every function was left to generate others gradually, like the functional subdivision of organic cells; and in every case the appropriate authority was left to develop its functions and powers out of actual performance (1975: 163).

The metaphor of 'organic cell' and its biological analogy are at the very core of the functionalist approach. Through the metaphor, an image of evolutionary and teleological processes in which cells-as well as societies or even world society-develop internally towards more sophisticated specialisation and subdivisions is created. Specialisation occurs according to tasks or functions. As a cell responds to its environment and is sensitive to it, so will a society through functional arrangements become more sensitive to changes in its environment and will develop new ways of adaptation.

Mitrany maintains that the state is unable to guarantee such basic needs as security and the maximisation of welfare (1966; 1975). Functional institutions are needed because, in them, problems are dealt with in an open participatory way by the relevant experts. Gradually, a sense of community will arise out of interests held in common. Shared interests will further emerge through task expansion and spillover in which cooperation deepens in existing areas and spreads to new domains. States are expected to lose their salience, and loyalties are transformed from states to functional bodies. The greater the number and diversity of ties, the less likely war will occur. The network of activities which serves all people will gradually build up foundations for a 'living international society', and for a 'working peace system.'
Burton applies the idea of functional cooperation to conflict resolution (1990c: 329; 1993: 27). In order to tackle human needs, conflict resolution processes must be concerned with finding the political structures which promote the full development of the individual. According to Burton, such structural arrangements might include the development of decentralised systems and forms of functional cooperation. Consequently, functional cooperation would work against elite power and reduce the danger of dysfunctional conflicts.

Like in functional institution, problems in the problem-solving workshop are assumed by Burton to be dealt with in an open participatory manner. They are seen to be dealt with not solely by experts, but with their help. Gradually a sense of community is expected to evolve bringing the participants together more and more in a positive manner to resolve, or at least to discuss, problems which are perceived to be held in common. Problem-solving processes are seen to be learning processes where participants learn about themselves and others. Pragmatism prevails in the workshop in the sense that the participants are also encouraged to discuss practical issues given that they reflect their real needs. In brief, the workshop is thought to be an 'exercise in reason' in which the liberal faith in human rationality is realised (Avruch & Black, 1990: 225).

Functionalist ideology offers a further justification for the trust in the expertise of the facilitator. It is assumed that benefits will accrue and spread widely in the society when specialists concentrate on a particular task, service or function. The specialists can consider problems of technical kind and, most importantly, minimise the role of ideology. As a consequence, effective control and management are obtained (Taylor, 1990: 128-129).

Dialogical Community

Given the re-definition of problem-solving workshop conflict resolution suggested earlier, one of the most important tasks the facilitator can engage in is the promotion of discursive rationality between the parties. As John Dryzek argues, "important social problems are pervaded by conflicting values, which instrumental action cannot resolve" (1990: 19). Similarly, since conflicts are permeated by unshared typifications of reality, instrumental rationality which appeals mainly to individual utility maximising, does not necessarily contribute to their resolution. In order to assist discussion on typification and values, a dialogical community is needed in which discursive rationality prevails.

The domain of discursive rationality is interaction, where individuals construct and interpret the identities of themselves and others. The aim is neither the control nor the selection of a means to an end, but the generation of normative judgements and action principles. Since cultural differences are not merely semantic, i.e., they involve a lack of agreement on the very existence of certain objects, a form of rationality is needed in cultural encounters which stretches across differences. If an agreement is absent, the parties can still reach consensus based on reasoned disagreement by striving to understand the cultural tradition and conceptual framework of the other participants (Dryzek, 1990: 40-43, 53-56, 90-108). A facilitator who introduces the participants to the idea that realities are 'negotiated' and that a shared reality can be found through dialogue, steers the parties towards discursive rationality.

The facilitator should also pay attention to the language games employed in the workshop context. The tendency of the parties to give priority, for example, to certain identities and marginalise others can be pointed out in the workshop. Similarly, language games which rely solely on instrumental reasoning in an issue which is clearly an identity or identity related topic, can be directed towards discursive reasoning. Discursive reasoning is important in the problem-solving context because it consists of the reflecting of the interpretative schemes and the processes of identity-formation.

Thus, in addition to creating a functional framework for the parties as a platform for developing a set of shared values recommended by Burton, the facilitator should aim at establishing a dialogical community in the workshop. In such a community the parties can reformulate the "moral point of view as the contingent achievement of interactive form of rationality rather than as the timelessness standpoint of a legislative reason" (Benhabib, 1992: 6). The goal of the conversation in the community is neither unanimity nor identical typifications, but the anticipated communication among the parties who know that they must finally come to agreement. Dialogue demonstrates the will and the readiness to seek understanding with the other. The emphasis needs not to be on rational agreement as such, but more on sustaining those dialogical practices and moral relationships within which reasoned agreement, as a way of life, can flourish and continue (Benhabib, 1992).

Problem-solving workshops as dialogical communities would, thus, anticipate non-violent strategies of conflict resolution as well as both associative and dissociative methods of problem-solving. Furthermore, they would provide a space for a type of political imagination which is not tied to strictly instrumental reasoning over interests or bargaining over utilities. In the dialogical relationship, the parties can recognise difference and see how differences complement rather than exclude one another.


John Burton's conflict and conflict resolution theories demonstrate the use of medical metaphors in peace research and their implicit denial of the importance of culture in human affairs. Particularly, the Burtonian filter metaphor suggests that the problem-solving conflict resolution procedures are not relative to culture, and that the aim of the workshop is actually to filter away cultural factors. Burton's views, thus, deny culture its constitutive role in conflict and conflict resolution. The denial leads to the assumption that there are culture-free techniques of conflict resolution.

Seen from the social constructionist tradition of thinking, culture is vital for becoming and being a moral person. It is argued that in order for a problem-solving conflict resolution attempt to be successful, there is a need for a dialogical community in which the parties can scrutinise each others views of reality. In such a community, the understanding of the uniqueness of the characteristics of the conflict at hand is developed both by the facilitator and the parties themselves. The facilitator possesses the role of the participant observer who steers the parties towards discursive rationality within which value issues can be discussed and realities 'negotiated.'


1. John Burton was born in Australia in 1915. He received his doctorate in 1942 from the London School of Economics. After his doctorate, he had a key role in the making of post-war Australian foreign policy by holding the post of the 'Permanent Head of the Department of External Affairs'. In 1963 he accepted a teaching vacancy in the University College, London. In the early 1970s he moved to the University of Kent at Canterbury and in the 1980s to the George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. For a more detailed biographical note see: Dunn (1995).

2. Burton establishes his 'generic theory of needs' by employing the methodological principle of abduction. For him abduction implies a trust in an original personal hypothesis from which deductions flow. He maintains that abduction is vital, because rarely can there be realistic testing in politics. As the idea of abduction suggests, the emphasis on improving theory is more important than the processes of verification and falsification. The term 'abduction' as it is originally used by C. S. Peirce maintains that "while Induction is the inference of the Rule from a Case and a Result, Hypothesis [abduction] is the inference the Case from a Rule and a Result" (Eco, 1983: 203).

3. The idea of problem-solving workshops as a form of international conflict resolution was influenced by the development of social casework techniques and the conciliation procedures employed in handling industrial and communal conflicts in the 1960s. It was thought that these methods have in common the absence of enforcement and the encouragement of processes of self-adjustment and, therefore, it was assumed that they might be suitable for international conflict resolution too. John Burton organised one week long problem-solving workshops in 1965 and 1966 which paved the way to other practical attempts. In 1965 there was a meeting between nominees of the governments of Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia during the violent Borneo dispute. Similarly, there was a meeting in 1966 between nominees of the Greek President and Turkish Vice-President of Cyprus. Both workshops were guided by a group of scholars facilitating face-to-face interactions between the parties. These were followed by Leonard Doob's two week long Fermeda workshop in 1970 which consisted of academics and civil servants from Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. Two pilot workshops were conducted also at Harvard University in 1971 and in 1972. In the first, Palestinians and Israelis met over a weekend with a team of social scientists to discuss the conflict in the Middle East. The second workshop focused on the conflict between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Stirling workshop which brought together 56 Catholic and Protestant citizens of Belfast in 1972 was conducted by Doob's team. After these pilot workshops there have been several other attempts by these scholars as well as others.

4. Schutz writes: "This kind of knowledge and its organization I should like to call 'cook-book knowledge'. The cook-book has recipes, lists of ingredients, formulae for mixing them, and directions of finishing off. This is all we need to make an apple pie, also all we need to deal with the routine matters of daily life. [...] Most of our daily activities from rising to going to bed are of this kind. They are performed by following recipes reduced to automatic habits or unquestioned platitudes. This kind of knowledge is concerned only with the regularity as such events in the external world irrespective of its origin"(1964:73-74).

5. The process through which typification takes place is complex. To put it simply, first, culture provides us with a certain selection of typifications. But, second, what typifications become activated in certain situations is dependent on systems of relevance. On the bases of relevances a perception becomes a theme of though. When it becomes a theme, it is interpreted. It is interpreted by choosing a typification from our personal stock of knowledge which serves the purpose of that particular situation. The choice is done by comparing the actual situation to our previous experiences. The interpretation given further motivates our behaviour. For a more complete account see (Schutz, 1970: 26-30, 35-36, 45-52).

6. Struggles to discipline and control definitions of reality involve the play of power which takes place in 'knowledgeable practices'. These practices of power are not negative. Neither do they necessarily give rise to conflict. The practices of power are continuous as well as productive, because they participate in the defining and transforming of the social world, often without conflict. For power see Cobb & Rifkin (1991).


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