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Four thematic research domains--conflict prevention and regulation, violence and security, group differences and dynamics, and post-conflict challenges and reconciliation--represent the integrative breadth and nature of the ongoing interdisciplinary work of the Asch Center. Collectively, they focus attention on a set of over-arching questions central to the study of national, ethnic, and communal conflicts. First, how can such conflicts be prevented, regulated or resolved? What can we learn from past state practices, and from successful or failed peace processes and political settlements? Second, what causes such conflicts to take a violent form, and does such violence take predictable forms that are amenable to effective interventions? Third, do group differences provoke conflicts? Are conflicts between groups to be expected, and, if so, are they predictable? Finally, how can the impact of group violence on individuals and communities be better understood and addressed? After violent conflicts have ceased, is there an effective repertoire of interventions, policies, and institutions that assist in long-run conflict resolution and transformation? 

Conflict Prevention and Regulation.  There is now a vast field of inquiry into war and peace, or conflict and cooperation between individuals, groups, and states. The study of national, ethnic, and communal conflicts is a subset of this very broad domain but the systematization of knowledge in this field is in its infancy. Group differences are eliminated or managed by governments with strikingly different grand strategies in aims and moral consequences. "Difference-eliminating" strategies include the abhorrent, e.g., genocide and ethnic expulsion, as well as the more palatable ambitions of territorial partition and assimilation. In different ways these strategies lead to the political "homogenization" of citizens or subjects. In contrast, "difference management" strategies avoid homogenization. They vary, however, from hierarchical policies of control to strategies that combine formal equality with the pluralist recognition of group differences. Interdisciplinary social scientific research needs to be consolidated to explain why particular strategies are chosen by governments, how the most abhorrent can be prevented, and to establish which forms of institutional and constitutional design are most appropriate for given histories, demographies and sociologies of group relations.

Violence and Security.  Conflict regulation and prevention are primarily concerned to control, reduce, and eliminate unjust coercion and violence. National, ethnic, and communal violence is complex, occurs on many levels, and in many formats and scripts, but is distinctive in its impact on states, communities, and individuals, whether carried out by representatives of the state, insurgent paramilitaries contending with the ruling government, terrorists driven by ideological or religious convictions, or by participants in deadly riots. Violence intrinsically entails rapid, sudden, and brutal eruptions of danger between individuals and between groups, creating an environment where encounters are rife with uncertainty and unexpectedly immediate high stakes. The consequences of political violence may be horrific, and traumatic, leaving potentially enduring and damaging cultural legacies and mentalities. But preventing these types of violence requires better understanding of their triggers and peculiar dynamics. How do individuals and groups respond to or exploit the dramas of death and dismemberment that state or non-state terror creates? If formal pitched military battles are going to recede in salience then the risk environments created by other forms of political violence and insecurity pose severe challenges for international interventions and the building of democratic institutions and governance.

Group Differences and Dynamics.  Central to national, ethnic, and communal conflict is the phenomenon of group identification. Conflict ultimately depends upon mobilizing and making dominant one from among many possible group identifications; the interests of family, neighborhood, and occupation must be submerged or sacrificed to the interests of state, nation, ethnic group, or religious community. When people prioritize their membership in a particular group, they typically glorify its virtues and simultaneously denigrate outgroups and the individuals who comprise them. These identification processes and the biases they produce are intensified by perceived threats to the ingroup, which in turn are often stoked by the actions and rhetoric of group leaders. How this mobilization occurs and how it is nourished and promoted by ingroup ideologies and historical constructions is a critical issue in understanding and predicting the origins of intergroup violence.

Post-Conflict Challenges and Reconciliation. The challenges faced by states and regions emerging from histories of protracted conflict are diverse and daunting. Through the United Nations the international community has renewed its commitment to a comprehensive approach to improving post-conflict environments by reconstructing order and stability in otherwise anarchic regions. The focus has been on state-building and nation-building: establishing free elections, the rule of law, democratic self-government, independent judiciaries, and constitutional renewal. The development of infrastructure, health care systems (including those that address mental health issues), economically prosperous systems, and the demobilization and re-integration of soldiers and paramilitaries have also been prioritized. While this state-building agenda is obviously critical, the failure to recognize and address other, particularly national, ethnic and communal tensions can prevent its realization. These imperatives may include constitutional and governmental reconstruction; amnesties or the punishment of perpetrators, and reparations for victims; lingering animosities between former enemies nourished by narratives of past injustices and brutality; collective and individual trauma resulting from political violence and its attendant horrors; extensive damage to the fabric of communities; the social and political reintegration of refugees; and, in some cases, severe and pervasive economic hardship.

 

 

 

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