Toward feminist theorizing in conflict resolution



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TOWARD FEMINIST THEORIZING IN CONFLICT RESOLUTION

Simona Sharoni

 

Unpublished paper, revised September 1994. Based on Chapter 3 of my dissertation, "Conflict Resolution through Feminist Lenses: Theorizing the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict from the Perspectives of Women Peace Activists in Israel." George Mason University, August 1993. Comments welcome.



 

Why are there so few readings by women to assign to my students? Why is the subject matter of my discipline so distant from women's lived experiences?
-- Ann Tickner
These are some of the questions that mark the preface to Ann Tickner's groundbreaking book Gender in International Relations (1992). In the past decade, women, feminists in particular, in the field of conflict resolution have been raising similar questions. These questions have prompted numerous attempts to introduce feminist perspectives to the study and practice of conflict resolution (cf. Baily 1989; Kolb & Coolidge 1991; Ross-Breggin & Breggin 1992, Sandole-Staroste 1992). However, these recent attempts to bring feminist theories into the field of conflict resolution are not designed to merely add another perspective to an already existing body of literature. Rather, they also seek to challenge the exclusion and marginalization of women's experiences, voices, and perspectives from conflict resolution scholarship.
More recently, and no doubt in response to such critiques, prominent male scholars in the field have begun to treat feminist perspectives in general and the relationship of gender and conflict in particular more seriously. For example, Louis Kriesberg pointed out the contribution of feminist perspectives to the contested debate on the causes of war and the prospects for peace and conflict resolution. As part of his overview of theoretical frameworks, Kriesberg called attention to the fact that "feminists argue that a major source of war is the socialization of men to be aggressive and concerned about appearing strong in the sense of being ready to fight and kill; consequently, an androgynous socialization would help generate peace" (Kriesberg 1991, 401-402).
Another significant reference to the role of women's perspectives in conflict resolution was made by John Burton. Although Burton did not mention feminist scholarship, he called attention to the significant role women may play in conflict resolution. Women as well as other people who have had the experience of being members of disenfranchised, underprivileged and minority groups, have according to Burton, a special role to play in the area of conflict resolution and peace building (Burton, 1990). He insists, however, that "it is not that females are more peace-oriented or less forceful than males," but rather that "because of their social experiences" women are better positioned to trust conflict resolution initiatives and engage in activities that will further the prospects for peace (Burton, 1990, 35).
Men's recognition of the significance of feminist and women's perspectives to conflict resolution is no doubt important for establishing the legitimacy of feminist theorizing in the field. Yet, to advance the project of feminist theorizing in conflict resolution requires a critical examination of the field that will go beyond calls for the inclusion of women's voices and feminist perspectives. One way to begin such an examination is by asking not only what are the voices and perspectives that have been marginalized, silenced or excluded from conventional conflict resolution scholarship, but also what are the processes and practices that have enabled these exclusions.
The major objective of this article is to create a broader theoretical context for feminist theorizing in conflict resolution. It begins with an exploration of the relationship between conflict resolution and feminism. Based on general discussion of commonalities and differences between the two fields of inquiry, the article examines the central debates within each field.
Conflict Resolution and Feminism: Commonalities and Differences
An encounter between conflict resolution and feminism raises a few important questions: What are the issues and concerns that should be discussed in the context of such an encounter and how can such a discussion benefit both fields of inquiry? Such an encounter, however, is not simple since the field of conflict resolution, like most other fields of inquiry, has overlooked the experiences of women and has ignored the potential contributions of feminist scholarship to the study and practice of conflict resolution.
Feminists struggles to counter this prevailing reality in other fields of inquiry across the social sciences and the humanities have prompted the emergence of a distinct body of feminist scholarship. This body of scholarship highlights the particular experiences of women in fields such as history, literature, psychology, sociology, international relations and anthropology, among others (cf. Chodorow 1978; Spender 1981; Gilligan 1982; Keller 1985; Boulding 1992; Peterson 1992; Tickner 1992).
In their early stages, feminist projects engaged in documenting women's voices and called for their inclusion in different disciplines and non-academic domains. To justify their interventions, feminists appealed to essential gender differences, arguing that women are essentially different in that they have an alternative way of making sense of the world and acting within it (Chodorow 1978; Gilligan 1982; Noddings 1984; Brock-Utne 1985, 1989). However, as soon as the part men played in oppressing and excluding women was established, feminism faced serious divisions. Understanding the full range of women's experiences has entailed taking into consideration not only the differences and structured inequalities between men and women but also the divisions and differences that exist between women themselves (cf. Moraga & Anzaldua 1983; Barrett 1987; Ramazanoglu 1989).
Despite the different interpretations of feminism that mark contemporary debates within feminist theory, feminists tend to agree that taking the variety of women's situations and experiences into account is not simply a matter of adding on those which had been omitted. Many feminists have insisted that in order to transform disciplinary paradigms as well as social and political structures, there is a need to move beyond feminist critiques which seek to examine why have women's voices and perspectives been excluded from different domains to critically examine how these practices of exclusion take place and what enables them (cf. Jagger & Rothenberg 1984; Hirsch & Keller 1990; Nicholson 1990; Barrett & Phillips 1992).
Can such transformative feminist interventions take place within the emerging field of conflict resolution? Those who answer in the affirmative base their contentions on a number of presumed similarities between conflict resolution and feminism (cf. Riskin 1984; Ross-Breggin & Breggin 1992; Sandole-Staroste 1992). Indeed, conflict resolution and feminism emerged around the same time in the sociopolitical context of the 1960s'. Despite the different scopes and emphases of these two fields of inquiry, both can be seen as attempts to map alternative paths for social and political analysis and change. Using the academy as a major, though not exclusive, site of growth and development, both fields of study worked to create interdisciplinary (or multidisciplinary) bodies of scholarship and to emphasize the relationship between theory, research and practice.
But, looking at similarities is not enough. There is a need for a more comprehensive exploration that will also take into consideration the differences between feminism and conflict resolution as well as different perspectives within each field of inquiry. This requires that feminism and conflict resolution be treated not as fixed concepts but rather as diverse fields of inquiry which encompass multiple voices and perspectives.


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