Conflict mediation across cultures

David W Augsburger, Westminster/John Knox Press 1992

By Brian Burch (reviewer)

Our world is slowly changing. Recently, amid controversy, the government of Ontario re-ran a series of ads denouncing domestic violence. A climate of change through shaming the violent and listening to the abused is occurring. Such efforts to change behavior, through making a particular action shameful without labelling a particular person, have been working for thousands of years in cultures around the world. Augsburger's Conflict Mediation Across Cultures provides a well-researched and non-judgemental exploration into how conflict is mediated nonviolently around the world.

While the book is academic in nature, Augsburger uses a variety of approaches to help the reader understand various concepts. From stories and traditional folklore to research in cultural anthropology, the reader is exposed to a multifaceted display of facts, interpretations and applications that help transform a rather dry style into an exciting text.

Written by a Professor of Pastoral Care, this book is in many ways a sensitizing effort. It attempts to open the eyes of those who feel that their way of life is the only "normal" one. In an inviting, non-hostile way, it shifts our focus to the ways of conflict resolution which non-Westernized people have used for centuries. We are encouraged to find parallels in other cultures and to see the ways that conflicts are mediated informally around us.

Too often we cannot see what is going on around us, but have a clear picture of distant events. Augsburger's efforts provide us with a tool to see the web of relationships between the distant and the near. We are reminded that conflict is universal, cultural and individual in its experience and expression and that the ultimate solution to conflict is a healing harmony that reintegrates the disputants and the wider community. We are encouraged neither to romanticize other cultures nor to ignore successful practices of our own.

Many of the practices mentioned in this book are ones that are easy to accept as valid. Third party mediators mutually agreed upon is something common in North American management conflicts and in Hawaiian extended family disputes. Parallels between individual honor/face and collective dignity can be easily drawn. Augsburger's look at both collective-based and individual-based conflicts and solutions draws home the complexities which Canadian society faces in finding effective methods of solving conflict.

Conflict Mediation Across Cultures does not just examine conflicts but provides tools to solve them. It is a very focused guide to peace making in our homes and neighborhoods, with hints that can be considered when dealing with cross-cultural and cross-border disputes which seem to traditionally be solved by violence or continued until the original problem has paled into insignificance.

Augsburger's book is geared to the university classroom, most likely advance degree programs. It is a text, not a popular work of non-fiction. Unlike many texts, however, it is open for use in non-academic settings. The folktales that introduce each chapter would make good bedtime stories. The models for settling disputes are ones that would be of value for housing co-op grievance committees, union stewards and community mediation centres.

Conflict Mediation Across Cultures is a book of hope, one that teaches the urban cynic the value of the experiences of the migrant gatherer in Southern Africa and that shows that the way that conflict develops and is resolved in one context can teach those in another land years later. Both the distinctiveness of various cultures and common human experience are given support and acknowledgment in Augsburger's book. Hopefully it will become a well used text that is circulated widely across many progressive commuties.

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1993

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1993, page 29. Some rights reserved.

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