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«Cordula Reimann Working Paper Sheep's Clothing? Workshops: A Wolf in Gender in Problem-solving Schweizerische Friedensstiftung Fondation suisse pour ...»

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3 | 2004

Cordula Reimann

Working Paper

Sheep's Clothing?

Workshops: A Wolf in

Gender in Problem-solving

Schweizerische Friedensstiftung

Fondation suisse pour la paix

Fondazione svizzera per la pace

Swiss Peace Foundation


Working Papers

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swisspeace was founded in 1988 as the “Swiss Peace Foundation” with the goal of promoting independent peace research in Switzerland. Today swisspeace engages about 35 staff members. Its most important clients include the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Swiss National Science Foundation. Its activities are further assisted by contributions from its Support Association. The supreme swisspeace body is the Foundation Council, which is comprised of representatives from politics, science, and the government.

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Gender in Problem-solving Workshops:

A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?

Cordula Reimann November 2004 About the Author Dr. Cordula Reimann, by training political scientist and conflict and peace researcher, has been with the Center for Peacebuilding (Kompetenzzentrum Friedensförderung (KOFF)) since early 2003. At swisspeace, she is senior researcher and program coordinator for gender & peacebuilding.

For Norbert | vii Table of Contents Abstract/Zusammenfassung/Résumé ______________________ 1 1 Introduction ______________________________________ 3

–  –  –

Abstract/Zusammenfassung/Résumé There is a rather elusive literature on gender/women and peace, non-violence and peacebuilding. Yet, a gender-sensitive critique of different third party approaches to conflict resolution of intra-state, violent conflicts has by and large sadly been missing. The paper offers a gender-sensitive critique of the “problem-solving workshop” as one non-official and non-coercive third-party approach to intra-state conflicts. This will be done on two levels: On the one hand, it will make some of the “invisible” spots and ideas of the problem-solving workshop “visible.” On the other hand, it will introduce some gendersensitive entry-points to the problem-solving workshop as theory and practice. The following analysis will focus on the third party, participants, and strategies taken as analytical guiding-lights.

Es gibt eine umfassende Literatur zu dem Themenkomplex “gender/Frauen und Frieden, Gewaltlosigkeit und Friedensförderung.” Bis dato fehlt aber eine gender-sensitive Kritik von verschiedenen Drittparteiinterventionen in intra-staatliche Gewaltkonflikte. Das vorliegende Papier bietet eine gender-sensitive Kritik des “Problemlösungsworkshops“ als eine inoffizielle und nicht-erzwingende Drittparteiintervention. Die Kritik setzt auf zwei Ebenen an: Auf der einen Seite werden die unsichtbaren Ideen des “Problemlösungsworkshops“ sichtbar gemacht. Auf der anderen Seite werden gender-sensitive Zugänge zum “Problemlösungsworkshop“ als Theorie und Praxis vorgestellt. Die Kritik konzentriert sich auf Fragen der Drittpartei, der TeilnehmerInnen und der Strategien des “Problemlösungsworkshops.“ Il existe une riche littérature touchant à la relation entre des femmes/du genre et la paix, la non-violence et la construction de la paix. Néanmoins, une critique sensible au genre des différentes approches des parties tiers dans la résolution des conflits domestiques violents fait lacune. Cette contribution offre une critique de la méthode du “problem-solving workshop” dans une perspective sensible au genre. La critique opère à deux niveaux: Elle rend visible, d’une part, les dimensions et les idées “invisibles” de l’approche du “problemsolving workshop.” Elle propose, d’autre part, des points d’entrée pour une analyse sensible au genre face au “problem-solving workshop“ en tant que théorie et pratique.

L’analyse se concentre sur le rôle des parties tiers, celui des participantes et des participants et sur les stratégies appliquées.

Gender in Problem-solving Workshops: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?

–  –  –

In the face of the limited success of interest-based conflict management to address the intractable dynamics of intra-state, violent conflicts such as in Sri Lanka and Israel/Palestine, conflict resolution scholar-practitioners like John Burton developed in the 1960s/1970s the idea of problem-solving workshop3 as a non-official third party strategy.

Based on the idea that violent conflicts arise out of dissatisfied human needs, the very rationale of the problem-solving workshop was to address the conflict parties’ needs for collective identity, security and distributive justice and hence move away from managing to resolving conflicts.

Without any doubt, the idea of a problem-solving workshop has had a lasting impact on developing a theory and practice of dealing with intra-state violent conflicts. Yet, after the initial enthusiasm about this non-coercive approach to intra-state conflicts, there was some critique especially from a culture-sensitive perspective by the mid- and late 1990s.4 However, a feminist or gender-specific critique of problem-solving workshops has so far been missing. This seems striking given that many problem-solving workshops are still allmale exclusive clubs. At the same time, it seems ironic in the light of a rich feminist literature on non-violence and peace.5 ______________________

This article was written with the financial support of the IP 7 of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research North-South (NCCR North-South). See also www.nccr-north-south.unibe.ch/ and www.swisspeace.org/research/environmental_conflicts.htm.

John W. Burton 1990: Conflict. Resolution and Provention. Houndmills: Macmillan. 116-117.

Note that Burton’s definition of “problem-solving” should not be mistaken with Critical theory’s understanding of “problem-solving” (that is mainstream “traditional theory” vs. Critical theory) or the Harvard Negotiation School's understanding of “problem-solving.“ The “problem solving workshop” goes by different names such as “controlled communication (early Burton); analytical problem-solving (later Burton); “collaborative, analytical problem-solving process or approach” (Banks and Mitchell); human relations workshop (Doob), third party consultation (Fisher), interactive problem-solving (Kelman), facilitation or problem-solving forum (Azar) and dialogue forum (Ropers). While these scholars-practitioners put different foci in their problem-solving workshops, for example, in terms of the transfer of learning in the wider policy process, I treat these differences here as a matter of nuance but not of substance. The following analysis will concentrate on Burton’s concept of a problem-solving workshop and will take on board insights from other scholars-practitioners like Kelman and Mitchell/Banks mainly to elaborate Burton’s initial ideas.

At the same time, I use the terms problem-solving workshop and facilitation interchangeably.

See K. Avruch and P. Black 1991: The Culture Question and Conflict Resolution. In: Peace and Change 16 (1):

22-45; and Kevin Avruch 1998: Culture and Conflict Resolution. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press.

Pam McAllister (ed.) 1982: Reweaving the Web of Life. Philadelphia: New Society Publishers; Brigit BrockUtne 1985: Educating for Peace. A Feminist Perspective. New York: Pergamon Press; Jean Bethke Elshtain 1987: Women and War. New York: Basic Books; Ruth Roach Pierson (ed.) 1987: Women and Peace.

Theoretical, Historical and Practical Perspectives. London: Croom Helm; Adrienne Harris and Ynestra King (eds.) 1989: Rocking the Ship of State: Toward a Feminist Peace Politics. Boulder, CO: Westview Press; Birgit Brock-Utne 1989: Feminist Perspectives on Peace and Peace Education. New York: Pergamon Press;

Elisabeth Ferris 1993: Women, War and Peace. Uppsala: Life & Peace Institute; Aruna Gnanadason, Musimbi Kanyoro and Lucia Ann McSpadden (eds.) 1996: Women, Violence and Non-violent Change. Geneva: WCC Publications; Karen J. Warren and Duane L. Cady (eds.) 1996: Bringing Peace Home. Feminism, Violence, and

Gender in Problem-solving Workshops: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?

The paper aims at partly filling this analytical gap. The underlying assumption is that while gender is formally excluded from the problem-solving workshop, it is nevertheless (omni)present and inherent in its construction and practical application. While most conflict resolution scholars like Burton do not make their gender-specific ideas explicit, all scholars base their work on particular understanding of gender relations in the private and public sphere and notions of masculinity and femininity. This is to say that gender as social relations is already – albeit implicitly – inherent in malestream theory and practice and constitutes the “secret glossary.”6 This makes gender simultaneously absent and present in problem-solving workshops.

The purpose of this paper is to bring into the open some of the hidden and taken-forgranted “gender-blind” and gender-specific meanings and perspectives in Burton’s problem-solving approach. This will be done on two levels: On the one hand, the paper will make the “invisible” “gendered” nature of problem-solving workshops visible. The guiding questions here are: Where and what are their main gender-blind or gender-neutral ideas?

How far are problem-solving workshops in theory open to discuss gender? On the other hand, the paper will introduce possible gender-sensitive entry-points of problem-solving workshops. The guiding question is: What might gender-sensitive perspectives offer problem-solving workshops?

The paper is divided into three parts. The first part lays the analytical and conceptual groundwork: To help tackle the above set of questions, it is crucial to first define the terms gender and problem-solving workshop, and to employ a gender-sensitive framework, that is, gender as an analytical category.7 The second part looks at the main underlying assumptions of the problem-solving workshop from a gender-sensitive perspective: It offers a gender-specific critique while revealing the most striking gender-blind spots. At the same time, it aims to put forward gender-sensitive entry-points to the practice and theory of the problem-solving workshop. The third part will conclude by summarizing the most crucial findings.

Before we venture further into the task, three comments are in order:

First, the chosen gender approach does not pretend to be all-inclusive. In fact, given that my gender approach is rooted in social constructivism, it offers only one possible, tentative gender-sensitive interpretation of the problem-solving approach. Other feminists may offer a different reading of it and may come to other conclusions.

Nature. Bloomington: Indiana University Press; and Dyan Mazurana and Susan McKay 1999: Women and Peacebuilding. Montreal: ICHRDD.

Eva Kreisky and Birgit Sauer (eds.) 1997: Das geheime Glossar der Politikwissenschaft. Geschlechtskritische Inspektion der Kategorien einer Disziplin. Frankfurt a.M.: Campus.

This is to say, too, the following analysis works with a two-fold definition of gender, on the one hand, gender as the social construction of social relations between women and men and on the other hand as an analytical category to make “invisible” gender-blind categories and perspectives “visible.“


Second, there are different definitions of “conflict resolution.” I have in mind pro-active, process-oriented and needs-based third-party approaches of conflict handling (like problem-solving workshops) in contrast to more outcome-oriented and interests-based ones (like power bargaining and negotiations).8 Third, as it is beyond the scope of this paper to render justice to the great variety of “problem-solving workshops” in theory and practice on the hand and the self-critique of conflict resolution scholars on the other hand,9 I will discuss Burton’s problem-solving workshop as an “ideal type.” At the same time, one cannot stress strongly enough that the praxis of most problem-solving workshops since the 1960s has been very much an analytical and practical elaboration and extension of Burton’s initial ideas. In fact, Burton’s problem-solving workshops in their “pure form” have never been widely practiced. While a gender-sensitive critique of Burton’s initial ideas cannot claim to be equally valid for the further developed and in fact continually evolving forms of problem-solving workshops of the late 1990s, the following analysis opens up analytical space that is equally important for a gender-sensitive critique of the extended forms of problem-solving workshops and Burton’s initial ideas. At the same time, the paper refers to the feminist critique of conflict theory10 and negotiation theory11 and transfers it to the theory of problem-solving workshops where useful.


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