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Centre for Conflict Resolution Department of Peace Studies

Working Paper 17

Complexity Theory and Conflict Transformation:

An Exploration of Potential and Implications

Diane Hendrick
June 2009

 

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"All You Need is Love"... and What About Gender? Engendering Burton's Human Needs Theory Cordula Reimann, January 2002 Working Paper 10 Operationalising Peacebuilding and Conflict Reduction. Case Study: Oxfam in Sri Lanka Simon Harris and Nick Lewer, August 2002 Working Paper 11 Community Peace Work in Sri Lanka: A Critical Appraisal Dileepa Witharana, October 2002 NGOs and Peacebuilding in Kosovo Monica Llamazares and Laina Reynolds Levy, December 2003

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Post-War Peacebuilding Reviewed. A Critical Exploration of Generic Approaches To PostWar Reconstruction Monica Llamazares, February 2005 Working Paper 14 The Contribution of Critical Theory to New Thinking on Peacekeeping. Some Lessons from MINURSO Andreu Solà Martín, July 2005 Working Paper 15 Disaster Response, Peace and Conflict in Post-Tsunami Sri Lanka Simon Harris, February 2006

Working Paper 16

“To study history means submitting to chaos and nevertheless retaining faith in order and meaning.”

“‘The game as I conceive it,’ Knecht once wrote, ‘leaves (the player) with the feeling that he has extracted from the universe of accident and confusion a totally symmetrical and harmonious cosmos, and absorbed it into himself.’"

Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game

1

Abstract
This working paper is intended as an exploration of the usefulness of complexity theory to the field of peace research and conflict intervention. I have used the term conflict transformation to indicate a comprehensive and long term approach to social change in situations of violent, often intractable conflict and reference will also be made to development and aid, security and ecology as being relevant to conflict transformation processes. The paper begins by outlining key features of complex systems before going on to illustrate attempts made to apply complexity theory (originating in the natural sciences) in various social science fields with a consideration of some of the difficulties this translation poses. Conflict analysis is the basis of research and strategy formation and indispensable to intervention in conflict situations, therefore, the potential for deepening and sharpening analysis that complexity theory may offer are discussed and conclusions about the advantages of a complexity-influenced conflict analysis are drawn. Some of the tools available to augment analysis are briefly presented, whereby the main emphasis is given to computer simulation. The...
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