Building peace: The transformation of protracted, destructive conflict

Terry M. Ruthrauff (2003)

This dissertation examines one particular means of transforming protracted conflict from a destructive to a constructive process, the peacebuilding programs at the School for International Training (SIT) located in Vermont in the northeastern United States. Given that conflict in general is a pervasive social problem that results in much human suffering, a multidisciplinary approach to its amelioration is needed. A rationale citing literature, organizations, and ethical principles is provided for professional psychology's involvement in aiding the transformation of disputes. An exploration of conflict theory and constructs including causes and transformation methods follows with particular attention paid to how they relate to protracted, intergroup disputes. The ongoing hostilities in Cyprus are used as an illustrative example. In order to gain a broader understanding of the methods used at SIT and the psychological make-up of those involved in bicommunal, destructive conflict, a questionnaire compiled from three empirically validated measures was administered to SIT Greek and Turkish Cypriot program participants. This instrument was designed to measure personal beliefs, attitudes, and experiences regarding intergroup stress, forgiveness, and view of self and those in the outgroup. In order to gauge program effectiveness, it was initially planned that the questionnaire be completed by those Cypriots involved in a youth camp early in the activities and again near their termination. Some Greek Cypriots were offended, however, by instrument wording and the latter administration was canceled. For comparative purposes, the measure was also administered to a group of high school students from relatively peaceful Vermont who were attending a SIT institute that focuses on how youths can address various social concerns. Data collected from 48 completed questionnaires was analyzed using an one-way analysis of variance (alpha level of .05) resulting in significant differences when survey respondents were grouped according to exposure to conflict, parental education and occupation, nationality, and religion. Included in the discussion are implications of the results, if valid, and speculation that the findings might be better explained by any one of a number of methodological shortcomings. Suggestions for similar, future inquiry are also identified.