Diana Francis

People, Peace and Power

From the CCTS Newsletter (later ‘Review’) Number 17

I was refreshed and delighted by Diana Francis’ new book, People, Peace and Power: Conflict Transformation in Action. Too often in the past, the language and understandings of nonviolence have been lacking from texts on conflict resolution. Conflict resolution theorists and nonviolent activists seemingly lived in separate worlds. Diana has brought those two worlds together in a powerful and effective way.

The first section of her book provides an excellent overview of conflict transformation. She presents a careful and insightful analysis of various schools of thought in the field, addressing issues related to educational process (with reference to Paulo Freire), human needs and human rights, culture, gender, and power. The theory and practice of nonviolence, and the fundamental importance of respect – for individuals and for other cultures – forms the basis of her analysis and her approach to her work.

The second section of the book, which forms the bulk of it, focuses on conflict transformation workshops as ‘the most widely practised form of nonviolent intervention.’ She draws on her many years of experience as a trainer, describing in great detail some of the conflict transformation workshops she has run in different settings throughout the world. These descriptions are frank, honest and sometimes very personal. She is generous in offering the specific approaches, activities and resources which she has developed and used, and notes that most trainers use a ‘patchwork’ approach, drawing on and adapting the work of others, and learning from the participants themselves.

The ‘stories’ she tells are powerful because they describe ‘ordinary’ people coming to grips with the pain and complexities of violent conflict and taking an active role in peacebuilding in their own societies. She highlights the many pitfalls trainers should seek to avoid, including the imposition of Western ‘expertise.’ Quoting Abu Nimur, she notes that training can be seen as a “suspect gift from the powerful to the disempowered”. However, she also warns that trainers must beware of an uncritical acceptance of ‘traditional’ methods which can embody their own kinds of oppression, particularly in relation to gender.

The final section of the book gives some principles for ‘best practice’ in running conflict transformation workshops, then returns to some of the underlying themes and concepts presented in the first section, drawing the previous two sections together. Overall, the book is inspiring and empowering. It is a rich resource for conflict transformation trainers, and it shows how conflict transformation workshops can sow the seeds of peace in war-torn societies throughout the world.

Carol Rank