On Conflict Resolution: Pluralism or Cosmopolitanism?

Belfast, N. Ireland

(This very brief post is not for assessment. I just found the conversation between pluralism and cosmopolitanism to be interesting, and thought I would share.)

I find it helpful when introducing myself to the field of conflict resolution to have a basic knowledge of the conversation between the “pluralist” and “cosmopolitan” hopes of CR.[1] So here are just a couple of paragraphs on this.

Ramsbotham, et al, acknowledge a division among CR theorists between a pluralist and cosmopolitan ethos. The former might visualize the world as an “international society of states” organized around the maintenance of international order through respect for the non-intervention norms of post-Westphalia. The latter believes in an “emergent world community” organized around the notion of justice pursued through progressive governance reforms aimed at increasing the welfare of all, particularly the poor and marginalized.[2] Ramsbotham, et al, claim the former relates more to conflict settlement, while the latter lines up closer to conflict transformation.[3] Cosmopolitanism recognizes the interconnectivity, and thereupon interdependence, of the international collective resulting from globalization, and thus suggests we have an obligation to each other. Pluralism, on the other hand, clings to the sovereignty of each nation-state and its right to conduct internal affairs predominantly as it pleases, without threat of unsolicited external intervention and the resulting danger of “hegemonic intrusions” that often triumph over local traditions and cultures.[4]

Cosmopolitanism believes in a world that transcends national borders as we acknowledge, in Lederach’s words, our “relational mutuality,” that ultimately our well-being is inextricably tied up with the well-being of others.[5]  Essentially here, we have the idea of a world citizen that moves beyond simply local affiliations (for a well-articulated analysis of the problems with such language, click here). Ramsbotham, et al, link such a belief to conflict transformation, and indeed, I tend to think conflict transformation leans more toward the cosmopolitan side of the spectrum in many respects than it does the pluralist end. However, the pluralist critique of cosmopolitanism – namely that cosmopolitan conflict resolution adopts an intervention program in the name of statebuilding for non-liberal, underdeveloped countries – does not necessarily translate over to the aspirations of conflict transformation. In other words, while cosmopolitan conflict resolution may strive to intervene in conflicts so as to build new liberal states in the image of the intervener, my understanding of conflict transformation does not entail such practices. For me, conflict transformation focuses far more on the relationships between estranged people than on the techniques of building western democracies, for example. Conflict transformation resists paternalistic tendencies to create mini-clone states as it seeks to develop a kind of cultural fluency (which is a pluralist notion in many ways) that learns more from the local traditions than it offers to them.[6]

I will say more about my appreciation for conflict transformation in the next and final post.

[1] Ramsbotham, 396-399.

[2] Ibid., 396-397.

[3] Ibid., 397.

[4] Ibid., 398.

[5] Lederach, Moral Imagination, 35.

[6] See Lederach, “Prescriptive and Elicitive: The Critical Tension,” in Preparing for Peace, 63-70.

Works Cited

Lederach, John Paul. Preparing for Peace: Conflict Transformation Across Cultures. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1995.

—. The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Ramsbotham, Oliver, Tom Woodhouse, and Hugh Miall. Contemporary Conflict Resolution, 3rd ed. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2011.


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