Unrest Magazine (est. 2009) is a zero profit web-based magazine dedicated to advancing critical conflict resolution theory and engagement.  Our aim is to expand current approaches to the development of theory, research and praxis within the field of peace and conflict studies.  We publish work that investigates manifestations of human discontent and the production of cultures of violence.  Unrest is founded on the belief that the seeds of discontent and violence are sown by the structures of domination. We seek to address the failures of both neo-realist and relativist theories to understand the complexity of contemporary conflicts and we strive to highlight approaches that work for solutions free from exploitation and coercion.

Unrest covers a range of subjects including: world politics, the global and political economy, contemporary social and political theory, philosophy, history, narrative, aesthetics, pedagogy, and the arts.  The magazine is an outlet for people interested in approaching today’s challenges through a critical lens, one that acknowledges the human and environmental costs of conflict. We do not publish rants or have political party affiliations. Unrest is an experimental approach that bridges the gap between zines and academic scholarly journals by creating a multifaceted space for both.

While Unrest advocates critical approaches to analysis and practice, our primary motivation is to publish intelligent and well-written work that pushes the boundaries of current discourses. We attempt to provide a venue for contentious conversations to develop and unfold in the public sphere.  Contributors come from a range of philosophical and ideological backgrounds.  All are welcome and encouraged to submit work to Unrest.  Those interested in collaborating with us should view our submission guidelines or feel free to contact us directly at unrestmag@gmail.com.

Visitors to the website have free access to all content under a creative commons license. Unrest Magazine is edited and managed by the Editorial Cell, led by Michael D. English, and comprised of graduate students and faculty at The School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia.

Why Search For A Critical Conflict Resolution Theory?

Conventional approaches to conflict search for causality and predictability in the human experience.  The search is conducted in a manner which emphasizes causal factors and micro-level human interactions with the ultimate goal of discovering ways to manage human behavior.  These approaches ignore the intersection of lived experience as primed by social structures, embedded in power relationships, and exacerbated by rapidly changing advances in technology.  Understanding, specifically in regard to conflict and violence, becomes an exercise in maintaining relationships of domination through managerial efficiency.

Much contemporary work suffers from a refusal to address questions of power and privilege.  Positivist traditions which dominate the field place all their faith in the belief that abstract numeric data can wholly describe the human experience.  This extreme form of rationalism produces fetishized categories to explain conflict phenomenon.  Numeric data is considered synonymous with lived human experience and literally becomes the “facts of life.”  In response to this positivist thrust, there has been a significant push from cultural relativists to move the field to the other extreme.  Conflict approached from the relativist position denies the reality or influence of structure.  Cultural relativism has little to offer when confronted with the challenges of globalization or the tyranny of traditional values.  In both cases, conflict is viewed as an abnormality in the social body and managed as though it occurs in isolation.  Each remains uncomfortably silent when faced with situations that require structural change.

Within current approaches to conflict analysis there remains the incessant need to distinguish between regularities and irregularities in a given society.  Regularities are exonerated through empirical testing or cultural relevancy and used as the basis for all future predictions, comparisons, and the foundation for solutions to a given problem.  As a result, neo-realist rational actor models and positivist claims remain the overarching modus operandi for the popular, legitimate conceptions of conflict.  Resolving conflict is not about meeting the basic human needs of people, but what is best interest of the state or the market.  Conversely, non-rigorous interpretive theories are viewed with increasing acceptance since they are perceived as non-threatening to traditional values or the political leadership in these existing social relations.

The search for an overarching critical conflict theory is driven by dissatisfaction with both extremes.  Positivism’s claim to be an accurate measure of human behavior has resulted in disastrous consequences and done little to reduce the potential of future conflicts.  Policies of deterrence and regime change, of which Iraq and Afghanistan are only the most recent examples, continue to destabilize the international system.  Neoliberal economic polices further complicate these intense situations and become prescriptive solutions for dealing with “post” conflict resolution.  Relativism is just as threatening when it ignores the tangible forces that affect people’s daily lives.  Post-modernist claims of value-freedom are a potential force of oppression and liable to substantiate and legitimize systems of domination and control.

A critical conflict resolution seeks to reassert the importance of dealing with issues outside of the traditional conflict resolution and peace studies framework.  The endeavor attempts to bridge the gap between the social and natural sciences; it intends to give voice to these often slighted and neglected approaches of understanding the social world.  A critical approach to conflict asserts the role of power, the influence of global capitalism, and intrusion of technology into every aspect of our lives (for better and worse) as crucial factors to be included in any analysis of conflict.  It postulates that the resolution of conflict must concern itself with human freedom, not human servitude.  A critical understanding of conflict lurks in the midst of relativism, realism, and positivism’s domination of the field.  It is a crucial response that attempts to distinguish conflict as a transitory expression of human struggle and not an aberration.  It is both a claim of scholarly principle in the conduct of research and of ethical responsibility in the creation of critical practices focused on deconstructing systems of power and domination.