The first Perspectives on Conflict conference takes place at Glasgow on 6th June 2014 with speakers from institutions in the UK, Ireland, Belgium, Poland and Turkey.
Oscar Wilde noted that, “as long as war is wicked, it will always have its fascination”. But war is but one conflict with which human beings are fascinated. Conflict surround us in many forms, from a disagreement with a partner to an international crisis, conflict is the product of human interaction and often appears to be inevitable. Different disciplines deal with the notion of conflict in their own way: the law attempts to regulate and proscribe important expressions of conflict, such as armed violence, product liability or labour dispute; sociological disciplines may seek to explore and explain the theory behind the existence of conflict; those focused on the media may look at the way in which means of mass communication creates links between action in society and the reportage conducted by broadcasters; among others. Despite these different approaches, we continue to deal with conflicts in isolation. There is continued reference in academic circles to interdisciplinary work, yet most disciplines explore and attempt to resolve issues from their own perspective and using the terms of reference with which members of that discipline are most familiar.
This remains the status quo for most academic disciplines. Calls for papers are generally released to different disciplines on an issue which is relevant to that discipline only. Speakers will deliver papers on the conference theme from different areas of the same discipline and there tends to be few links made with other disciplines outwith the target demographic. Yet engagement is predicated on the ability to consolidate viewpoints from different disciplines: no broadcaster worth their salt would invite three lawyers to discuss the situation in the Middle East, as variety is key to developing ideas and providing a rounded perspective on the problem at hand.
From the perspective of the researcher, conference attendance can be frustrating when your work is slotted in with those working in the same area, but on a completely different topic with little knowledge or understanding of your topic. Attempts to make future links with your work may be fruitful and pleasant, but this sort of structuring may also be redundant for those involved. A common example is placing papers in a stream entitled ‘human rights’ – perhaps the broadest of all topics? Those presenting have little opportunity to work together in the future, let alone constructively share ideas and produce advancement of scholarship in interdisciplinary studies.
It is out of this status quo that the idea of a conceptual conference and network was born. Rather than discussing similar themes and topics, it was decided to draw together individuals who were working on the same idea: conflict. Conflict can be defined in myriad ways, but by engaging with other disciplines, and by hearing how those disciplines deal with the same concept, there is potential for the development of future interdisciplinary projects, while gaining insight into how you might develop your own ideas – thinking out of your disciplinary box. Conferences are excellent places to meet and to discuss ideas; it is a natural evolution that these should be the forum in which individuals engage with interdisciplinary working arrangements.
In a broader sense, the idea of conflict is pervasive. There are no parts of our lives which can operate in a fully compatible fashion and it is not necessarily desirable that they should. Difference can and should be appreciated and discussed. The unnecessary consequence of conflict can be violence and force, which can attract a romanticised fascination like that to which Wilde alluded. But by maintaining channels of discussion across difference and conflict, the concept of conflict need not be synonymous with aggression.