This ambitious book redefines conflict theory as
peacemaking in a cross-disciplinary approach. The book is designed as a law school text but should be read by attorneys and others interested in expanding their understanding of human conflict. The book is divided into five parts: The Law and Peacemaking, Conflict Resolution Processes, Understanding Conflict, Conflict Analysis, and Peacemaking. The detailed Table of Contents is helpful in giving a roadmap of the book and a way to trace back.
The book seeks to approach conflict from a number of different perspectives. Chapters are as diverse as Conflict Resolution Models and Processes, The Neuropsychology of Conflict, Religion and Conflict, Game Theory, and Apology and Forgiveness. Yes, you can assimilate everything from serotonergic neurons to prisoners’ dilemma to Plato.
The point is not that Noll presents something for everyone, but that a full understanding of the complexities of human conflict is best accomplished by weaving together learnings from different disciplines. The book is a valuable resource. Noll is a lawyer who writes from experience and frustration with a legal system dominated by an
adversary ideology which is not only self-perpetuating but where preparation in law schools is focused on that ideology. Even
alternative dispute resolution is by its name alternative to the dominant mode and operates in many ways under the same adversary ideology. Noll seeks to expand the concept of conflict resolution from a narrow focus on adversity to interdisciplinary attention to peacemaking.
With a forward by Professor Howard Zehr and book cover endorsements by Lawyer Max Factor III, Professor John Paul Lederach, Professor Lela P. Love, and Professor and former Justice Janine Geske, students and professionals serious about understanding and working with conflict need to digest this book.
This book is theoretical and practical. Group discussion will enhance the learnings from this book. Lederach calls this a
great introductory text, and the conclusion to Noll’s last chapter affirms that
if the reader comes away somewhat dazed by the concepts presented, then she is open to the idea that many skills require mastery before one is truly a gifted peacemaker. Individual study will be interesting, group study will be stimulating, and study mixed with praxis will be the only way to build on what is presented. There is no concluding guidebook for easy implementation.
While the basic focus on the need to broaden the understanding of human conflict beyond the traditional adversary ideology of the legal system is important, profound, and will be endorsed by many, I found Noll’s indictment of the legal system at times too broad and general. For example, Noll argues that
ethical negotiation [is] considered weak, passive, and ineffective in the legal system. The stereotypical
Rambo lawyer that Noll describes sells his soul and sacrifices all for the sake of victory, but in reality fails to fully understand the dynamics of the underlying conflict or grasp the essential components of true victory. But there are lawyers every day who are strong, ethical, and effective, who work with integrity to understand the full nature of the conflict and advise a client about the options and risks, and who negotiate a good agreement or resolution where prudent and turn to judicial resolution where necessary. The legal system has an ideology, myths, and limitations; it may not foster a broader understanding of conflict resolution, but it does not make it impossible. Noll’s book is a valuable contribution to help people think about that and deepen their own ideology, perspective, and practice. It may take the humility to be
dazed to benefit from it fully.
The book could be made even more useful in several ways. More positive and negative real-life examples from the legal system, particularly in Part One, would provide a stronger foundation for the book by demonstrating different approaches. While the Table of Contents is excellent, an index would make the book more useful so that the reader could more easily locate topics and themes from the discussion of other disciplines. And while discussions are attributed broadly to external sources listed in the Reference section in the back, a list of key sources that the reader could consult to expand the study of each topic would be helpful in making this a guide for those wanting to study further. I also wonder if some of the discussion would be strengthened by incorporating a broader discussion of characteristics of conflicts of different sizes - from individual conflict to the mega-case dealt with by teams of lawyers for large corporate clients and of different types of conflict in the legal system (particularly civil versus criminal).
There is power and synergy in the cross-disciplinary analysis Noll presents. Students of conflict, including those who have been practicing professionals for years, should read this book. Perhaps a revision or a second volume will draw in learnings from even more disciplines.