Conflict Narratives

Elise Boulding

Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Dartmouth College and Former Secretary General of the International Peace Research Association

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

There is a practice among indigenous people (and I don't say that all indigenous groups do this, but it is an example). Say a stranger appears on the horizon. Someone in the village will be sent out to talk to the stranger and say, "Who are you? Where are you from?" and so on, learn a little about him/her/them. Then the stranger will be brought back to the village, and the go-between will introduce the person, so that the community can place that person in the context of their network of how things should be, and so on. This is a ritual of contact to learn about the other and explain about oneself.

These practices are very widespread traditionally, but they are not written much about. I think that there is a lot of learning that needs to be done on how to deal with the stranger. But the history books are always emphasizing the conflicts. The stories that we get are the conflict stories. One good example is the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire was the only empire in that region that allowed every group to follow their own faith, whether it was Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or whatever. They could all live by special dispensations under the Ottoman Empire. In other words, it acknowledged diversity. Things like that are not played up in the history books.