Senior Seminar in Peace and Conflict Studies

Low-Cost Textbooks

We ask educators who use Beyond Intractability as a major part of their courses or training programs to ask their students / trainees to donate roughly half of the cost of a comparable textbook. (For example, we ask our students to donate $5-$30 depending upon the amount of material used.)

As part of our effort to make it easier to build customized textbooks using the Beyond Intractability system, we are starting to post the most recent version of syllabi from courses that we have taught over the years.

This syllabus is from the Senior Seminar in Peace and Conflict Studies that Guy Burgess taught at the University of Colorado until he retired from teaching in 2016. While the basic theoretical material is still quite solid, the "current events" links are a bit dated.  A much more extensive collection of up-to-date articles can be found in our Beyond Intractability in Context Blog.

Since most of these materials are copyrighted by either the Conflict Information Consortium or Guy and Heidi Burgess personally (depending on what you use), we do ask that students pay a small royalty fee if you are assigning 10 or more of our readings.  (Contact us for more details.)  However, the links in the Beyond Intractability in Context Blog are links to outside materials written by others. So no donation is asked for re-using those materials. 

This syllabus contains links to online videos and associated transcripts which are earlier and somewhat different versions of the online videos now being offered in conjunction with the Conflict Frontiers Seminar. As they are now set up, access to these videos requires a "Premium Access" username and password which we are happy to provide to educators interested in using the materials. To get such access, just send us a note using our contact form.

This particular version of the course, which was offered online, is built around four units and asked students to prepare an extensive set of reading reflections describing their reaction to the materials (not simple notetaking).

If you have questions or comments please use our contact form to send them to us.

Unit 1:  Understanding the Intractable Conflict Problem

The intractable conflicts that tear societies apart tend to involve high-stakes issues that place the things that people hold most dear in grave jeopardy. This is what makes people willing to fight so hard and to make such enormous sacrifices defend their interests and, if at all possible, emerge victorious. 

Unit 2:  Complexity Oriented Approaches to Conflict 

If you are like us, you come away from the materials presented in Unit 1 with a real, and somewhat frightening, image of the difficult conflict problems faced by contemporary society. It is these difficulties, which are forcing many of us working in conflict-related fields to recognize that, despite the progress that has been made thus far, we are a long way from being able to offer the kind of solutions that we all seek. This recognition, that we simply have to find a way to do better, is driving a number of exciting efforts to advance the frontier of the field.  At the core of all of this work, one finds a variety of innovative attempts to address the "complexity problem."  The remainder of the course will introduce you to many of these ideas and show you how they can serve as a foundation a wide range of efforts to more constructively address today's tough problems. 

As you will see, the frameworks presented require a somewhat counterintuitive way of thinking that takes some effort to wrap your mind around.  Rather than offering a single solution, we present a number of alternative ways of thinking about complexity and ask you to critically evaluate the various ideas. The framing questions for this Unit ask you to start to develop your own conflict strategy – one that synthesizes the ideas that you find most useful with your own personal insights. Hopefully, this, combined with Unit 3 and Unit 4, will leave you with a realistic and hopeful image of how you might be able to help promote more constructive approaches to conflict.

This Unit also introduces you to the theory behind the conflict assessment and mapping work that you will be doing in conjunction with the course project.  We see the advanced mapping techniques that you will be learning as an extremely powerful tool for diagnosing the nature of specific conflict problems and then identifying workable interventions that can truly make a positive difference.

  • To start with, we would like you to look at the following readings which outline what we see as the most important ideas associated with complexity. As you work through these materials (and the mini-lectures that follow) we want you to build a list of ideas that you see as persuasive and something that you really want to incorporate into your conflict worldview. Your answers to the framing questions for this Unit should explain those ideas. Less important but also valuable is your critique of ideas that you don't find useful.
    • Boulding, "General Systems Theory: The Skeleton of Science -- The first time we assigned this, the students grumbled (or worse) because they found this laughably out of date.  Yes, some of it is, but the key idea of a hierarchy of systems (which starts on p. 202--see the top page number), and the notion that social systems are many orders of magnitude more complex than merely "complicated," physical systems is absolutely critical and often overlooked by those who think that social systems can be modeled and outcomes predicted in much the same way as is done in physics or even biological systems. So read the hierarchy of systems part carefully, although much of the earlier material (on individuals, growth, communication--and sadly--the resistance to inter-disciplinary research at most institutions of higher education are still highly relevant as well.)
    • Jones, Complex Adaptive Systems -- We think that Jones' concept of "complex adaptive systems" is absolutely central. It explains why simple solutions based on mechanical metaphors won't work.  For the last five years, our work has focused on answering the many challenges implicit in this article and figuring out how to apply the field's insights in the context of conflict complex adaptive systems.  To put this in Boulding's terms, Jones argues that we have been thinking about conflict as a relatively simple physical system when we should be thinking about it is a complex social ecosystem. This course and the mini-lectures that follow represent our latest thinking on the topic.
    • Ricigliano, Making Peace Last - Ricigliano's quite influential work (which is summarized in these readings) explains how "systems thinking" can enable peace builders to do a much better job of dealing with the complexity of conflict systems. Chapter 1 helps set of the context, but the material we really want you to focus on is in Chapter 2. You will need to use your PDF reader's "rotate" command. 
    • Jenal on Making Peace Last:  This is a succinct, well written review of Ricigliano's whole book which is a good, very quick substitute for reading the whole thing.  It brings up most of the key ideas. 
    • The Five Percent (Coleman) Introduction (pp 1-10), Introduction to Part I (pp. 12-14) and Chapter 2 (pp 26- 46)  offers another very influential take on the complexity problem. 
    • Vallacher et al "Rethinking Intractable Conflict" -  This is a more academic summary of the entire Five Percent Book.  It explores the theoretical and practical implications of the ideas found in the first reading. 
    • Hauss. Complexity-Small Worlds  Here we ask you to look at Chapter 2 from an advance copy of Hauss' forthcoming book on complexity. 
    • Finally, the following short "mini-lectures" outline our latest thinking on the complexity problem.  This approach constitutes our effort to build upon and synthesize ideas presented above and in the Beyond Intractability system. 
      • Intractable Conflicts are Large-Scale, Complex, Adaptive Systems -- Video
      • Complicated, Systems-Based Approaches to Conflict -- Video
      • Large-Scale, Complex, Adaptive Systems Complex, Eco-System-Based Approaches I -- Video 
      • Engineering vs. Medical Problem Solving -- Video
      • Large-Scale, Complex, Adaptive Systems Complex, Eco-System-Based Approaches II -- Video
  • The mapping framing question parallels the question posed for the complexity articles above. Given that these materials amount to one quarter to one third of the length of the other materials, it is expected that answers to this question will constitute one quarter to one third of the effort devoted to this Unit’s total reading/listening reflections. The question is simple, of all the topics suggested for possible inclusion in conflict assessments and maps which do you think is most important and why? The truth is that, in the real world, there is seldom time to do everything that might seem appropriate. Since, in any particular case, some topics will be vastly more important than others, priority setting is critical.  In answering this question you may choose to focus on your course project topic or some other topic that you care (and know) something about. 

Unit 3:  "Make a Difference" Framework

The next step and the focus of Units 3 and 4 is on identifying realistic options for "making a difference" in the context of complexity.   Our approach starts by first recognizing that it is not realistic to expect to be able to resolve complex, large-scale, intractable conflicts in ways that are acceptable to all parties. Continuing confrontation is inevitable. What is not inevitable is the destructiveness with which these confrontations are commonly pursued. Thus, the focus of the remainder of the course is on identifying realistic steps that can be taken to significantly limit destructive aspects of conflict while promoting its constructive role as an "engine of social learning." This unit asks you to read a number of articles that advance and categorize strategies for producing such positive change. (We are not interested in change for the sake of change.  Too often, change winds up making things worse rather than better.)  As we did with the framing questions for the previous unit, we want you to systematically identify and prepare short write ups on those ideas which you see as being most useful. Again, critiques of ideas that you don't find persuasive are helpful, but less important. Your focus should be on ideas that you can actually imagine being successfully applied.

  • Make a Difference Guide --The first resource that we would like to you to look at this context is the "Make a Difference Guide" that we developed for the Peace and Conflict Studies program with the grant from the University's ASSETT program.  This system, which serves as a guide to the Beyond Intractability Knowledge Base, is built around a diagnostic narrative that parallels the course organization and takes you, step-by-step through the conflict problem solving process. At each step there are expandable links to a large library of information on each topic.  Accessing the "Make a Difference Guide" requires your Beyond Intractability username and password.
  • Other materials for this Unit offer different perspectives on problem solving in the context of scale and complexity. 

Reading Reflections Unit 4:  Areas Where You Can Make a Difference

Unit 4 introduces to you to what is, by far, the largest component of any complexity-oriented approach--a comprehensive listing of all of the conflict problems that might arise as well as opportunities for making things better.  The length of such a list would be truly daunting and even longer than the extensive list found in the Make a Difference Guide.  No course of this length could possibly cover it all. What the materials do try to do, however, is introduce you to selection of the most prominent ideas in each of the principal conflict areas. Again, in terms of framing questions, I want you to identify and explain, from your perspective, what you see is the most promising strategies for promoting more constructive approaches. It is expected that you'll focus on three of these for the second part of course project.

For the approach to large-scale, complexity-oriented peace building that we've been talking about to work, those interested in promoting peace collectively need to field projects in six basic areas (with the nature and composition of the project mix determined by the specific characteristics of each conflict situation).  While some level of formal coordination is often both desirable and possible, it is expected that many if not most of these projects would be undertaken independently by people who see something that “needs doing” and decide to do it.