Joint Analysis across Conflicts


George Kent – TRANSCEND Media Service


As of May 5, 2021 – Under some conditions, dialogues between parties in conflict can be facilitated through joint written analysis of the issues produced in systematic ways; a mediation process. Their final text could describe their disagreements. Their joint document is likely to be more helpful than uncoordinated separate statements from them. The availability of the Internet now makes it possible to conduct this sort of cooperation over great distances. Specialists in peace studies could develop skills in facilitating constructive dialogues across conflicts.

Imagine that wise elders, with great respect for each other, had enough of being on opposite sides of a long-running conflict. They agree to meet and together write the story of the conflict. What is the history? Where are we now? Where could we go from here? There are some good examples, such as the collaboration between Daniel Barenboim, who spoke for the Israeli side, and Edward Said, who spoke for the Palestinian side (Barenboim and Said 2014). There are examples but not enough. In many conflict situations there is a lot of talk and little listening. People interested in peace studies should be able to help people with diverse views work together in addressing their concerns by facilitating dialogue between them (Camilleri 2020).

Cooperation across conflicts by people with serious differences can be arranged in many ways (Civicus 2017; Kent 2013; Kriesberg and Dayton 2017; Rajan et al 2019). Joint analysis could start with each party writing their own first draft, and then they exchange their drafts and share their questions and critical comments. They could then work on combining those manuscripts into one document, retaining points on which their differences were not resolved. That process might not end the conflict, but surely it would deepen their understandings of the situation and of each other. This essay explores explore the potentials for systemic cooperation across conflicts through joint analysis.

Shifting away from harsh conflict to negotiations over the editing of a document about the issues can be a constructive move, a mediation process. The document that emerges could be as modest as a description of the conflict situation or as ambitious as an international treaty. The parties could agree to shift the focus from who did what wrong in the past to what action should be taken, looking forward. The cooperation across conflicts approach could be combined with other constructive ways of addressing conflicts (e.g., Burton 1997; Galtung 2017; Judge 2020; Kriesberg and Dayton 2017; Lederach 2005; Robert et al. 2020).

The idea of undertaking systematic joint analysis across conflicts is very different from systematic analysis by one side for its own purposes, such as Brian Martin’s “framework for understanding tactics used by perpetrators of injustice (Martin 2020).” Concept of joint analysis here as used here is about collaboration between parties on different sides of a conflict. It is very different from joint analysis between allies on one side of a conflict (NATO 2021).

Methods of joint analysis across conflicts are illustrated here first with a discussion of structured dialogue, and in relation to the ongoing debates between supporters of breastfeeding and supporters of feeding with infant formula, and then finally with a discussion about human rights.

Debating Propositions

Under some circumstances, discussions of major public issues could be made more productive if the parties prepared a joint statement about the issues, including observations about the historical background, the major relevant facts, and the points of contention. Even for the most contentious of issues, there would be a great deal about which the parties could agree. Working toward clarifying the areas of agreement and disagreement could, in itself, help to move the parties to greater agreement. As I have argued elsewhere, “Orderly conflict analysis undertaken jointly by the conflicting parties can itself be an effective means of conflict resolution . . . . Before asking parties to a difficult conflict to come to an agreement, it might prove useful to ask them to come to a clear disagreement.” (Kent 1993).

The preparation of a document that articulates the dialogue participants’ understanding of the situation could be carried out with the help of a structured process, based on the systematic examination of brief propositions. This section draws from a previous publication of mine (Kent 2020b). Conceptually, it is rooted in work I published decades ago (Kent 1970a; Kent 1970b).

General Strategy

A group of people representing varying positions on the issues of concern could be assembled, in a series of face-to-face conferences or in virtual conferences, using modern tools of communication. Discussion could be stimulated and focused by presenting a series of propositions on the topic for discussion. A proposition is a short assertive statement, usually no more than a sentence. A facilitator would start the process, and participants would be invited to offer their own propositions.

A few concrete propositions are raised for discussion. The facilitator asks the participants to say whether they agree or disagree with each proposition, without explanation. They then compare their answers, offer explanations, and note where they have a consensus and where their views diverge. These differences may be due more to ambiguities and uncertainties about the meanings of the words than to real, substantive disagreements. Where there are doubts or differences regarding a proposition, the dialogue partners are invited to spend more time on it. They are asked to find ways to rewrite the proposition together so that is clearly acceptable to all of them. They may find that, following discussion, difficult statements can be reformulated in ways that are clear and agreeable to all the participants.

Where that cannot be accomplished, difficult propositions may nevertheless be useful. They may help in clarifying the nature of their disagreement. Before asking parties to a difficult conflict to come to an agreement, it can be useful to ask them to come to a clear disagreement. That too is progress. This work to establish common understandings, whether about agreements or about differences in views, can help to establish a shared framework for communication.


Once the dialogue partners write down their responses to the individual propositions (agree or disagree), they should be ready to compare and discuss them. The most interesting points are those on which there are differences within the group. Each such difference constitutes a learning opportunity for all the participants.

Where there are differences, the group should try to rewrite the propositions until they become acceptable to all. This process would help to uncover differences in views and refine the participants’ understandings of each other and perhaps themselves. The group could begin with rather obvious propositions, and then move progressively to more difficult ones.

Some propositions—especially the more creative ones—might lead to discomfort and disagreement. These differences should be viewed as opportunities for constructive dialogue. That dialogue is the very essence of conflict management work. So long as you and I are in full agreement, we are not doing anything to expand the core of common understanding. Our task is to venture out to the edge and find some area at which we can help enlarge that core. We need to endlessly expand the list of propositions and expand the circle of people who participate in the discussion.

Analyzing Responses to Propositions

In some cases it might be useful to undertake systematic analysis of the responses to specific propositions, short assertive statements about the issue under discussion. For example, if, say, the focus is on global trade, one could present a list like the following.

For each of the following statements, please indicate to the left of the statement’s number whether you agree (A), disagree (D), or have no opinion (N).

___ (1) The globalization of communication helps to support cultural diversity.
___ (2) Trade benefits everyone.
___ (3) The United Nations should have its own army to quell conflicts.
___ (4) The International Chamber of Commerce is the major international organization responsible for overseeing trade.
___ (5) As a result of globalization, more people in poor countries are benefiting from access to the Internet.
___ (6) Trade should be free and fair.
___ (7) Globalization is moving us dangerously close to the creation of a world government.
___ (8) Trade helps to narrow the gap between rich and poor.

If we have members of a group say whether they agree or disagree with each of the propositions they could construct a table of their answers like the following, with one row for each proposition and one column for each person responding. The responses can be recorded by inserting an “A” or a “D” in each cell. The “No Opinion” responses could be ignored.

A B C D E F G H I J Number Agree Number Disagree %
% Disagree

As this grid suggests, we can count across each row and say how many people agree and how many people disagree for the proposition in each row. With one more step we can say what proportion agree or disagree, expressed as a percentage.

Some propositions will generate a high proportion of agree and some generate a high proportion of disagree. A high proportion either way indicates consensus within the group.

The propositions that draw a middling level of agreement–say, 25 % to 75 %–are the ones that generate the least consensus. The differences in responses might result simply from ambiguous phrasing or there might be substantial differences in views among different participants.

These tools can be used to explore why people have varying views. For example, one could do separate analyses for one group of people from richer countries and another group from poorer countries, to see if people from richer and poorer countries have systematically different views. While different groups might have sharp differences on particular points, there is likely to be a broad core of shared views on the issues even among very diverse groups.

Individuals will be interested in comparing their own answers with those of other members of the group. Every difference in answers between individuals or groups can be used to trigger discussions among them.

This process can be viewed as a structured version of what happens during negotiations. The agreements that come out of negotiations are collections of interrelated propositions. The negotiations undertaken in drafting an agreement are dialogues on propositions of the sort discussed here.

The analysis of patterns of agreement and disagreement on specific propositions can serve as a means for bringing similarities and differences into clearer view. Systematic exploration and mapping of areas of agreement and disagreement can help to build shared frameworks of understanding.

Dialogue on Principles

Where the parties begin with a common understanding of the general situation of concern, they may be able to move directly to discussion of the normative principles that ought to guide decision-making in that arena. In that case, instead of talking about propositions of many different forms, they could focus directly on proposed statements about what should be done, rather than about what is true or what is good or bad.

To illustrate, one could construct a questionnaire focused on what should be done with regard to trade in food and agricultural products:

For each of the following statements, please indicate to the left of the statement’s number whether you agree (A), disagree (D), or have no opinion (N).

___ (1) Trade in food and agricultural products should meet the requirements of the human right to adequate food.
___ (2) Trade in subsidized products should be prohibited.
___ (3) There should be no tariffs on any food products.
___ (4) There should be no tariffs on primary food commodities.
___ (5) There should be no tariffs on value-added foods exported from low-income countries.
___ (6) If genetically modified foods are not different from their traditional counterparts in terms of nutrition, composition, or safety, labeling is not necessary.
___ (7) Volume-based restrictions on quantities of foods imported should not be permitted.
___ (8) The impacts of food imports and exports on local food security should be monitored.

___ (9) National governments should be free to bar the import of foods that are likely to harm their people’s health.
___ (10) Consumers should not be required to pay sales tax on locally produced foods.

These proposed principles are merely illustrative. To obtain more meaningful propositions, one could comb through relevant public documents to draw out their stated or implied principles regarding trade. Any set of proposed principles could be used to launch the group’s efforts to jointly analyze, elaborate, and refine the statements until they can arrive at an agreed set. In the end they could also acknowledge that there are certain points on which they cannot agree.

Structured dialogue about major public policy issues cannot be reduced to a simple mechanical procedure, but the following could be identified as major phases of the work:

  • First, a particular issue of interest should be identified.
  • Second, a group of interested and willing individuals with different views on the issue should be assembled, either in a series of face-to-face meetings or in a virtual conference based on use of modern communications devices.
  • Third, the group should review the purpose and procedures of the exercise. They could agree to formulate a jointly agreed description and proposal for action for dealing with the issue of concern. A strong facilitator would be needed, one with clarity about both purpose and procedures.
  • Fourth, through extended discussion, the group should come an agreement about the action it advocates. It might be more important to achieve agreement about the action to be taken than about how the underlying conflict should be understood. The discussions might be difficult, but the procedure should help the group to keep it focused on the purpose. In its final report, the group could spell out not only the points on which it agreed, but also the points on which it could not agree, with explanations for those disagreements.
  • Fifth, others could be invited to carry the discussion further, thus enlarging the circle of individuals who agree, and also further refining and elaborating the statements of principle.
  • Sixth, the points of agreement, initially expressed simply as a series of agreed propositions regarding the issue, could be transformed into a more formal statement from the group, and offered for endorsement by relevant governmental and nongovernmental agencies.

Infant Feeding Issues

I carried out a proposition-based exercise of the sort described above through email, as described in my article, “Breastfeeding: A Human Rights Issue?” (Kent 2001). The This section suggests other approaches systematic cooperation in dealing with infant feeding issues.

There is clear evidence that in any population, feeding with infant formula is not as good as breastfeeding for infants’ health, even in high-income areas with good water. Nevertheless, the use of infant formula worldwide has been growing steadily. More and more women have been joining the workforce. The manufacturers promote infant formula very vigorously. As result, health problems related in infant formula usage persist. There is an ongoing debate between those who support breastfeeding and those who support feeding with infant formula.

While it is widely recognized that feeding with infant formula is not as good as breastfeeding for infants’ health, there is the question of whether the difference is large, outweighing other considerations, or small, which would mean that considerations other than health could carry substantial weight. Health impact is not the only consideration affecting parents’ infant feeding choices (Kent 2019; Kent 2020; Kent 2021). Some people speak as if the difference is obviously huge and others as if it was obviously small—but rarely discuss the issue directly with each other. Instead we get simple position-taking, like this:

Broadly, advocates of breastfeeding point out:

Breast-milk provides optimal nutrition and is associated with lower rates of diarrheal disease, respiratory infection, and death in infants. Breastfeeding has also been linked with bonding between mother and child, increased intelligence and possible reductions in obesity and diabetes later in life among children, and decreased incidence of breast and ovarian cancer in women. (Meridian Institute 2017, 2)

Supporters of feeding with breastmilk substitutes (BMS) such as infant formula say:

BMS offer a critically important, sometimes life-saving option for babies whose mothers are not able to breastfeed for medical reasons or who for a variety of reasons do not have access to breast-milk. In addition, BMS are important for mothers who choose not to, or are unable to breastfeed due to work or other reasons. (Meridian Institute 2017, 2)

The conflict between the two camps is deep, and the stakes are high, in many cases a matter of life or death (Khazan 2018; Khazan 2020).

Those who support breastfeeding and those who support feeding with formula take strong positions, but there has been little constructive conversation between them. Some mothers who feed with formula are offended by what they feel is undue pressure from breastfeeding advocates. Some push back (Jung 2015; also see Akre 2006; Byatnal 2018; Caron 2018; Frazier 2017; Grayson 2016; Palmer 2009; Zoll 2017). Not only pregnant women, but also policymakers, health professionals and others who set policies or design antenatal education programs should have orderly ways to think through and discuss the issues, with each other and also with new parents (Kent 2021).

In dealing with differences encountered when discussing infant feeding policies, the challenge is one of conflict management. There have been clear calls for constructive dialogue in relation to infant feeding (Allers 2017). A good example of systematic constructive dialogue is provided by the way in which nurses in Kenya developed explicit standards of care for inpatient neonatal care services (Murphy et al. 2018).

In the approach envisioned here, the participants could agree the central objective is to work out an agreed path of action in the future, not to decide who committed what wrongs in the past. Critics and supporters of the use of infant formula might be invited to work together to design better antenatal education for new parents. Their work together would be based on the idea that improvement in antenatal education could lead to significant improvements in infants’ health and well-being. It is not difficult to imagine breastfeeding supporters and formula-feeding supporters working together to write one document that merges their different views and includes explicit comparisons between the two major options. This would be different from ordinary dialogue because it would be driven by the shared objective of producing a document for a specific agreed purpose, improving infants’ health.

The parties wouldn’t have to agree on everything. Their final text could include descriptions of any disagreements they might have. The authors could be encouraged to explain their dissent on any point in footnotes or side-by-side paragraphs. This sort of joint statement is likely to be more helpful than uncoordinated separate statements from the different parties

Many disagreements are based on different beliefs about what is factually true. Some might be resolved through systematic review of published studies on the issue. This is approach is well illustrated by a report on the benefits to infants that results from their mother’s eating fish during pregnancy (NCFIH 2017). The same format can be used for reviewing studies of the health impacts of different ways of feeding infants. Joint analysis is likely to result in more nuanced statements than could be obtained from one-sided analyses.

In some cases, clear statements of this sort could start a debate rather than end one. That is not bad. Where the available research does not address the issues adequately, the parties that hold different views could join together in designing research projects designed to help resolve those differences.

Some disagreements might relate to the ways in which foods for infants and young children are regulated. The parties could work together to design new approaches to regulation. There are grave doubts about the potentials of corporations to regulate themselves to protect public health, in relation to infant feeding or anything else, but there are new ideas about how to address the challenge (Richter 2001; White 2020). They are worth discussing, systematically, with a view to amending existing regulations or establishing new ones.

The US Food and Drug Administration has developed advice for low- and middle-income countries on how to improve their regulatory systems (NASEM 2020). The regulation of infant feeding products is now a global problem, and not simply a collection of unconnected national problems. The regulation of commercial products for infant feeding has much room for improvement, both nationally and globally. There is already some international trade in human milk. Without regulation, it could go out of control, perhaps in ways comparable to the out-of-control trade in blood plasma (Du Cane 2019; Shaefer and Ochoa 2018.).

There are many questionable claims about the benefits and harms related to different infant feeding products and the additives to them (Romo-Palafox 2020). Many people do not notice that the boasts infant formula manufacturers make for their latest products usually are based on comparisons with other formulas, not comparisons with breastfeeding. Usually the claims are about ingredients, not the actual performance of the product in supporting infants’ health and development. Some emphasize claims about the safety of infant formula, as if there was no question about its effectiveness in meeting infants’ needs (Institute of Medicine 2004).

Some questionable claims might be harmless if they are about snacks for adults with diverse diets, but they can be dangerous when the product might constitute the entire diet for months for the most vulnerable part of the human population.

Partisan Facilitation

Up to this point I have discussed the role of a neutral third party who serves as a mediator, facilitating joint analysis by parties with very different positions, helping them to come to some sort of agreement. Rather than just settling for an uneasy compromise, hopefully they instead move to a new positive relationship. In contrast, the following paragraphs suggest a procedure that could be initiated by one party to a conflict, a partisan who proposes a constructive joint analysis with someone with different views. The objective is to not to choose a winner, gut reduce the degree of difference between them. In this illustration, I am that partisan, hoping to open discussion about questionable claims for a product with its producer.

I assumed that some advocates of products for feeding infants might be willing to discuss the claims they make about them, and possibly modify their language to make the claims clearer and more accurate. I thought they might be willing to share relevant research evidence. I recognized tat some might refuse to discuss their claims. That in itself could be taken as a reason for questioning the credibility of those claims.

I was critical of product designed for new mothers, I invited an executive of the company producing it to join me in a systematic discussion. I said:

I would like to propose that we try writing a constructive dialogue . . .

I would take the lead. I raise a small number of concerns, and name them in section headings. Then I raise a point , and do that under each of those headings. I pass that manuscript-in-progress to you, and you respond under each of those headings. We continue this process. until we feel it is no longer fruitful

Then together we write a conclusion that summarizes our discussion. For some of the issues, we might agree that it would be useful to rewrite a sentence or paragraph we had discussed. We describe our views of the whole experience.

The basic ground rule would be that each of us has the option of vetoing the final product. It gets published only if we agree.

This process sketch is only suggestive. I am very open to fiddling with it.

Unfortunately, the proposal was not accepted.

Dialogue on Human Rights

An essential element of human rights work is the steady expansion of our shared understandings of the meaning of human rights. One approach to building that consensus is through the systematic articulation and discussion of brief propositions on human rights. I have suggested ways of working toward a jointly authored statement on human rights in relation to infant feeding (Kent 2001).

There are many different understandings of human rights, so there is much room for discussion. This ought to be fruitful discussion. If I tell you how you should think about the issues and insist that my answers are the right ones, that will end our conversation before it begins. Listening respectfully should not be mistaken for real discussion. It would be much more useful for me to explain how I see things, and invite you to say how you see things, and then we should see if our views can be harmonized in some way. Pedagogically, we should set aside the model of one teacher and one or more learners, and instead view disagreement as an opportunity for learning by all who are involved in the discussion. Maybe what we had been thinking about different kinds of rights or different kinds of situations. Maybe we just need to make our assertions less sweeping. Maybe we need to consult sources we both recognize as authoritative.

Differences in views should be taken as opportunities to explore important issues. The more we can talk and harmonize our views, the stronger the human rights system will be, and the stronger we will be as advocates for it. Consensus building about human rights, whether in the classroom or anywhere else, should be viewed as an important part of the larger campaign for designing and fulfilling human rights.

As shown above, one way to facilitate discussion, and thus carry out the harmonizing effort, is to present a series of propositions on the topic for discussion. A proposition is nothing more than a short assertive statement, usually no more than a sentence. A few concrete propositions are raised for discussion. If you and your dialogue partners agree on them, you move on until you encounter some that raise difficulties.

The difficulties may be due more to ambiguities and uncertainties about the meanings of the words rather than to real, substantive disagreements. Where there are doubts or differences regarding a proposition, you and your partners should see if there are ways in which you can rewrite the proposition together so that is clearly acceptable to all of you. For example, you might find that a proposition such as “All indigenous peoples have a right to self-determination” means different things to different people. By discussing it for a time, you might find there is a way to restate it that makes it clear and agreeable to all of you.

Or this process of examining and reformulating propositions might help to clarify the exact nature of a disagreement. In dealing with difficult conflicts, it is sometimes useful to begin by asking the parties to come to a clear disagreement. When two people are talking past each other in a debate, each of them could be asked to write a few propositions about their positions and ask the other to say where and how they disagree.

If I ask you whether a proposition is true or false, you might take that to mean that I, the questioner, know whether it is “really” true or false. It may imply that if you give the “wrong” answer, I will judge you to be, ignorant. The tone of our interaction would quite different if I ask whether you agree or disagree with the proposition, the signal I convey is that I value and respect your opinion. If you and I differ in our answers this means we should discuss how we came to our different perspectives. We address each other as peers, with equal opportunities to convince one another of the merits of our views. Thus, rather than ask whether individuals view particular propositions as true or false, I prefer to ask if they agree or disagree. Every disagreement on a proposition is a potential learning moment for all who are involved.


When asked to write human rights propositions, some individuals might wonder whether they are supposed to write something “objective” about what is so in the world, or whether they are to be “subjective”, stating their own personal opinions about what should be recognized as a human right. You might say something is a right because you can point to its explicit assertion in international human right treaties or in national law. That is quite different from saying something is a human right because you think it ought to be spelled out in the law. Wishing that to be so does not make it so.

When there is a strong consensus among observers—that is, when there is strong inter-subjective agreement–we are much more confident that we are saying something that is “objectively true”. But these are matters of degree. Where there is often lack of consensus, as in human rights work, rather than talk about what is true and what is false, it is more sensible to talk about whether we agree or disagree with particular statements. We can sometimes conclude that particular statements are true, but usually that is based on establishing that there is broad consensus on it.

Our truths—the meanings we put on things—are socially negotiated. Through discussion and debate we come to agreements on how things should be understood. We tend to test for “truth” on the basis of consensus in the community—whether in a community of specialists related to technical matters or in the society at large. Indeed, a community might be defined and demarcated by its shared, distinctive framework of meaning. One important implication of this perspective is that there can be different communities with different frameworks of meaning and different truths.

Here is a list of statements about human rights that could be used to stimulate discussion in a classroom or other group settings.

For each of the following statements, please indicate to the left of the statement’s number whether you agree (A), disagree (D), or have no opinion (N).

___ (1) Free primary education is a human right.
___ (2) People in different regions of the world have different human rights.
___ (3) All nations have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
___ (4) Food is a human right.
___ (5) Voting for government leaders is a human right.
___ (6) Breastfeeding is a human right.
___ (7) Protection against racial discrimination is a human right.
___ (8) The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed by the king of England in the 18th century.

Once the participants write their answers, they should be ready to compare and discuss them. The discussion should bring up the distinction between what individuals feel ought to be recognized as human rights, and what are recognized human rights. My view is that international human rights treaties and the associated national laws constitute the definitive statements of what are the established human rights. However, there is room for interpretation of those statements, and thus for debate.

Some propositions—especially the more creative ones—will arouse discomfort and disagreement. That should not be viewed as a problem. These differences constitute opportunities for constructive dialogue. That dialogue is the very essence of human rights work. So long as you and I are in full agreement, we are not doing anything to expand the core of common understanding. Our task then is to venture out to the edge and find some area at which we can work to help build that core. We need to endlessly expand the list of propositions and expand the circle of people who participate in the discussion.

Focused lists of propositions can be used to examine specific problem areas in human rights discourse such as the nature of universality and cultural relativism or the relationships between entitlements and rights.

The processes of soliciting endorsements for human rights declarations or of seeking ratifications to international treaties can be viewed as particular forms of surveys to determine the extent to which there is widespread consensus on human rights propositions. These are the established means for determining which of the many human rights claims that might be made are in fact universal.

A draft declaration or treaty is an elaborate collection of propositions. The negotiation process undertaken in their drafting are dialogues on propositions of the sort discussed here. In other words, processes of dialogue and assessment of human rights propositions of the sort advocated here already are in place and are widely accepted.

The merit of any proposition could be estimated by exploring to see if there is consensus about it among experts. There will be differences even among knowledgeable people. Sometimes the differences may be systematic. For example, opponents of a current regime are likely to have different understandings of what is so than supporters of that regime. The general rule is that we can have more confidence in the validity of a proposition the more we get agreement on it from a diverse variety of observers. The most credible observations are those for which heterogeneous, uncoordinated observers give homogeneous reports.

In his World Human Rights Guide Charles Humana formulated a list of 40 statements about human rights derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and two human rights covenants (Humana 1992). He then explored whether the propositions were true (yes) or false (no) for 104 countries. For example, his first proposition, based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 13(1), was that “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.” Although Humana does not do so, the answers could be arrayed in a 40 by 104 matrix, and then analyzed in various ways.

What if we don’t trust the judgment of Humana or any other expert? Instead of depending on any one person’s views, we could ask a number of people to respond to propositions about the human rights situation in a particular country. Each of these respondents could fill in a matrix of propositions versus countries, saying how they think each country would respond to each proposition. This now produces a three-dimensional data matrix: propositions by countries by respondents.

If we have a diverse group of respondents, and they are in consensus about a particular aspect of the rights situation in a particular country, we can be reasonably confident that that is so. If there is no consensus, we would remain uncertain about the situation. In general, where there is a convergence of answers, we feel we are learning something about the country. Where respondents give divergent answers, we are probably learning more about the respondents themselves.

The ways in which human rights are understood might be mapped in the following way. There is a core area in which there is widespread agreement among human rights specialists about what is so. This core area has a boundary, somewhat fuzzy, where there is some degree of vagueness and disagreement. Beyond that fuzzy transitional area there are sharply different views of human rights. There will always be quarrels in this domain, but they can be productive quarrels. Slowly we work out shared understandings. Our most productive work is in this fuzzy area where, through processes of dialogue, we slowly expand our area of widespread agreement. Through that dialogue we not only formulate agreements on particular concepts but also reinforce our common framework of understanding.


The facilitation of joint analysis across conflicts could become an important peacemaking tool. That’s skill should be developed. With access to the Internet, joint analysis  can be done across great distances. There are good tools for communication such as Skype and Zoom and there are software products that facilitate collaborative writing. Some software can focus on keyboard-based discussions, thus allowing participants to join in at their convenience, making time zone differences irrelevant. With less money being spent on airplanes and hotels, more resources could be devoted to fueling this work.

Joint analysis projects of the sort envisioned here could focus on many different topics and could be conducted in various contexts and formats. With practice, guidelines for facilitating joint analysis could be developed, eventually providing good tools for addressing conflict issues in a constructive way.


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After more than forty years of teaching in the University of Hawaii’s Department of Political Science, TRANSCEND member George Kent retired in 2010 as Professor Emeritus. Currently he serves as an Adjunct Professor with the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney in Australia and also with the Department of Transformative Social Change Program at Saybrook University in California. He teaches an online course on the Human Right to Adequate Food for both these universities. Professor Kent has worked with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Food Programme and several nongovernmental organizations. He is on the Board of Directors of the International Peace Research Association Foundation. His major books on food policy issues are Freedom from Want: The Human Right to Adequate Food, Global Obligations for the Right to Food, Ending Hunger Worldwide, Regulating Infant Formula, Caring about Hunger, and Governments Push Infant Formula. He serves as Deputy Editor of the World Public Health Association’s online journal, World Nutrition and as Associate Editor for Public Health Nutrition. He can be reached at Academia Website Google Scholar.

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