Building a Bridge across the Conflict Theory‐Practice Gap: Comprehensive Conflict Engagement in Community Contexts

Date01 June 2016
Published date01 June 2016
C R Q, vol. 33, no. 4, Summer 2016 437
© 2016 Association for Confl ict Resolution and Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Published online in Wiley Online Library ( • DOI: 10.1002/crq.21166
Building a Bridge across the Con ict Theory-Practice
Gap: Comprehensive Con ict Engagement in
Community Contexts
Birthe C. Reimers
is article introduces the comprehensive confl ict engagement model
( CCEM ) to bridge the theory-practice gap that has been an ongoing
challenge in the fi eld of confl ict resolution. It develops the conceptual
framework undergirding the CCEM , sets the stage for concurrently col-
lecting data and engaging community-based confl ict using this model,
and provides an example of one possible application of the model
through Photovoice, a participatory action research methodology new
to the confl ict resolution fi eld.  e CCEM can be applied in a variety
of settings and through diff erent methodologies to engage confl icts where
issues of diversity are a source of ongoing tensions.
S ince the inception of the fi eld of confl ict resolution as an academic dis-
cipline, there has been a disconnect between confl ict theory and prac-
tice.  is gap has been highlighted by many leading scholars in the fi eld as
a challenge that must be overcome in order to maximize its eff ectiveness
in the pursuit of lasting, sustainable peace (Coleman 2011 ; Folger 1999 ;
Gerami 2009 ; Graf, Kramer, and Nicolescou 2007 ; Hanycz 2005 ; Leder-
ach 1999 ; Ross and Rothman 1999 ; Zartman 2003 ).
A recent survey found that new theories and tactics published by con-
ict resolution theory centers have limited impact on the knowledge or
practices of confl ict practitioners, especially when the theoretical contri-
butions contradict their personal philosophies and methods (Coleman
2011 ). In turn, much theory development is dissociated from the reali-
ties of confl ict resolution practice. Coleman ( 2011 ) has attributed this
to a lack of collaborative relationships between scholars and experienced
practitioners during theory development and research design, acknowledg-
ing that scholars often fail “to take into account what practitioners and
C R Q • DOI: 10.1002/crq.21166
policymakers wanted or needed to know” (para. 4). As a result, theories in
the fi eld are insuffi ciently informed by practice, and vice versa. Bridging
this gap would “help determine if the practices actually do what we think
they do on the ground and . . . explore how to make them most eff ective”
(Coleman 2011 , para. 5).
is article off ers a framework that explicitly integrates existing but pre-
viously disconnected theories and practices already in use in confl ict resolu-
tion to bridge the theory-practice gap.  e resulting comprehensive confl ict
engagement model (CCEM; Reimers 2015 ) establishes the linkages and
necessary interconnections among theory, research, and practice to promote
the intentional development of the fi eld.  e development of the model
was prompted by the need for an integrated research and intervention tool
that could be used to understand the communal dynamics that aff ect daily
coexistence in a highly diverse and internally divided refugee resettlement
site in metropolitan Atlanta and to promote intercultural understanding
and confl ict resolution in the community (Hurt 2013 ; US Senate 2010 ).
Although this model was initially applied in this refugee resettlement con-
text, it is transferable to other diverse and divided communities.
e CCEM suggests that in order to engage confl ict comprehensively,
long-term practical interventions must concurrently target all three bases of
social confl ict: its internal, relational, and structural roots (Reimers 2015 ;
see also Kriesberg and Dayton 2012 ; Mayer 2012 ). I explored the practi-
cal applicability of this model through a Photovoice project whose tradi-
tional design I modifi ed based on the CCEM. Photovoice is an image- and
dialogue-based participatory action research methodology that has mainly
been used in the public health fi eld to engage homogeneous marginalized
groups to collect data on their lived experiences and empower participants
to raise awareness of their needs. Based on the theoretical framework and
the resulting model, I combined best practices in community-engaged
research, small-group dialogue processes, and visual sociology to explore
the additional use of the Photovoice methodology as a confl ict engagement
strategy in diverse community contexts and introduce this methodology to
the confl ict resolution fi eld.
is article develops the conceptual framework for the CCEM, sets
the stage for concurrently collecting data and engaging confl ict using this
model, provides an example of one possible methodological application of
the model through Photovoice, and delineates the value of the model in
overcoming the gap often observed between confl ict theory and practice.
Beyond the specifi c study for which the CCEM was developed, the model

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