Juliana E. Birkhoff*
When the Theory to Practice project started, one of the
first people involved in the discussions was Juliana Birkhoff. Among other ideas that
surfaced in conversations between Birkhoff and project principal investigator Chris
Honeyman was this one, intended to help people looking into conflict resolution research
for the first time to make sense of a rapidly growing and highly diverse research base. (A
corollary benefit, we thought, would be to help the "usual suspects," who field
the same questions over and over again, to free up some time for new questions.) Birkhoff
subsequently wrote up her personal "FAQs" in this article. Originally posted at ADROnline Monthly, it is
"mirrored" here by permission.
A note for faculty on helping students with their research:
I receive many calls, e-mail and U.S. mail from students looking for information about
conflict resolution. Many students use the Internet for preliminary searches for
information. Similarly, many students send off general requests to conflict resolution
organizations and to listservs on the Internet. Unfortunately, without knowing the
history, background or key concepts of the field they often come up empty handed, with
introductory, second-rate, or popular information.
Here are some hints for students:
Scholarship in any field, including conflict resolution, builds on the work of others
who have gone before you. It is unlikely that you are asking an original question or
proposing a novel approach to a topic. However, by looking at the scholarship of others
who have gone before you, you can advance knowledge through your unique perspective on the
topic. So take the time, respect the depth, breadth and quality of scholarship in the
field, and conduct a careful search.
To start your research, think about what kind of information you need to answer your
question. In both print and online environments, you will find three basic types of
information. The first type of information is based on empirical research. Empirical
research involves posing questions, systematically collecting data to answer those
questions, and analyzing that data using public, replicable and approved methods. It
involves reasoning from many facts or cases to a general conclusion or finding (inductive
reasoning). The second type, scholarly theorizing, is characterized by describing the
nature of a particular problem, reality or object. Scholarly work results in descriptions,
comparisons, concepts, theories, or policy proposals. It involves reasoning from known
principles to unknown, from the general to the specific or from a premise to a logical
conclusion (deductive reasoning). Finally, you will find experiential information.
Experiential information involves individual or group reflection upon surprises, problems
or policy issues to develop deeper understanding. It results in information rooted in
personal experience, perspective and judgment.
Next, narrow your question. Conflict resolution has a thirty to fifty year intellectual
history. Scholars have studied peace and conflict for hundreds of years. Information and
research comes from more than ten academic and applied disciplines. If you do not narrow
your question, you will find far too many citations and they will be overviews or surface
treatments. If you e-mail listservs or call an expert with a broad question you will
either not receive an answer or you will irritate people.
One way to narrow your question is to look at what has already been done on your
question. I recommend looking at an encyclopedia or textbooks first. The Encyclopedia of
Conflict Resolution, (Heidi and Guy Burgess, Santa Barbara, CA:ABC-Clio, 1997) reviews
issues, concepts and applications in the field. It is not as good for commercial, labour
or workplace conflict resolution, but other than that is a good place to start your
There are several good, overview texts to use to begin your research--I like the
following but your instructors will probably have their own preferences.
Conflict Resolution: Theory, Research and Practice, James Schellenberg, SUNY Press,
Dispute Resolution and Lawyers, 2nd ed., Leonard L. Riskin and James Westbrook, St.
Divorce Mediation: Theory and Practice, Jay Folberg and Ann Milne, ed., New York, NY,
Environmental Dispute Resolution, Lawrence Bacow and Michael Wheeler, New York,
Essentials of Negotiation, Roy Lewicki, Chicago, IL:Irwin, 1997.
Getting Disputes Resolved: Designing Systems to Cut the Costs of Conflict William Ury,
Jeanne Brett, and Stephen Goldberg, San Francisco, CA:Jossey-Bass, 1988.
Interpersonal Conflict, 4th ed, Joyce Hocker and William Wilmot, Dubuque, IA:William
Mediation: Law, Policy and Practice, Nancy Rogers and Craig McEwen, Deerfield, IL:
Lawyers Co-Operative, CBC, 1989.
Social Conflict: Escalation, Stalemate and Settlement, Jeffrey Rubin, Dean Pruitt and
Sung Hee Kim, New York, NY:McGraw Hill, 1994.
The Annual Review of Conflict Knowledge and Conflict Resolution: The Role of Formal
Education in Conflict Resolution, Vol. 3, Ed. Larry S. Bowen and Joseph B. Gittler,
Garland, New York:NY, 1991
The Art and Science of Negotiation, Howard Raiffa, Cambridge, MA:Harvard-Belknap, 1982.
The Culture of Conflict: Interpretations and Interests in Comparative Perspective, Marc
Howard Ross, New Haven, CT:Yale University, 1993.
The Handbook of Conflict Resolution Education, Richard J. Bodine and Donna K. Crawford,
San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1997.
The Manager as Negotiator: Bargaining for Cooperation and Competitive Gain, David Lax
and James Sebenius, New York, NY:Free Press, 1986.
The Management of Conflict, Marc Howard Ross, New Haven, CT:Yale University, 1993.
The Mediation Process 2nd. ed., Christopher Moore, San Francisco, CA:Jossey-Bass, 1996.
Recasting Science: Consensual Procedures in Public Policy Making, Connie P. Ozawa,
Westview Press, 1991
The Resolution of Conflict, Morton Deutsch, New Haven, CT:Yale University Press, 1973.
The Structure of International Conflict, Christopher Mitchell, St. Martins, NY, 1981.
Working Through Conflict: Strategies for Relationships, Groups, and Organizations,
Joseph Folger, Marshall Scott Poole and Randall Stutzman, New York, NY:Harper Collins,
Skim the texts and the bibliography for mention of your topic. After scanning the texts
and looking in the bibliography for more sources, you can narrow your questions even
further. Look at citations that are likely to cover your question. What are the primary
approaches to your question? See what has already been asked, researched and answered.
What are the remaining questions?
Do not forget to check with the reference librarians at your university, college or
local library. They can help you use the library, including how to narrow your search
terms to do a focused search either of the library's catalog or the Internet.
Next, check to see which journals are in your local or university library. Some
journals will be on cd-rom, some on microfiche, some in other electronic formats, some in
print. Most journals end the volume or year with a listing of previous articles. Some
journals are on-line and some have searchable abstracts. Here is a listing from Jim
Boskey, The Alternative Newsletter, of the most important journals in the field.
Cooperation and Conflict, Nordic Committee for the Study of International Politics,
Dispute Resolution Journal, American Arbitration Association, 140 W. 51st St., New
York, NY 10020-1203
Family and Conciliation Courts Review, Sage Publications, P.O. Box 5084, Thousand Oaks,
Journal of Conflict Resolution, Sage Publications, P.O. Box 5084, Thousand Oaks, CA
Journal of Dispute Resolution, Law School, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia,
Journal of Social Issues, Plenum Press, 233 Spring St., New York, NY 10013
Law and Society Review, The Law and Society Association, Hampshire House, Box 33615,
University of Massachusetts at Amherst, MA 01003-3615
Mediation Quarterly, Jossey-Bass Publishers, 350 Sansome St., San Francisco, CA
Negotiation Journal, Plenum Press, 233 Spring St., New York, NY 10013
Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution, Journal on Dispute Resolution, Law School,
Ohio State University, 55 West 12th St., Columbus, OH 43210-1391
Peace and Change, Sage Periodicals Press, 2455 Teller Rd., Newbury Park, CA 91320
Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 10
Industrial Avenue, Mahwah, NJ 07430-2262
Social Justice Research, Plenum Press, 233 Spring St., New York, NY 10013
The Justice System Journal, National Center for State Courts, P.O. Box 580, Williston,
The International Journal of Conflict Management, The Center for Advanced Studies in
Management, 1574 Mallory Court, Bowling Green, KY 42104.
The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Sage Publications, P.O. Box 5084, Thousand Oaks, CA
You can also look for preliminary information about your topic in an annotated
bibliography. There are several good annotated bibliographies--see:
Alternative Dispute Resolution for the Community: An Annotated Bibliography, John Lover
and Andrew Pirie, 1990, University of Victoria, UVic Institute for Dispute Resolution, The
Institute for Dispute Resolution, University of Victoria, P.O. Box 2400, Victoria, B.C.
V8W 3H7, CANADA
Annotated Bibliography: Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, Christopher
Mitchell et al, 4400 University Dr., George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 22030-4444
Conflict and Culture: A Literature Review and Bibliography, Michelle LeBaron, 1992,
University of Victoria, UVic Institute for Dispute Resolution, Available from NIDR.
Conflict Resolution in Education Research and Evaluation Synopsis and Bibliography,
1998, Marsha Blakeway and Daniel Kmitta, National Institute for Dispute Resolution.
The Ohio State Journal of Dispute Resolution, Journal on Dispute Resolution, Law
School, Ohio State University, 55 West 12th St., Columbus, OH 43210-1391. Every fourth
edition is the annotated bibliography edition.
Resolving Community Disputes: An Annotated Bibliography About Community Justice
Centers, Catherine Morris, ed, 1994, University of Victoria, UVic Institute for Dispute
Resolution, The Institute for Dispute Resolution, University of Victoria, P.O. Box 2400,
Victoria, B.C. V8W 3H7, CANADA
If you have narrowed your questions well, you will have some sense of the background of
your question. You should know what the key sub-questions, issues, and concepts are, how
this been researched before, which academic disciplines work on this question, and who the
key scholars are. Now, it makes sense to go on the Internet. Remember that everything is
not on the Internet and that search engines are not exhaustive--the estimate is that they
miss anywhere from one third to one half of the possible "hits" on the Internet.
I suggest you begin your Internet search at the following sites:
The University of Colorado's Conflict
Research Consortium web site - This site includes more than 300 searchable
abstracts of key books in the field and on-line searching of bibliographic databases with
thousands of entries.
The Ohio State University publishes the Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution (JDR).
JDR has a web page which has abstracts of articles recently published in the journal and
an index of every article published by the JDR since its inception. Go
James Boskey, Seton Hall Law School publishes The Alternative Newsletter. The
Newsletter web site has book reviews and a bibliography from past issues of the
Newsletter. You can search for articles, book reviews, etc. on-line.
(Note: This is, sadly, obsolete. Professor Boskey died several years
ago, and this newsletter, maintained as a database by
www.mediate.com for some time
thereafter, appears to be no longer available electronically. (CH note,
Further information about online resources can be located through the University of Massachusetts Center for Information
Technology and Dispute Resolution, Mediate.com, and
Professor Boskey's "Useful ADR
Sites on the WorldWideWeb"
Again, the breadth of information on these sites highlights the need to have narrowed
down the search terms before searching. Learn how to do thorough searches in each
site--this might take some time. Each site uses different terms and strategies for
organizing the information.
If, after you have completed all these steps, you still find that you do not have
enough information, then you might consider asking for some help on an Internet listserv.
Remember that the quality of the information will be hard to evaluate. Furthermore, the
number of people participating in a list serve varies and might not be very large. If you
really need some personal help, after you have concluded all the previous steps, a polite
letter with a specific question to one of the scholars you located in your search may be
To stay up to date--there are several publishers which frequently publish books on
conflict resolution. You can easily get on the mailing list for the publishers and receive
up to date information about the newest books in the field. Key publishers
include--Jossey-Bass, Sage, Westview, Guilford, Greenwood, Syracuse University Press,
Finally, get in the habit of subscribing to and reading the newsletters and other
ephemera in your area of substantive or process interest. Newsletters often report on new
approaches, projects and publications. Happy researching and please email me with suggestions for information to
include in the Conflict Resolution Research FAQ!