Members of the Stylistics Research Centre and theCentre for Intercultural Politeness Research working in critical stylistics and interpersonal pragmatics are collaborating with professionals in Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution as part of the Language in Conflict project. The group work to enhance the linguistic skills and understanding of mediators and international negotiators through the development and delivery of training materials and the creation of a web-based meeting point for linguists and mediation/conflict resolution practitioners. The methods developed have been incorporated by a number of mediation and conflict resolution organisations, while the website has generated international interest and debate.
The project has been recognised by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Conflict Issues, whose advisor has acknowledged the ‘exciting implications for both the theory of conflict and the delivery of new skills for practitioners and policymakers.’
Opposition and Face
The project draws on research into the application of stylistic methods to non-literary texts, with a particular focus on the textual construction of opposition. The tendency of human beings to categorise experience and people into complementary opposites is an important aspect of how conflicts arise, develop and become intractable. Language in Conflict methodologies are informed by this opposition theory so that they can be applied to politically sensitive issues such as radicalisation and democracy.
Language in Conflict also draws upon the concept of face as a way to explain why people don’t say literally what they mean and the interpersonal effects of this universal practice, as well as the development of a framework for considering participation roles in interaction. This research helps the project to explore the significance of people’s identities and roles and look at how, if ignored, these identities and roles can cause conflict.
Creating an online community
Launched in January 2013, the Language in Conflict website and Twitter feed have attracted a diverse range of users and followers both locally and internationally. The website features a set of learning materials (the linguistic toolbox) and articles written by members of the Language in Conflict team, conflict professionals and students of conflict studies. The articles published not only inform the reader on approaches and developments in conflict studies, but also encourage discussion and debate to foster a sense of community between the users.
Practical training workshops
Training workshops have so far been held in Belfast, Brighton, Bournemouth, Cambridge, Dumfries, Edinburgh, Huddersfield, London and Manchester and have involved more than two hundred participants from local councils and mediation services. Feedback from the attendees has been extremely positive and illustrates that workshop participants have gone on to apply Language in Conflict’s methods in their own work.