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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Consensus Decision Making, Northern Ireland and Indigenous Movements edited by Patrick. G. Coy (JAI: Elsevier) Decision making is the oil that greases the wheel of social movement organizing. Done poorly, it derails organizations and coalitions; done well, it advances the movement and may model those changes movements seek to effect in society. Despite its importance, movement decision making has been little studied.
Section One makes a singular contribution to the study of social movement decision making through seven focused case studies, followed by a critical commentary. The case studies on decision making cut across a wide breadth of social movement contexts, including Peace Brigades International teams, a feminist bakery collective, Earth First, the NGO Forum on Women, Friends of the Earth, the Tlapanec indigenous movement in Mexico, an on-line strategic voting campaign, and Korean labor movements. The section concludes with Jane Mansbridge's synthesis and critical commentary on the papers, wherein she continues to make her own substantive contributions to the literature on consensus decision making.
The three papers in Section Two focus on Northern Ireland , where frustration with inter-community conflict resolution spawned a movement promoting intra-community or "single tradition" programs. Two chapters provide invaluable comparative studies of the benefits and shortcomings of these counter-movements, while the third paper applies constructive conflict and nonviolent action theories to recent developments in the annual parades disputes.
The volume closes with two papers on Native American issues. The first examines an initiative to teach conflict history and build conflict analysis and resolution skills regarding Native American issues. The final case study of two Native American women's organizations demonstrates how socially constructed identities are critical to movement framing processes and collective actions.
With this volume, RSMCC continues its long-standing tradition of publishing cutting edge studies in social movements, conflict resolution, and social change. Five of the six chapters are based on participant observation studies, including the two papers on the use of consensus by women's organizations and coali­tions that open the volume. Lynne Woehrle's ethnography of a whole grains bakery, collectively owned and operated by consensus by women, is a fasci­nating analysis of the multiple tensions the group faced trying to balance the need for business sustainability with their ideological commitments to consensus processes, empowerment of women, and a deep, normative commitment to encouraging and honoring the claims-making by the women within the group. Woehrle's research highlights the dissonance the group repeatedly experienced between being a successful economic collective while also being flexible enough in policies, procedures and the daily ordering of the bakery's business life in order to meet the differing individual needs of its members. The collective embraced both consensus decision making and the creation of an empowering business space where each woman could find her own voice as a business partner while making individual claims on the group that the collective was committed in principle to try and honor. This combination of normative commit­ments eventually created a host of competing claims, not all of which could be met by the collective while remaining a viable business venture. A conflict that arose out of the claims that one member made on the collective – and which dominated life at the bakery for well over a year – is used by Woerhle to high-light and analyze the mixed blessing of the collective's success in empowering its members to engage in claims-making, and the collective's parallel failure to set boundaries that would protect the group and the business it operated.

One of the arguments traditionally made by proponents of consensus decision making is that it tends to increase democratization while it also disrupts and decenters traditional power relations. But Anna Snyder's participant observation research of the NGO Forum on Women 1995, a transnational conference that was parallel to the Fourth UN World Conference on Women in Beijing , China , suggests that consensus decision making may contribute to the opposite result, particularly when the time available for decision making is a key variable and in short supply. Focusing on the agenda setting process for the conference and on the work there of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Snyder claims that the use of consensus processes within the transnational coalition served to increase the marginalization of already marginalized groups, suppressed conflict and differences that may have been both instructive and constructive for the coalition, and heightened already existing power imbalances. The important role that the UN Women's Conferences and the parallel NGO Forums have had in nurturing a world-wide women's movement combine with the historic commitment that many women's organizations have had to consensus processes to make Snyder's research relevant and useful for the women's movement.

Snyder's paper describes the added difficulties consensus decision makers face when attempting it between organizations, in a coalition setting, rather than within a single movement organization. Martin Hebert's richly textured ethno­graphic research extends this approach, examining consensus decision making efforts across indigenous community movements in Mexico . Hebert's field research on the little-studied but politically important indigenous rights move­ments in the state of Guerrero establishes their relative success in using consensus processes for making decisions within a community. But increased globalization and critical connections across communities have substantively changed the context within which traditional indigenous (Tlapanecs) forms of consensus decision making are practiced. The attempt to transfer these consensus processes to a regional level – making decisions by consensus across commu­nities – was fraught with danger. In fact, as the emergent movement struggled with collective identity issues (regional vs. communal), the economic and political viability of the movement was at stake. Hebert argues that the intervention of the Catholic church in the regional mobilization process was a key variable in the movement's ability to function consensually and democratically, thereby contributing to the survival and eventual growth of the indigenous move­ment. But Hebert's thoughtful analysis also shows that the shifting between intra- and intercommunity decision making had less to do with making procedural or resource adjustments, and more to do with the symbolic redefinition of the meaning and make up of community identity. In that sense, his paper is also a useful addition to the literatures on both resource mobilization and political process theory.

Peace Brigades International (PBI) is a transnational human rights organiza­tion whose small teams of unarmed observers provide international non-violent accompaniment to local activists and organizers whose lives and liberties are under threat from state and para-state forces. Peace Brigades International is committed to decentralized, transnational structures and to consensus decision making. But applying consensus principles in an international observer team context is far from easy, and the risks are considerable for the participants. Based on ethnographic research of the larger organization and on two PBI teams in Sri Lanka that I joined and studied, my paper shows that certain consensus principles become especially salient when consensus decision making is used in the dangerous environments within which Peace Brigades International and other human rights NGOs often operate. Through analysis of the daily life of the PBI teams I served on, I show that the consensus principles of individal ownership of group decisions, the full participation of all members, a] exploring the emotional as well as the intellectual content of members' conti- butions to decision making become particularly important to team member even though the teams and the organization's track record in honoring the; principles is decidedly mixed. Extended analysis of an intense team conflict, over identity definitions and the role of risk-taking in life-threatening situations shows that the team's skilled and judicious use of consensus principles contributed much to participant's satisfaction with the resolution of the conflict The relatively small size of the PBI team and the amount of time available for decision making are also shown to have been important variables in the successful application of consensus processes to resolve this intra-organization conflict.

Andrew Whitworth's paper on decision making in environmental organiza- tions is largely based on interviews and participant observation of two organizations: Earth First!, and Friends of the Earth. Comparativist in approach Whitworth's paper is equally rich theoretically in that the communicative ratio­nality principles and theories of Jurgen Habermas are used in an evaluative way to analyze the decision making practices of the two environmental organiza­tions. Among much else, Whitworth shows that the larger, more formalized, and more hierarchical organization, the British national chapter of Friends of the Earth, is less able to practice the principles of consensus decision making, or the full participation and permeable organizational boundary ideals called for by Habermas' communicative rationality approach. But his analysis also shows that something less than the ideal may still be desirable and is in fact possible if environmental organizations are to manage conflicts constructively, maintain organizational health and growth, and influence policy. Whitworth maintains that this is possible even for those more formalized and highly structured organizations provided they develop organizational boundaries that are more permeable to inter-organization communication.

Social movements have increasingly been incorporating various kinds of on-line activism into the tactical repertories they utilize. As Jennifer Earl and Alan Schusman show in their study of the on-line strategic voting movement that emerged during the 2000 Presidential election, on-line activism has impor­tant consequences for how movements are organized, including how they make decisions. They show, for instance, that traditional movement organizations had little to do with this initiative, and that individual "movement entrepreneurs" were instead largely responsible. The strategic voting movement was essentially built around and facilitated by the websites of these movement entrepreneurs. Earl and Schussman show that this decentralized infrastructure moved decisionmaking away from networks or organizations and their leaders to the on-line movement entrepreneurs who were less constrained by funding concerns, membership recruitment and maintenance, and organization-building. In this way, they argue, leadership decreased in importance even while discretion increased. Other effects of the peculiar circumstances of the strategic voting movement were that decisions were largely based on ideological and technical concerns and relatively free of the organizational-based issues that otherwise impact movement decision making.

Doowon Suh's comparative study of three white collar union movements in South Korea addresses a common dilemma faced by social movement organi­zations attempting to work in larger, more effective networks. That dilemma is directly related to how decisions are reached insofar as organizations need to maintain democratic decision making processes that increase involvement and ownership of collective action decisions by individual members, even while maintaining a level of leadership that facilitates movement coordination, mobilizes collective action, and generates consensus. Suh argues that in feder­ations of hospital unions, "excessive centralization" seriously eroded interunion solidarity and even the support of affiliates by hampering democratic decision making and grassroots interest in collective action. On the other hand, he also suggests that "excessively decentralized" financial unions also deterred interunion solidarity by sapping support for collective action among affiliated unions. In contrast to these two findings, Suh further argues that the "moderate" level of centralization and leadership used in a federation of Korean research unions had the opposite effects: it increased interunion solidarity because it was better able to maintain autonomous grassroots activism and collective activism in coalitions.

Jane Mansbridge, the Adams Professor of Political Leadership and Democratic Values at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and a leading scholar for more than two decades on consensus and participatory models of decision making, concludes this section with an extended analytical commen­tary on the papers on movement decision making. It is a commentary that helps this section avoid the scourge that plagues too much social movement scholarship: irrelevancy to the daily operations of social movement organizing. The title of her commentary, "Consensus in Context: A Guide for Social Movements," accurately distills why her chapter should be required reading for those social movement organizations who want to benefit from social movement scholarship.

Mansbridge's remarks are structured around the fact that consensus has advantages and disadvantages, and that the mix of the two is deeply influenced by the context within which consensus processes are used by social movements.

Based on her interpretations of the research findings presented in the first seven chapters, and on her own path-breaking research on consensus in New England town meetings and on the woman's movement, Mansbridge develops al insightful typology that explains when movement organizations and coalition: can expect the benefits of using genuine consensus to be higher and the cost: lower. "Context is all" in Mansbridge's typology about the relative usefulness of consensus decision making, and in carefully delineating the relevant variables she makes her own substantive contribution to the literature or consensus.

Part Two contains three interconnected papers on Northern Ireland . Until very recently, finding viable solutions to the Troubles in Northern Ireland have vexed residents on all sides, stymied a series of mediators and negotiation teams and eluded both NGO and government-based efforts. A tremendous amount of work has gone into implementing a variety of cross-community initiatives designed to increase contacts and understanding between Protestants and Catholics. Yet a significant body of research in the literatures of conflict resolution and social psychology has established the spotty record of these cross-community efforts and their tendency to accomplish relatively superficial levels of contact and interaction between the communities. Partly in response to these problems, "single tradition" or intra-community programs have become increasingly prominent in recent years. Their goals are many, including paving the way for a more fully pluralistic society, one accepting of differences; and to raise the skills and confidence in various communities so that as they even­tually develop intra-community projects they have a greater chance for success.

With Joanne Hughes' paper included here, we now we have an important comparative evaluation of these newer single identity conflict resolution approaches. Much of what social psychology has taught us about group relations is based on carefully controlled social experiments. But insofar as Joanne Hughes' paper is based on a methodologically sophisticated qualitative study of four actual intra-community projects, it represents a significant advance in the literature. Hughes deftly argues that these projects may harbor a double-edged sword: as they increase skills and community confidence on the one hand, they can easily heighten tensions and nurture narrow differences in ultimately destructive ways. But what is even more useful about Hughes' analysis of these projects is her uncovering of those factors that impede or facilitate a commu­nity's progression to effective contact programs.

Implicit in many inter-community contact programs and also in intra­community programs designed to build civil society skills and understanding is this assumption: that by building civic groups one builds democracy in Northern Ireland . But Shaunna Scott's in-depth study of the Northern Ireland

Women's Festival Day Project suggests that civic society in Northern Ireland is often segmented and strongly stratified along class lines, with many groups being exclusionary in orientation. This case study demonstrates that the Women's Festival Day Project met few of the conditions contact theorists have identified as necessary for reducing prejudice and hostility within and across communities. In fact, Scott's analysis uncovers a silence, what she terms a "collective censorship" of important issues within the Women's Festival Day Project, particularly having to do with religion, class and conflict. Thus, Scott argues that this prominent, government-backed intra-community initiative largely failed to create a space for open discussion and the sharing of conflicting perspectives.

The difficulties inherent in maintaining inter-community contact in Northern Ireland have been somewhat exacerbated by the intensity of the annual parades disputes. But Lee Smithey and Lester Kurtz argue that even within the parades disputes there has been a gradual shift in conflict methods in recent years toward those relying on persuasion and reward and away from those more dependant upon coercion. The authors usefully meld the theoretical work of Louis Kriesberg in constructive conflict transformation and that of Gene Sharp in nonviolent action with the framing literature in social movements to analyze the parading disputes in two Northern Ireland towns in 1999. Based on participant observation and interviews, Smithey and Kurtz argue that collective action events themselves serve as framing processes and mechanisms of discourse. In that way, they also argue, the choice of methods used (persua­sion or avoidance) increases in significance if the activists wish to successfully influence opponents or third parties through the meaning construction the authors claim is inherent in collective action. This is an ambitious and creative paper that not only advances our understanding of the parades disputes, but also investigates connections and overlaps in traditionally disparate scholarly literatures, connections that have been too long ignored and under-theorized.

Part Three includes two papers on issues having to do with Native American communities. However embarrassing it may be to conflict resolution scholars and professionals, until much too recently conflict resolution theory and skills-training that originates in majority communities has been simply "exported" or transferred to minority communities. As the case description of their work with the Native American Program of the Syracuse schools over the Kinzua Dam conflict suggests, Bianca Wulff and Brian Blancke have tried to break with that unfortunate pattern, adopting a more "elicitive" approach to teaching and conflict resolution training. Wulff and Blancke document their creative approach to teaching a specific conflict history as a precursor to engaging in more general conflict resolution skills training. But the most important innovation they make is the introduction of "fully scripted dialogues" to develop conflict resolution skills. Most conflict resolution training includes a heavy dose of role playing. But in developing fully scripted dialogues that teach conflict history and conflict theory even while demonstrating conflict resolution skills, Blancke and Wulff have made a singular contribution to the pedagogy of building skills in conflict analysis and conflict resolution.

The available literature on Native American social movements is tellingly small; the research on Native American women and social movement mobilization is even more so. Timothy Gongaware's study answers two important questions: What is the impact of particular social institutions on the development of individual and collective identity among Native American women? And what effects do their social positions and self-understandings have on social movement collective action frames? Based on a year-long ethnographic study of two Native American social movement organizations in the Plains states, Gongaware argues that the Native American women he studied socially constructed identities focused on nurturing and culture-keeping, and developed organizational repertoires that were critically important in movement framing processes and collective actions.  

Introduction (P.G. Coy).
Conflicts and Consensus Decision Making in Social Movements.
Claims-making and consensus in collective group processes (L. Woehrle). Critiquing consensus: an analysis of processes designed for non-governmental collaboration (A. Snyder). Communal interest and political decision-making in an emerging Mexican indigenous movement (M. Hébert). Negotiating identity and danger under the gun: consensus decision making on peace brigades international teams (P.G. Coy). Communicative rationality and decision making in environmental organizations (A. Whitworth). The new site of activism: on-line organizations, movement entrepreneurs, and the changing location of social movement decision-making (J. Earl, A. Schussman). Social movement organization and network formation (Doowon Suh). Consensus in context: a guide for social movements (J. Mansbridge).
The Troubles and Conflict Resolution in Northern Ireland .
Resolving community relations problems in Northern Ireland : an intra-community approach (J. Hughes). The silent construction of class, religion and conflict through organizational procedures and civic practices: a case study of the Northern Ireland Women's Festival Day Project (S.L. Scott). Parading persuasion: nonviolent collective action as discourse in Northern Ireland (L. Smithey, L.R. Kurtz).
Identity and Conflict Resolution in Native American Communities.
Remember Kinzua! The development of a history and conflict resolution curriculum for the Syracuse school district (B. Wulff, B. Blancke). Nurturers and keepers of culture: the influence of Native American women on the development of collective action frames (T.B. Gongaware).

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