WHAT I’VE BEEN READING: The Neutrality Trap by Bernard S. Mayer, Jacqueline N. Font-Guzmán

This brand new book is another impressive addition to Bernard Mayer’s work, this time in collaboration with a former colleague.

The book considers the intersection between the work we do as conflict intervenors and social activism. It provides a blueprint for how to use conflict intervention as a tool for social change. The authors argue that a position of neutrality favours the status quo, and will not disrupt oppressive systems (whether in international or domestic politics, organisations or families. The authors suggest that escalating conflict is sometimes necessary to promote social change.

The authors explain that much disruption tends to be chaotic, but what is needed, and what conflict specialists can support, is strategic disruption. This can provide something more than short term solutions to enduring problems.

Part 1 explores key concepts and explains the neutrality trap, considers the role of race gender and intersectionality, and promotes constructive engagement in social conflict.

Part 2 provides an overview of the nature of long term conflicts, and working beyond individual conflicts into systemic issues (for more on this see Bernard’s earlier work on Enduring Conflict).

Part 3 considers the differences between systemic and chaotic disruption, nonviolent approaches to change, and the use of alliances, teams, and leadership.

The book includes great examples from a range of contexts, including international, community, workplace.

Includes reflective discussion transcripts between the authors on various topics.

Many challenging questions about our objectivity / neutrality. Great prompts for reflection. Great advice about what can be an alternative to neutrality (including self knowledge, humility, transparency, authenticity, integrity, expertise, respect, courage, commitment to communication, attention to power dynamics, independence.

You can also hear Bernie Mayer discussing the book at his keynote speech for the ADR Research Network forum on youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yOJqXMeao1g

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