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How can environmental pshychology impact upon conflict resolution?

A micro focus expanded to a macro approach



Temple of Bel at Palmyra, Syria, 2016, (a culturally significant building destroyed by ISIS).

When we think of conflict, we very rarely consider the environment. This feature of everyday existence impacts upon the causes and ultimate reconciliation of strife. For many, conflict is an act between either two people or two or more groups of people over a pre-caused disagreement. Conflict itself is something that occurs naturally and is not a topic that is overly analsysed. However, this is a misleading assumption. Conflict can occur in multiple arenas and, in some cases, because of the environment itself. This environment can take the shape of room design, city architecture and even the notion of cultural genocide during times of persecution for a minority group. How then can we disucss this in relation to conflict mediation and peace resolution?


Firstly, to offer an overview of the question we need to outline what conflcit really is and what are some of the major casues. A quick google search would define conflict as “a serious disagreement or argument, typically a protracted one.” Whilst this is of course a simplistic analysis of what conflict can encompass, for the point of this article, what conflict is defined as is less important than what can cause it.


The most common causes of conflict have been outlined as:

  • Differences in opinion, on both small issues, such as what to have for dinner, to key issues, such as what land belogs to who or who has control of a state’s government.

  • Variance in understanding, in how, for example, how two groups percieve their actions and how this can lead to strife.

  • Traditional or historical disagreements.

This article’s argument is that practices of Environmental Psychology that have been disucssed in relation to micro level conflicts, in settings such as the workplace and at home, can be extrapalated up on the macro level, and be used to design forms of conflict mediation for large scale issues. With issues in the workplace the most apparent example, where factors such as noise, privacy and crowding can lead to varying degrees of conlflict, individuals and thinktanks should begin to acknowledge that various environments elicite different outcomes. Moreover, in terms of applying micro level solutions, the impetus that must be placed upon architects and city planners to design societal spaces that minimise the likelihood of conflict is paramount. Moving into an age of mega-cities across the globe, the ways in which design must minimise conflict is essential to both societal harmony, but also economic and finacial efficiency.


On the micro level:

In terms of understanding what environmental factors contribute to conflict on the individual/micro level, it is key to first consider what environments these may be. The two this article will consider is that of the home and at work.


Open plan office spaces that offer correct light, ability to work independently and have private areas are important to implement. Indeed, the lack of privacy was an essential feature of how conlfict can be seen as gendered within the workplace but also at home. Likewise, the impact of noise is a key feature, espically in the home, where with the impact of Covid-19, many spaces have now become occupied with non-traditional features, such as makeshift desks and living room schools.


These issues above undoubtedly cause conflict, however, by understanding and subsequently creating environments in which the conflict can be minimised, enviromnetal design can be implemented effecitvely. Indeed, with the majoirty of conflicts in the home due to excess noise, some researchers argue that the neccessity of a quiet and peaceful environment is essential in any form of conflict mediation. As noted by Ateve Albrecht, most domestic disputes are caused by noise calls a more environemtally concious zoine would help ‘establish the immeidtae peace’ and minimise ‘sound (as) a personal space invader’. Moroever, certin architects now consider the role conflict may cause in the initial design of a space.


On the macro level:

As such, when applying this outward to the macro level, two disticnt features must be considered. How can we create environements that minimise conflict reccurence, specifically between two states or communities? To this end, establishing proper remeberance of the conflict and operating through a truth commision is an established practice. However, some of these take place in the court room, whereas an open plan and visually psoitive space may allow for a better dialouge. For those individuals that may also feel comprimsied due to a perhaps complex standing legally, such as former child soldiers or those indoctrinated into commiting acts of violence, this setting would open up a dialouge far better than Furthermore, a key apsect of how conflict can be centered around the environment is the specific targeting of cultural landmarks and spots of beauty that are part of one groups culture. As noted prior to, this is a form of genocide, whereby destroying ones culture and the environment in which the community lives is a form of dstroying a people. As such any form means of mediating conflict settings must be done with the acknowledgement that this type of action must be outlawed.


A Transportation Border-Zone, Jerusalem | Final project in the department of Architecture and Town Planning, Technion, Haifa, Israel, (2003-4).

A way in which both these issues has been addressed is the work of Saya, an organisation founded upon the idea of resolution planning. Based upon the idea that two architects hadin regard to having a space in which conflict resolution can take place, the environment itself actss as the buffer and mediator. Their idea was centered upon the conflict within Israel and Palestine, however, it could easily be adapted for any state that is or has partaken in some form of transitional justice mechanisms. Lets use the example of Kashmir, could an enviromentally appealing space be used to mediate the conflict between India and Pakistan in the region. Whilst this might seem somewhat idealistic in terms of attempting to placitate an issue that emerged during partition, I believe that attempting to create a peaceful setting could help contribute to an ultimate reconcilitation for the two parties. In addition to this, moving past the point of conflict, having an area that may be seen as an environment that ensured peace may be massively helpful to curbing conflict from future generations. These examples, and the design below, would specifically help issues around border transfer and conflict that arises as a result.


Toppling of the Edward Colston statue at BLM protest in Bristol, (2020).

Furthermore, a key debate the recently emerged was the idea of removing statues that caused offence to people due to now considered horrible acts commited by the person who is being honoured. An example of this was the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol that was torn down during a Black Lives Matter protest this summer. As that statue honoured a man that had knowingly been complicit in the Transatlantic slave trade, his statue caused great conflict amongst both certain minority groups in the city, but also those that believed honouring him was an injustice to those who faced the horror and tragedy of enslavment. This is a newly contested debate within this topic, how the environment that has been created by society historically can cause conflict with how we live today. I personally believe that the design of a city must consider how memorialisation impacts ethnic or cultural minorities in a negative setting, which may in turn lead to an increased likelyhood of strife or conlfict with authority figures.


Building upon this idea. conflict within city or state design is likely to occur if there is a sense of intentional separation of people. If a wall or a border is established through design to ensure that a state’s border or a city is under control, this is likely to lead to dangerous outcomes due to the impacted believing a foundation of their human rights is being removed. For this article two clear examples come to mind, both within and outside of a state’s borders. The first would be that of the wall surrounding the Gaza Strip within the borders of Israel, a clear architectural design to separate peoples. Not only has this led to a protracted conflict but also visibly shows the issues. In order to establish clear and universally recognised mediation, surely any form of confinement must be destroyed?


Likewise, the idea of a border wall, such as the one that was established along the Southern border with the United States and Mexico is another clear example of how an overt architectural design can be used to incite conflict between groups of people. Indeed, the environment itself could also be used as a political motive, with the notion of a wall itself, a clear environmental separation, a key political point during the 2016 US election campaign.


Ultimately, the research conducted, and the ideas presented in this article could be used in lots of differing avenues. When attempting to comprehend what has happened to conflict affected peoples, ways in which people feel as if they are being negatively imapcted upon in the workplace can be applied to larger and more damming settings. Moreover, the environment itself plays a key role in the shaping of macro level conflicts, with issues such as separation and cultural genocide important contributing factors. In order to combat these issues, it is vital that they are firstly considered, as to not undermines the complexity of the world we live.


Some tips?

Micro Level:

  • Ensure the above-mentioned criteria are met in the workplace and in the home.

  • Have a healthy dialogue and ensure than noise is minimised in all settings.


Macro Level:

  • Ensure no member of society is alienated due to a designed space.

  • In times of conflict, it is vital that culturally significant landmarks are protected.

  • In times of reconciliation, any experimental idea should be discussed and applied as long as it supports the vulnerable.


References:


Images Sourced from:


Cascone, Sarah. ‘Nearly Destroyed by ISIS, the Ancient City of Palmyra Will Reopen in 2019 After Extensive Renovations’, artnet news, (2018), https://news.artnet.com/art-world/syria-isis-palmyra-restoration-1338257, {Last Accessed 28/11/2020}.


Mills, Jen. ‘Edward Colston statue will be fished out of harbour and moved into a museum’, The Metro, (2020), https://metro.co.uk/2020/06/10/edward-colston-statue-will-fished-harbour-moved-museum-12832897/, {Last Accessed 28/11/2020}.


Saya, ‘A Transportation Border-Zone, Diploma Project’, Saya, (2004), http://www.sayarch.com/a-transportation-border-zone-jerusalem-diploma-project-2004/668/, {Last Accessed 28/11/2020}.


Sources:


Albrecht, Steve. ‘The Noise Factor in Workplace Conflict’, Psychology Today, (2014), https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-act-violence/201405/the-noise-factor-in-workplace-conflict, {Last Accessed 28/11/2020}.


de San José, Cecilia Amador. ‘HOW TO USE ENVIRONMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY TO IMPROVE WORKPLACE DESIGN’, AllWork, https://allwork.space/2018/07/how-to-use-environmental-psychology-to-improve-workplace-design/, {Last Accessed 28/11/2020}.


Hammer, T. H., Saksvik, P. Ø., Nytrø, K., Torvatn, H., & Bayazit, M. ‘Expanding the Psychosocial Work Environment: Workplace Norms and Work-Family Conflict as Correlates of Stress and Health’, Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 9 (1), 83–97.


Hudson. Mark, ‘Throwing Edward Colston’s statue in the Avon was the cultural event of the year’, The Independent, (2020), https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/edward-colston-statue-river-avon-blm-black-lives-matter-b1721680.html, {Last Accessed 28/11/2020}.


Mata, Macarena. ‘Workplace conflict: Is the workplace itself part of the problem?’, HR Zone, (2016), https://www.consensiopartners.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Workplace-conflict_-Is-the-workplace-itself-part-of-the-problem-HRZone-27.04.2016.pdf, {Last Accessed 28/11/2020}.


Oseland, Nigel. An environmental psychology perspective on workplace design, (Insight, 2017), https://workplaceinsight.net/an-environmental-psychologists-perspective-on-workplace-design/, {Last Accessed 28/11/2020}.


Saya. ‘Who We Are’, http://www.sayarch.com/about/, {Last Accessed 28/11/2020}.

Thompson, Scott. ‘What Is Environmental Conflict in the Workplace?’, (Chron), https://smallbusiness.chron.com/environmental-conflict-work-place-62230.html, {Last Accessed 28/11/2020}.


Shields, Anna. ‘‘Remote conflict’: What happens when teams work from home?’, Personnel Today, https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/remote-conflict-teams-work-from-home-wfh/, Last Accessed 28/11/2020}.

 

Angus Tait is a Research Associate at Perrett Laver, MA Conflict, Security and Development and former intern in Tianmei's World Academy. This article was written during the author's internship with Tianmei's World Academy in 2020. Author LinkedIn Profile: (1) Angus Tait | LinkedIn


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