Reconciling Societal Divisions and Memories Lab

The Reconciling Societal Divisions and Memories (RSDM) lab works to empower conflict resolution and reconciliation practitioners with evidence-based tools and approaches for reconciling societal divisions.

Graphic showing Societal Divisions with 2 circular arrows between "Interpretations of the past" and "Dynamics of identity based conflicts
 
 
Societies around the world are suffering from the devastating consequences of intergroup divisions and polarization, including reduced social cohesion, dysfunctional politics and governance, and violence.
Center bubble reads "Reconciliaton Theories of Change" Overlapping circles surrounding the center read "Social Norms," Mutiplicity of Collective Memories," "Difficult Heritage," "Social Boundary," and "Threat Perception
 
Societal divisions are often fueled by divergent narratives and collective memories about the past that different groups see as central to their identities. These contested interpretations about the past often entrench intergroup boundaries, foster fear and perceptions of threat between groups, and can promote norms of antagonism, discrimination, and violence. 
Four puzzle pieces fitting together
 
To help bridge societal divisions and support progress toward reconciliation, the RSDM lab draws on cutting edge theory and evidence to develop tools for addressing the dynamics of identity-based conflicts and contested interpretations of the past.

On Reconciliation

The RSDM lab defines reconciliation as a transformative process that involves improvements in relationships between conflicting groups and changes to the social identities of each group, including their values, norms, and behaviors, to promote a peaceful and just society.
 
More specifically, we see reconciliation as the transformation of conflicting intergroup relations to reduce violence and promote peaceful, equal, and constructive interactions. Reconciliation requires intragroup changes on all sides of the conflict, including to values, norms, and attitudes about engagement with outgroups and to unconstructive, hostile, or violent ideologies rooted in radicalized narratives about the past. It also requires changes in intergroup relations, including the alteration or removal of social boundaries, reduction in perceptions of outgroup threat, and shifts in the intergroup axiological balance and collective generality. This process may involve various types of activities and mechanisms, such as trust building, forgiveness, trauma healing, restoration of justice, and cooperation.

RSDM Lab Hypothesis of Change

3 level chart with Goals at the top, objectives next, and 3 Outcomes at the bottom

RSDM Lab Agenda

The RSDM lab seeks to advance evidence-based practice primarily in the five thematic areas identified in the image below. The questions outlined in this agenda provide a basis for the development of theories of change and other resources for reconciliation practitioners.

Chart of lab guiding agenda for Social Boundary, Threat Perception, Social Norms, Multiplicity of Collective Memories, and Difficult Heritage

On Theories of Change

Theories of change provide a useful tool for operationalizing scholarly theory in practice. Too often, however, theories of change in conflict resolution and reconciliation consist of simple “if-then” statements that are not rooted in theory or evidence and do not adequately account for contextual assumptions and risks. The RSDM lab seeks to fill this gap by developing narrative theories of change, rooted in rigorous scholarship and evidence, that provide a basis for the design of innovative and effective approaches for reconciling societal divisions and contested histories.

Products

The lab produces practical tools, including theories of change and illustrative project hypotheses and interventions, for reconciling societal divisions, addressing antagonistic modes of remembering and dealing with contested historical narratives. New products developed through the lab will be posted on this page.

Events

The RSDM lab participants convene on a regular basis for working sessions to brainstorm innovative approaches to reconciliation and develop tools for practitioners. The lab also hosts public events with expert practitioners working on reconciliation. Information about public events will be posted on this page.

Participating Students and Faculty

George Mason University Students

Ashagrie Abdi 
Natia Chankvetadze 
Melissa Delury 
Toni Farris 
Beltina Gjeloshi 
Naomi Kraenbring 
Engy Said 
Malkhaz Saldadze 
Mike Sweigart 

George Mason University Faculty

Dr. Steven Barnes
Dr. Charles Chavis
Dr. Marc Gopin
Dr. Mark Helmsing
Dr. Karina Korostelina
Dr. Alison Landsberg
Antti Pentikainen
Dr. Daniel Rothbart
Dr. Mara Schoeny
Dr. Peter Stearns
Dr. Mills Kelly

Other Faculty

Dr. Tamra d’Estree, University of Denver
Dr. Hope Harrison, George Washington University
Dr. Christine R Henry, Mary Washington University
Dr. Maria Repoussé, Greece.
Dr. Daqing Yang, George Washington University

Collaboration

The RSDM collaborates with centers and labs at the Carter School and externally that have expertise on reconciliation. Partners include:

Contact

Have questions about the RSDM lab, or interested in engaging with us? Please contact, Mike Sweigart, RSDM Lab Manager, at or Karina Korostelina, RSDM Lab Director.

Image Credit: The puzzle piece graphic shown on this page is from Teamwork Vectors by Vecteezy.