An exploration of conflict handling among Quakers
The Quaker community is committed to conflict resolution; it might be expected that the community itself is conflict free. This study explores this proposition and presents a counter narrative: conflict does exist among Quakers, with its roots in the culture of the organization. An ethnographic case study was undertaken in a context of observing participation, where the researcher was also actively responsible inside the organization. The project included: 39 semi-structured interviews with Key Informants, Grassroots Quakers and Edge Quakers; a collaborative inquiry workshop with 20 self-selected participants; recording of reflections over six months with a final workshop. The study finds a dominant community narrative telling how the Quaker task is to 'mend the world' and live in a'peaceable kingdom'. This is achieved by ignoring conflict within the organization, defensively following the maxim 'don't ask, don't tell, don't even think about it'. A distinctive pattern of conflict handling is revealed; aversion precedes avoidance, relationship is privileged above outcome, and moderation and restraint are required. Conflict which does surface and persists focuses on the interpretation of Quaker identity. The culture of aversion from conflict makes it difficult for Quakers to articulate conflict experience; they lack confidence and are hesitant. Counter narratives and personal narratives are not made public. Consequently there are very few collectively articulated stories about Quaker conflict handling. A constructivist narrative framework acknowledges the power in the internalised collective narrative. As proud individual nonconformists, Quakers minimise the coercive power of the collective narrative, which positions them as stultified in conflict, with their agency neutralized. It is argued that one way of creating radical change is to encourage the telling of more stories of Quaker conflict, providing new parts in the play.