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Rethinking conflict in cities

Nigel Roberts's picture
     CinC's working assumption is that conflict in cities cannot be completely eradicated.

Recently I visited Cambridge, England, for an Advisory Council Meeting of the Conflict in Cities and the Contested State (CinC) Program.  They are looking at everyday life and possibilities for transformation in cities around the world affected by violence. Working on the WDR 2011, I found their approach very interesting and helpful.

I asked Professor Mick Dumper, one of the program’s Co-Investigators, to write a short note for us on the team’s work:

"Jerusalem, Belfast, Nicosia and Mostarall very different cities with different histories and problems but also all cities that are riven with religious, ethnic and national conflicts.  How does one both recognise their differences but also seek to draw out some underlying common patterns in the urban nature of their conflict?  And what priorities can be identified that will help policy-makers, donors, politicians and community activists formulate pre-emptive or responsive actions to help ameliorate the suffering and distress experienced by their residents?  Attempting to answer these questions is one of the tasks of a five-year British research program entitled ‘Conflict in Cities and the Contested State’.

The project is confined to divided cities in Europe and the Middle East and in particular, to Belfast (Northern Ireland) and Jerusalem, where we have two multidisciplinary teams of researchers and research partners. We also have researchers in Berlin (where we are interested in the legacy of division), Brussels (which is being held together through various consociational devices), Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina (where the role of EU and UN intervention is critical), Nicosia, Cyprus (the iconic divided city but with some shared infrastructure), Beirut, Lebanon (a city with a history of violent divisions and possibly on the cusp of re-division), Tripoli, Lebanon (where a refugee camp-city divide is dominant) and Kirkuk, Iraq (which is possibly unravelling into Kurdish, Arab and Turcoman areas as you read this).

The working assumption is that conflict in cities cannot be completely eradicated.  We argue, however, that cities can achieve an equilibrium in which competing interests can be balanced out and managed. The examination of the relationship between the contested states and urban conflict is producing a number of critical observations.  For example, one of the findings is that while cities can be residentially divided, the same space is used by different ethnic groups at different times and this can take place without conflict. Also, hard divisions such as walls and fences may bring short-term security for a particular segment of the city’s population, but they also produce new unstable frontier areas, population change and the emergence of uncontrolled enclaves.”

You can find our more about this important initiative on the CinC website, at


Submitted by humay on
Many thanks for posting this, Nigel. It sounds very exciting and I think apart from some hard core policy advice on striking the eternelly elusive balance in the cities, the research findings could be used to create an insanely beautiful documentary visually, given the rich and diverse cultural luggage of these places.

Submitted by Shakwat Hossain on
I'd like to thanks Nigel Roberts for his report for Modern Violence - .....Conflict , security and development . The policymaker of intenational lanscape of global leader should undustand the importen high risks of violence and reduse conflict of personal intarest and social justice system. Shakwat. Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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