Only in the worlds of fiction and fantasy are we ever likely to encounter truly ‘good guys’ and truly ‘bad guys.’ Real life is much more complicated than we can ever hope to imagine. In the world of the real and the everyday there are people who are more or less good and more or less bad, or more or less for or against a particular opinion or ideology; each motivated by a vastly complex cocktail of emotions, memories, attitudes, prejudices, biases, and so forth. With over seven billion people living in the world we can only begin to imagine how mind-bendingly varied are individual people’s and societies thoughts and opinions on particular subjects and events. When it comes to the study of conflicts and their resolutions there are many people – experts and amateurs – who have a part to play in providing accounts, analyses, and offering ideas towards a solution. No one in these processes can ever be thought neutral, and this includes us. Acknowledging our own agendas and motives – at least those of which we are aware – and those of others does not absolve us from the task of understanding conflict and looking for a resolution, it is merely the first step.
First-hand accounts of conflict are inherently valuable, but they invariably come from the point of view of the witness. At times they may be incomplete, mistaken to some extent in their detail, and sometimes they can even be fabrications. News media coverage reporting on the events of a given conflict will be presented through the agenda of the ideological stance of each particular news corporation proving reportage. Academics involved in the analysis are always, and without exception, involved for a reason. Either they are doing research because of a personal interest, and so come to the arena with their own nexus of biases and prejudices, or they have been employed by an interested party in order that they might present the conflict in a light favourable to one of the sides of the conflict. This means that we must take none of our sources at face value, but rather interrogate both the research and the researcher. Another useful approach to our own research is to reflect upon our own reasons for research and our own motives for being involved in the conflict. Ultimately it is impossible to remove ideology and bias from the analysis, but at least our awareness of them will help move us towards a more objective view of what is really happening.