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Conflict Treatment in Intercultural Contexts

for Youth Welfare Service and Schools

Summary of the Research Project

The practice-related research project “Konfliktbearbeitung in interkulturellen Kontexten in Jugendhilfe und Schule“ (Conflict Treatment in Intercultural Contexts for Youth Welfare Service and Schools) commissioned by the Bundesministerium für Familie, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend (Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth), scheduled for three years, has been put into practice since November 2005 in cooperation of three social science institutes: Camino – Werkstatt für Fortbildung, Praxisbegleitung und Forschung gGmbH in Berlin –, Institut für Sozialpädagogische Forschung Mainz e.V. (ism) and Institut des Rauhen Hauses für Soziale Praxis gGmbH (isp) in Hamburg. The isp has assumed coordination of the whole research project.

Initial Situation

The question, to which extent adolescents with migration background are being taken into consideration, or rather their cultural and socio-economic parameters, is increasingly becoming an issue in the debate on youth violence and implementing non-violent models of conflict solution in youth aid institutions and schools. These debates refer on one hand to youths with Turkish or Arabian migrational background, and on the other one, to youths from resettler families. Within this context socio-economic and social sphere-related aspects are to be considered in addition to migration and socialization induced as well as culture and milieu specific factors.

Of particular significance are the high youth unemployment rate and the subsequent lack of perspective, social acknowledgment and participation. Plus the deficiencies of an educational system that so far proves incapable to support students sufficiently regardless of their social and ethnic heritage. These adolescents have considerably smaller chances on the job market owing to inferior educational achievements and lesser training participation. Selective migratory processes evident in many cities, subsequently leading to the impoverishment of neighbourhoods marked by a high proportion of non-German population, remain an important factor here.

Youths react rather differently to the insecurity resulting from experiences as such. Seclusion and resorting to traditional values, an increased inclination towards fundamentalistic positions, but also aggression as well as violent and dominant behaviour can be understood as reactions to marginalization and discrimination. The worse living conditions are getting, the more probable recurrence to traditional values becomes. Surely only part of these youths tends to conspicuous and violent behaviour. Yet an increasing stigmatization can be observed, individual action is more and more interpreted as characteristic of a social or ethnic group. That leads to attributions, making it difficult to embark upon constructive paths of conflict solution (1).

Conflicts with the participation of youths with migration background occur in many places. Here controversies in the public domain play a particular part. But likewise in institutions, where adolescents hang out, an increasingly awkward handling of conflicts can be observed. Especially in institutions subjected to rigid regulations (e.g. schools) escalations take place as well as reactions marked by helplessness and subsequently lead to the marginalization of the ”difficult” youths. Likewise in the area of youth work, which offers more open options, staffs often feels overstrained in arguments with youths with migratory heritage.

Pedagogues, working with these youth, are confronted with that situation, no matter if they’re social workers and teachers. They experience that discriminational structures are reflected in the institutions, causing constellations with disparate power distribution. They’ve got to face conflicts both, involving German and non-German youths as well as conflicts involving youths from different ethnic groups – the latter ones often being caused by cultural backgrounds the local staff is ignorant of. Other conflicts, ostensibly regarded as “disciplinary problems”, stem from the deficient integration of the youths into the institutions, which are naturally especially challenged in such cases. It should be noted here, that boys and girls often show different conflict behaviour in spite of the same cultural and socio-economic background. Many pedagogues are only insufficiently prepared for these increasingly occurring problems in association with adolescents with migrational background. Language barriers, insecurities in association with violent and dominant behaviour of many male and some female adolescents as well as only rudimentary knowledge about ethnic, social and religious background contribute significantly to this.

Though practical experiences regarding conflict treatment in intercultural contexts have been made after all, they are not generally available for the expert public. This refers to national and international projects working on intercultural conflict treatment. Exchange of experiences hardly ever takes place, owing to the fact that the subject is often politically implicated, offering room for prejudices, ascriptions or belittlement.

Objectives of the Research Project

The project "Conflict Treatment in Intercultural Contexts" aims to evaluate available concepts and experience models in cooperation with expert practicians and researchers and based on that, develop future models, like treating intercultural and interethnic conflicts in different areas of youth welfare service and especially at the interface school as well as within the scope of full-time schools. It’s a fact that changed worlds and perspectives of youths demand innovations. Yet new areas of action/problems not always require new approaches, instead proved concepts modified to the needs of the new situation can be advanced and recombined.

The following details outline the objectives pursued by implementing the research project:

  • Recovering an overview on projects, cocepts and know-how in conflict treatment in intercultural projects in Germany and European countires;
  • Differentiated description and evaluation of selected examples in the sense of "good practice" (2);
  • Development of future models to treat conflicts in intercultural contexts for youth aid and school;
  • Consultation and guidance of the implementation (process) of said models in interested institutions;
  • Evaluation of the implementation process;
  • Development of quality standards for intercultural conflict treatment in youth aid and school;
  • Reflection of the events into practice by means of symposia, workshops and Internet platform.

Methodical Procedure

First Research Period
Research, Recovering an Overview and Evaluation of available Concepts
  • State of conflic treatment and mediation in intercultural concepts in Germany: internet and literature research.
  • Online survey on practice of conflict management in intercultural contexts and importance of intercultural competence as key qualification in institutions of youth aid and schools.
  • Expert interviews with key figures from youth aid, school, migration organisations and others to obtain more profound information regarding the research subject.
  • Research in European countries . Objective is to elaborate “good practice” models serving “mutual learning” concerning concepts, actors, implementation, success/effect. Likewise their transferability regarding general and implementation regulations will be examined. The most significant countries to be examined within (the scope of) this research section are Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, Sweden and/or Denmark.
  • Internet platform : Already during the first research period an Internet platform will be established. Apart from online questionnaires it will offer information regarding the research project and related subjects.
Second Research Period
Development of future models in close cooperation with practicians
  • Conception, organisation design, documentation and evaluation of at least four Future Workshops of several days for staff from youth aid and school, with special attention to the interface youth aid/school.
  • Summarization of the results so far and development of future models, or rather concepts of conflict treatment in intercultural contexts, the number of which depending on the results established.
Third Research Period

Guidance and Evaluation of the implementation process of mutually developed future models/future concepts

  • In this context “future model” or “future concept” doesn’t mean projects starting from scratch, but rather partial projects or complements to available options that are resource-oriented in design and "attached" to existing structures, thus allowing an implementation with moderate financial means.
  • Evaluation of the implementation process , including the methodical approach of self-evaluation. Criteria for measuring the individual implementation process: achievement of self-defined objectives, suitability and effectiveness of action strategies employed by the individual projects and project association coordination, plus use of local resources.
Fourth Research Period
Intensive transfer of results

During the whole research project a continuous transfer of results will take place, accomplished with several forms of presentation and communication, including classical forms like conferences and workshops, but resorting as well to the use of modern media. During this period the final report will be prepared as well.

A period of altogether three years (November 2005 – October 2007) is scheduled for the implementation of the research project.

(1) Compare for instance the study of Sabine Behn/Heinz J. de Vries, Jugendgewalt und ethnische Zuordnungen in einem Berliner Innenstadtviertel, Berlin 2002.

(2) Within the research context in German and other European countries, special attention shall be given to projects that are described there as successful, creative and exemplary. From the pool of these projects practice models will selected in compliance with a to be elaborated assessment raster that fulfil the denomination “good practice” from the evaluators’ perspective.

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