Eastern AfricaKenya

Research Theory and Culture

By June 27, 2011 June 27th, 2024 No Comments

By: Prof. W.K. Omoka, Shalom-SCCRR Director of Research,

A core concern of Shalom Center for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation (SCCRR) is research on violent conflict in northwest/north and northeastern Kenya – an area inhabited by pastoralist ethnic communities. SCCRR’s research will not be the first one, but it is designed to differ from past research in that its focus is explanation of interethnic violent conflict rather than description of the conflict. What has been said/written about this conflict is extensively descriptive and, as such, not of much help in terms of significantly contributing to the promotion of peaceful coexistence between neighbouring ethnic groups in Northwestern Kenya. The central question of SCCRR’s research is constituted not by the dynamics of the conflict but the factors of it. The underlying assumption of SCCRR’s research is that what is known about causes of interethnic violent conflict in these areas of Kenya is not enough to inform praxis (= social action programme) where end in view is to contribute to development (=healthy diets, medical care, sanitary environment, education, employment, long life expectancy).

A question stemming from the above assumption is: Why is there seemingly interminable interethnic violent conflict in these areas of Kenya? The answer to this question is certainly not simple in that it has to benefit from theory, logic, and empirical observation. Productive (i.e., good) observation needs to be grounded in theory. There are many theories of human behavior including aggression. But regardless of the difference it stands to reason that all social theories – theorizing of conflict included – share two characteristics:

  • How is social order possible?
  • What causes behavior?

 There are two contrasting, if not polar opposites, theoretical models of why social order is possible, namely conflict and functionalism. The former attributes social order (e.g. peaceful coexistence between neighbouring ethnic communities) to power disparity. The latter attributes social order (e.g. peaceful coexistence between neighbouring ethnic communities) to commonly held shared values. There are two categories of contrasting theories what causes behavior, namely attitudes and environment. Attitudes do not lend themselves to direct observation because it is “outside” a person. All these theories of social order are variants of either conflict or functionalism. All theories (i.e. causes) of behavior are variants of attitude or environment.

Culture is a source of different variables that are casually linked to the existence of peace or conflict between ethnic communities. In social science, culture is all that in human society that is socially rather than biologically transmitted. In this sense, culture is thus a general term for the symbolic and learned aspects of human society.

This definition of culture is of anthropological origin. It is arguably the most widely used. Be that as it may, this definition of culture is conservative in that it makes culture to be something that uses people. Where people are servants of their culture the chances of occurrence of conflict situations are higher than where people are not servants of their culture. In this vein, it is not implausible to implicate culture in interethnic violent conflict in the Northwest, North and Northeast of Kenya. In the context of this conflict situation, this writer does not accept the above anthropological definition of culture – its wide use notwithstanding.

For this writer, culture is a variety of tactics and their socially agreed upon methods of use. This definition of culture makes it to be something that people use. Thus, culture is a servant of people, an instrument that people use to get what they want or that people use to get what they need. This definition of culture implies minimization of occurrence on incidents of conflict between neighbouring ethnic communities, among others, because it makes culture adaptive.

One of the objectives of SCCRR’s research is to isolate and determine in precise terms the manner and extent of which culture impedes/promotes peaceful coexistence between neighbouring ethnic communities in the Northwest/Northeast of Kenya.

(This perspective by Prof. W.K. Omoka, Director of Research at the Shalom Center for Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation (SCCRR), on Research Theory and Culture was approved for use in the organization’s implementation of research-conflict transformation dynamics leading to peacebuilding and reconciliation in the relevant contexts/locations of its mission in Eastern Africa,

Rev. Fr. Patrick Devine MA, Shalom-SCCRR International Chairman)