Identity, Ethnicity, and Conflict Management. Member Spotlight: Charity Butcher

“Approaches to how to deal with conflict vary across different cultures, and is a very interesting issue. I think it is important to consider that when interacting with people, not everybody has the same viewpoint and worldview, even if you are from the same culture. Cultural dimensions can add even more to that.”

Big dreams and ambitious plans

Charity Butcher is the Interim Director of the School of Conflict Management, Peacebuilding, and Development and a Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at Kennesaw State University. She conducts research on conflict, peace, ethnicity, religion, terrorism, NGOs, and human rights. With a Ph.D. in Political Science, her main areas of interest are international affairs, comparative politics, and conflict, with a specialization on ethnicity, religion, and various other types of social identities. Recently she has been appointed as the editor in Chief of the Journal of Political Science Education.

Charity grew up in a very small town in the US. At the university that she went to, the classes were very small. Students had a lot of really intense and strong interaction with the faculty and could create a good relationship with them. “I really loved that” she recalls “and I loved how caring the faculty was for students, wanting to help them succeed. That made me want to be a professor”. However, the path to realizing this dream and getting a Ph.D. turned out to be a long uphill climb. Charity worked abroad in the UK for one semester, working for a financial magazine, and after coming back to the US taught as a substitute teacher in various grades, from kindergarten through high school. In this role, she realized that the older the kids were, the more satisfying the job seemed to be and that provided even more motivation for her to teach in college. After a year of working as a lobbyist in the Kentucky State Government, she decided to pursue doctoral studies at Indiana University. “I was convinced I would enjoy being a professor, so I went to Graduate School and got my Ph.D. And I do believe it was the right decision, although I have expanded since then, doing other things in addition to being a professor” Charity says.

Researcher and mediator

While pursuing a career as a professor, Charity is involved in a lot of active learning, and as time went, she was increasingly interested in pursing both an academic and practitioner approach. When she took the position of Interim Director of the School of Conflict Management, Peacebuilding and Development, one of the things she decided to do was mediation training. That’s how Charity became a registered mediator in the state of Georgia. Now she is involved in activities of the Center for Conflict Management providing training and other services for the university and community. Finally, Charity became a member of Mediators Beyond Borders International – as she says it combines the two worlds: the more practice-oriented side she became increasingly interested in, and the international theoretical side that she was involved in for a long time. Involvement with the international community of mediators also allows Charity to provide useful opportunities for students and faculty.

When it comes to research, Charity looks at the causes of conflict, particularly the role of ethnicity and religion in not just internal conflicts, but also the role of ethnicity within conflict between states. As a director Charity is in the unique position where she can see how the theoretical and practical elements of mediation and conflict management theory can be applied to this specific space. The results of her research work can be seen not only in numerous pieces of training provided by the university but also recently published book: Understanding International Conflict Management.

Seeking cultural diversity

Charity also mentions the role of cultural diversity in her life, or maybe an initial lack of it. “I’m from a small town,” she says “maybe because I had experienced so little diversity in my life, over time I became interested in that course of study. I just gravitated toward that”. She also noticed that while studying international relations there was a lot about states and entities interacting in the international system, but there was not a lot of discussion about how ethnicity and religion played a role. We can see intuitively that there are a lot of instances where we have spillover of conflict or where identities in one country are similar in another country, conflict in one place creates similar conflict or tensions in another. And we see instances where leaders of countries manipulate ethnic identities for their benefit. Charity was interested in exploring rivalry, and territorial disputes as one of the big reasons why countries start wars with each other. It seemed that inside these territorial disputes and rivalries, there was often an ethnic or religious dimension. Charity is interested in how and when those factors might be utilized by leaders in certain ways or how these identities may impact the decision of a state to aid another. What is the process? How much initiative comes from the bottom, from people, and how much from leaders on the top? What is the relationship here and how do we see these types of ethnic connections across borders?

Speaking more about cultural differences, Charity says that in terms of customs, and religious practices it is crucial to be aware that those may be different from our own experiences. Even if we think about work culture – how many hours a week we work, or whether work outside of our normal work schedule, on the weekends, or at night, that could have cultural dimensions. Moreover, generations have different cultures and even in broader cultures, there are subcultures that perceive things differently. Ignoring cultural elements and norms could potentially be one of the reasons that we have conflict. Sometimes it may just be a lack of communication or a lack of paying attention.

Motivated by achievements

“Sometimes I think what would it be like to have just a 9-5 job where you finish work and that’s it, you’re done until the next day,” Charity says. Figuring out how to maintain mental health and good relationships outside of work, with family and others can be challenging. She worked hard to maintain balance and is currently acting as a mentor to help others who need guidance. In 2021 Charity was also awarded the American Political Science Association’s Distinguished Teaching Award – the top teaching award in the discipline of political science. “That was exciting, as a recognition of all the hard work that I put into teaching,” she says. Motivated by the recognition, Charity always looks at what helps students to learn, and how to implement active learning techniques. She uses a lot of simulations in her classes, and a lot of writing is applied, where students have to think about ideas and how to apply the knowledge they gained in class to the real world. “I’ve been excited to become a mediator and be able to do some pro bono mediations, both for KSU and also for some other community partners that we have in Georgia. And looking at opportunities for us to grow and help the community in new ways is exciting” Charity summarizes, excited for new opportunities that will come in the future.

Article by Maciej Witek, MBBI Writer