Language of Conflict

In many conflicts there is no obvious villain hoping to do evil and such is clearly the case in the conflict between St. George and the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association (APICDA). Both groups sincerely desire for the partnership between the two entities to work. They argue their positions passionately, but seem to make little headway. They make offers, counter-offers, and counter-counter-offers. Despite this, little seems to change and instead of coming to a comfortable understanding, interactions remain strained.

This island can't wait a decade. We need that development in here now and tomorrow to move forward. Interview, St. George resident

In many ways this is a problem related to differences in the discourse each side draws upon. Discourse is related to the way we speak and frame our arguments and can be thought of as “all the little things that make our utterances uniquely our own” (Bernard 2006). These ‘little things’ act as substantial representations of the way we understand the world around us (Bernard 2006).

Unless we can reconfigure that harbor to encourage larger boats to come in... I think the clock is ticking here. Interview, St. George resident, August 1, 2012

As an example, we can look at conflicts between Republicans and Democrats while attempting to balance government budgets. The discourse Republicans use centers on fiscal responsibility. Democratic discourse, in contrast, focuses on social welfare. Conversations between the two groups tend to result in conflict because each group takes for granted that their understanding of the role of government is universally, obviously true. In reality, however, government has many purposes that include both maintaining free markets and caring for citizens. Compromises require the recognition that one goal is not better or more important than the other. For parties designed around the premise that a specific goal is the most important goal, this is a difficult thing to admit.

The board members from APICDA, they told us that they wanted us to get more boats that are slow... But to fish farther, between 10 - 70 or 100 miles offshore, we have got to have the power and speed to come back at the end of the day. Interview, St. George resident, August 23, 2012

In a similar sense, residents of St. George and staff members within APICDA see the goals of community development quotas (CDQ) differently. St. George community members see CDQ as having, first and foremost, a moral obligation to care for the community. APICDA staff members, in contrast, see that as one goal among many other equally important concerns. Neither group is “right” in the sense that there was one, single goal of the CDQ program that everyone universally agreed upon. As with any political decision, various parties had different goals in supporting the program, and these include:

  • the desire to bring more fishing revenue to Alaska (Langdon 2014)
  • to provide opportunities for rural Alaskan villages to participate in Bering Sea fisheries (Ginter 1995)
  • neoliberal, social justice policy (Mansfield 2007)
There are things that are promised, but we've dealt with a lot of those for many years here at St. George and none of those promises have ever been fulfilled to us. So it's difficult to sit and try to be cheerful or try to be optimistic. Interview, St. George resident

Thus, the root of the conflict between St. George and APICDA centers on these differing ideas. Drawing upon quotes from community members and APICDA staff, we highlight these differences here. While understanding these discursive differences will not automatically resolve conflict, it is an important first step.

Why bother to come out here and talk to us if you're not going to listen to our ideas too? They just wanted to ram it down our throats and be done with it. Interview, St. George resident
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