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Image: StĂŠphane Lavoie. Southern Alberta.

In late 19th century southern Alberta, ranchers and farmers competed for land. Ranchers were the entrenched interest and lobbied with politicians to keep farmers out. The farmers were often more recent immigrants, which gave the entire conflict a shade of identity politics. Lack of government action led to pockets of lawlessness, where institutions broke down, and development of any sort was hampered. Eventually, the federal government intervened and strongly favoured farming and development of towns to protect settlements from the United States and safeguard the financial investments of central Canadian banks and speculators.

Conflict, then, should not be avoided at all cost but has to be observed, reflected upon, and managed. It can be restricted to a designated arena, mollified in procedures, relegated to specific topics, translated into specialized roles. Ideally, communities can place boundaries on conflict, can maintain the idea that this is theatre and that all have a role to play in politics. When the actors know and recognize this, they can take a distance when necessary, separate personal ties and emotions from the conflict. After a rough council meeting, for example, one can continue the conversation over an amicable beer. The boundaries of the conflict can be either formal rules, or informal guidelines, such as traditional customs and codes of honour for conflict resolution. When managing conflict, it can be helpful to recognize and consider overlapping identities to establish common ground. For example, an opponent in city council or the chamber of commerce may also be the local baker, a neighbour, a fellow in your church choir, or your wife’s uncle. A tradition of changing roles can also be helpful in managing conflict, potentially imbuing all with the idea that we can play different roles in life and switch roles

Part I: Basic notions for community analysis

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