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Italy, France, Estonia

This article examines the following case studies: Italy, France and Estonia. The aim of these case studies is to further explore the analysis tools that can be used in order to understand how conflicts originate and develop. New constructive conflicts management techniques will be presented which have been designed to subvert conflicts, carry out role exchange experiments, observe actions and reactions. One of the aims is also to look at conflicts from a different point of view and create new ways of dealing with conflicts in a nonviolent manner.


At the end of a series of graffiti workshops for youth and adolescents, coming from several suburban areas of Rome, it was decided to have a party in the neighbourhood where the workshops took place. The place in itself is a courtyard, surrounded by twelve six-stories-high white buildings, located in a public housing area. The courtyard, aptly nicknamed “la piazzetta” (small square) is also the place where children play, kids gather, adults and elders meet and enjoy the sunlight, and the center of the educational project that in the last eleven years involved adolescents and, indirectly, the whole com- munity. The graffiti workshops were partly held in a shared facility located in one of the buildings, but for the most part took place outside, in the square. This allowed the people living in the neighbourhood to witness the growing interest of the local youth and the improvement of their skills; some of them also helped in organising the final party, included a writing session on two walls, delimiting a sort of corridor between the buildings, which gives access to the square. These walls, that during the years because had been scrib- bled badly, had also been chosen because the local youth liked them for this task. In the days before the party, the walls were painted with a coat of white primer, by the project operators, kids, with some help from the locals, to be readied for the graffiti to be drawn. At the same time a letter to announce the party was circulated, on which signatures by the people living in the neighbourhood were to be collected to express people’s approval both to the party and to the graffiti. All those who were shown the letter signed it, sometimes readily and happily, sometimes less than so. The day of the party saw a big participation and excitement in the whole neighbourhood, in particular while the kids in the workshop (both locals and from other neigh- bourhoods) were painting, the adults were watching and commenting, someone also tried to sketch something with a spray can! Along the whole duration of the party a flow of comments came steadily to the operators for the newly re-acquired state of the walls, that were “nice, at last” and for the beautiful day as a whole.

The day after a girl, on her way to school, called in tears the project oper- ators: she had just seen that the walls, painted the day before, had been re- painted in white during the night, so wasting all the work done not only dur- ing the party, but also during the previous months. Once they came back to the neighbourhood, the operators started talking with the kids and some adults, to understand what had happened and who was responsible for it. It was only after a few days that it was suggested that behind the whole thing, was a group of no more than 4-5 local youth, seen by many who live there as people “who think they’re the boss”. This mere supposition later became a certainty, even if no real evidence was available since no one actually saw the graffiti being covered.

When it was being decided what could be possibly done and how to react to what was seen as an abuse by the kids (but also by the operators and many adults) one of the possibilities that emerged was that of having a talk with this group (especially with one of them, who was perceived as the leader) or painting new graffiti on the same walls. In the end this perspec- tive was abandoned to avoid triggering dynamics that could have been dif- ficult to handle.

Currently, nine months later, those walls are still white (yellow, actually) as they were after the night raid to cover the graffiti.

Case Study analysis 1: Italy

In the context descriped in this case study, the conflict is avoided altogeth- er in order to prevent a chain reaction, which would have undoubtedly been difficult to manage. However, as a result of conflict avoidance the group is left abashed and no result is achieved. Nine months after the first sign of conflict, the walls of the building where this case study takes place are still unpainted: the “kings of the castle” have won their battle and the participants of the project have lost theirs. Conflict avoidance has only produced a winners-losers situation.

Organizing a recreational gathering with young people who think they “own” the neighbourhood could have meant a constructive cooperation.

However, the youngsters involved in the project felt that their territory was being occupied and felt under threat. Territorial invasion and sharing are among the main causes of intolerance and racism and can potentially escalate to violence. In this case, a good constructive proposal would have been to allocate the youngsters a wall which they could use to express themselves, for instance with graffiti. The wall would have satisfied their desire and need to communicate, whilst providing them with something they could identify with.

Methodolology and techniques

How to achieve the objective? How to develop a constructive relationship with the adverse party? What are the targets to be achieved?
The starting point is oneself. It is very important to acknowledge one’s own share of responsibility: knowing one’s self and becoming aware of how we deal with the problems which give rise to conflicts and recognize the seeds of conflicts at an early stage. The observation of how an individual interacts within a group helps to understand uncodified expectations of behaviour. Carrying out a deeper and more detailed analysis, the chances of grasping how a conflict originates increase and, in a few cases, leads to its solution.

In order for educational proposals to be effective, they cannot be based on theory, but on knowledge acquired from direct experience. We recommend using those techniques that encourage active participation, such as: games aimed at further developing the knowledge of oneself and exercises intended to challenge one’s opinions. Whatever the techniques employed, the unifying and most important element is that every participant’s input and behavioural style need to be taken into consideration, in order to fully understand how each individual reacts to and perceive conflicts in his own unique way.

For educational purposes, a very useful tool is social theatre and in particular Augusto Boal’s “Theatre of The Oppressed”. This form of theatre can help young people to get in touch with their own defence mechanisms and, by understanding how these mechanisms are the very cause of some of their problems, they actually acquire new tools for solving them. Indeed, the theatrical performance allows the participants to take on characters that are completely different from themselves and, by acting as somebody else, to behave in a way which is not their standard one. This process promotes the acceptance of different points of view and therefore the possibility of a change.
In the “Theatre of The Oppressed” there is no fixed, institutionalized “actor vs. audience” relationship. On the contrary, the audience is actively involved and is encouraged to bring in fresh solutions to the conflict being acted. By leaving the audience-role behind and taking on that of the actor, young people are able to explore new points of view and experience new ways of reacting to events: the aim being that, once faced with the fresh inputs and solutions emerged on stage, they will be able to draw from them to solve their real-life conflicts.

Below are conflict-management games

Game-exercise: “The raft and my place on the raft”

The participants are invited to walk freely within the surrounding area. When the game leader shouts “Stop!”, they are supposed to stand still in the posi- tion they were in when they received the order to stop walking. Then, without allowing participants to relax their body, they are asked to describe the position of their body, their limbs and how they feel about being in such an uncomfortable position. After that, every participant is asked again to share with the group the feelings they experienced, the thoughts which came to their mind and comment on the overall experiment.

This game is aimed at improving the participants’ interaction with their surroundings, becoming more aware of their body and its tensions, under- standing where they originate and at learning how to interpret the body’s reaction to discomfort.

Through the game, participants are encouraged to get in touch with their negative feelings and the ways our body expresses them by becoming tense. Participants physically feel their inner tensions, acknowledge their discomfort and accept that it is part of them. They don’t shy away from it, nor want to transform such discomfort into something else. This is the first step towards constructively managing it.

Game-exercise: “The pictures game.

Speaking through images” For this game the following material is necessary: old photographs, news- paper cut-outs and advertisement pictures.

The game leader asks every participant to choose one or more pictures which to them represent conflicts. Then all the pictures are pinned on a cardboard paper and in turns all participants are asked to tell the reasons why they picked their chosen picture/s and explain why they think they rep- resent conflicts. The game causes participants to ponder on the reasons of their choices, gives them a chance to compare their choices with those of the rest of the group and understand how similar or different they are. This game also helps them clarify the difference between being in state of conflict and being able to manage it.

Game-exercise: “The conflict and me”

The game leader places an object on the floor, at the centre of a circle. Then he asks the participants to imagine that the object is a conflict by which they are deeply affected and to get into a posture which they feel mostly symbol- izes their attitude towards conflicts. At this point, in silence and at distance from each other, participants proceed to take the position they think best expresses the way they deal with a conflict.

The game is aimed at spurring participants to become aware and there- fore analyse their own reactions and feelings when faced by a conflict. The game encourages them to investigate the reasons beyond such reactions.

Game-exercise: “Sitting on the conflict”

The game leader asks the participants to wait in another room while he/she arranges chairs in a circle and places a card on each of them describing dif- ferent common reactions to conflicts. Participants are then asked to enter the room and sit down on the chair whose card most closely matches the participant’s attitude to conflicts. Should competition for the same chair take place, players are required to act out the behaviour described on the card.
In such educational programme it is very important to organize a debriefing session after each activity-game, in order to analyse what has emerged during games, how rational or irrational the reactions displayed were, what caused such reactions and to discuss how, as a result of the game experience, players were able to view and deal with conflicts in a new, more constructive way.

Game-exercise: “Feel your body: me and my anger”

The game leader starts four sentences without finishing them and asks each player to complete them providing their own unique ending. Possible sentence examples are: “I lose my temper when others…”, “When others are upset with me, I…”, or “I feel that my anger…” Once all sentences have been read out and answers to them provided and written down, players stick the card containing questions and answers onto their top.

Then participants are divided into groups with the task of analysing the answers given by each person within that group. Participants are encouraged to focus on the emotions they experience when talking about anger within a group. The analysis session can take the form of role-play games. At this stage, new and different anger displays/expressions should be encouraged and explored, so as to understand how body and mind respond to change.

Anger is often the most common physical response to conflicts. The game described above is aimed at providing participants with the ideal setting for them to express anger within a group, while creating the conditions to analyse how a group responds to such feeling and understand what behaviours provoke anger in others.


Theatre improvisation games are aimed at:

  • helping to distinguish between being a spectator to an event and acting it;
  • providing tools to analyse circumstances/events on the basis of the controllers/controlled relationship /power/subjections concepts;
  • improving body language and encouraging communication through means other than voice;
  • becoming familiar with different ways of reacting to circumstances and helping people to express themselves according to their ability and potential;

Forum Theatre is aimed at:

  • allowing participants’ inner feelings and action-reaction mechanism to come to the surface and become self-evident;
  • understanding the different points of view portrayed by the “actors” during theatrical performances;
  • looking for the audience’s cooperation in identifying strategies to change the outcome of a scenario in which somebody was being oppressed;
  • bringing the audience (the participants/youth) into the performance so that eventually they will become the makers of their own lives/destiny.


In this case, a conflict took place among the first-years students of a vocational college in the outskirts of Paris. After studying at this college for four years, students achieve the qualifications to work as lathe turners.

It is a boy-only class, made up of 20 students coming from very different countries: Italy, Peru, Senegal, Ecuador, Albania, Burkina Faso, Russia and Morocco. The students’ age ranges from 16 to 20 years old with some stu- dents starting college this year and others, the oldest, already familiar with each other having failed to pass the previous year.

Classes of “General knowledge” are perceived by students as a “waste of time” since they see no direct connection to the job they will be doing. Students do not pay attention in class and do not carry out their homework, making teaching them a rather difficult task. The relationship between stu- dents and teachers is very conflictual with female teachers being the target of mockery.

Students do not get along with each other, as demonstrated by the numerous derogatory, racial stereotyping and violent acts which have occurred since the beginning of the school term and have been sanctioned with detention. Such punishment measures not only have achieved no positive results, but have in fact had the only effect of triggering the creation of factions and exacerbating the use of violence. Racism within the class was escalating with very strong derogatory remarks being directed not only at fellow class-mates, but also at their families.

When it came to verbal abuse, students were switching to their own native language, making the situation even more tense, since the people involved could not understand each other. From verbal, abuse became physical as a student from Senegal bad-mouthed a French class-mate’s mother. Teachers were unable to sedate the fight in which quite a substantial number of students took part. As a result of a teachers meeting chaired by the school president, the students saw all their school trips and excursion cancelled.

Case Study analysis 2: France

The school involved in this case study is in the outskirts of Paris and is attended by students coming from within the capital and from nearby villages. Students have very different social and economic backgrounds. Being a vocational College, the majority of the students are children of migrants.

This case study was useful to analyse peers relationships’ patterns of behaviour and in particular the tendency to verbal abuse, the creation of
groups and factions within the class, the use of body language for communication purposes and lastly, the influence of racist tendencies – currently quite widespread within French society.

Besides, typical of the situation preented in this case study was a tendency to turn verbal clashes into physical ones, which could very often be rather violent. The class, as a whole, does not share anything except the amount of time passed together sitting in the same classroom. No extra-curricular activities are being organised outside school hours.

It is also very important to note how punishment has not resulted in an improvement, but rather in an exacerbation of the tensions, both among students and with teachers. We have therefore identified five areas needing to be addressed in order to improve the relationship between native French and foreign students: the creation of groups and factions and their difficulties in establishing relationships, students’ native language, potential sources of discrimination, individual expectations and citizenship-related problems.

Methodolology and techniques

Our recommendation to the school president and teachers is to encourage students to take part in extra-curricular activities, such as sport, to be organized during and outside school hours with the help of external tutors. Because they do not belong to the regular school staff and do not know the students, tutors are unbiased and free of pre-formed judgements.
For teenagers, school sports activities are often the only setting where they can learn basic society rules whilst playing. In the game, as well as in society, it is important to teach teenagers to play together by the rules, in order to achieve a certain goal. Sports played at school represent the ideal means to pass students this message. Sports also have the advantage of providing students with a relief valve, improving their ability to keep focused, teaching them how to relate to others and lead a healthy lifestyle.
Other benefits of playing sports include: individual self-development, improvement of cognitive abilities and development of social skills, such as tolerance, loyalty and fortitude. By practising it regularly, teenagers learn to build up team-working skills, to respect others and take on
responsibilities. To this end, the kind of sports activity we recommend is martial arts, and in particular Aikido, which is currently already being taught in some French schools.

Aikido: the art of fighting without fighting

According to its founder, Morihei Ueshiba, the purpose of Aikido is to train first the body, then the mind and to develop sincere and earnest people.
Unlike other kinds of martial arts, which are based on straight movements – forward, backwards and diagonal, Aikido involves circular move-
ments that blend and harmonize with the attacker.
Aikido is sometimes referred to as the art of fighting without fighting because, although it is a martial art, it does not envisage competitions
based on a scoring system and winners and losers. In Aikido there are no losers, eliminating the potential development of feelings of frustration and inadequacy. On the contrary, this form of martial art helps practitioners to build self-esteem, to learn team-working skills and co-operation, which are at the basis of harmonius coexistence.
Aikido techniques are designed to train the body in order to develop a deeper knowledge of ourselves and of the way we relate to others. The
aim is to accompany practitioners on an evolving path of self and spiritual development based on nonviolent values and approaches.


By recommending Aikido, we aim at encouraging teenagers to re-think the way they relate to their peers: the attack on the mat figuratively becomes a symbol of how they interpret and live peer relationships.
The fact that Aikido includes a physical element – every attack is met with some kind of response, either physical or spiritual – allows students
to see clearly how relationship dynamics work. After becoming aware of them, the next step is analysing one’s own reactions to an attack or a conflict and work on modifying such behavioural patterns.
By its very nature, through Aikido people get very closely in touch with each other, giving them a chance to realize how different they are, in
terms of age, physique, background and character and therefore to understand that no two people are alike. Lastly, the aim of Aikido is to provide people with the tools to express their full potential and become better versions of themselves.


This is an example of a conflict between youngsters and youth workers that took place in one area in Tallinn in which there are around 50:50 percent Estonians and Russians. There was a conflict in Youth Centre between the youth workers and some Russian-speaking youngsters aged 15-18. There were 6 boys. The youngsters, mostly boys, come to the youth centre every day to play billiard and cards. The conflict arised when the youngsters began to use “bad language” continuously and didn’t not listen to the youth workers who were telling them that they were not allowed to speak in that manner.Usually when similar events happened in the past, the youth “apologised”, and in this case they still did but, they soon started again. Despite the fact that the youth workers told them to stop they kept ignoring that.

Such difficulties happened also in the past, e.g. with youngsters who refused to take off their coats and didn’t want to register themselves in a
proper way.

In these specific cases, when youth were serious and angry about the situation the youth workers, as reaction, just closed the billiard room and didn’t let them play anymore.

This is what the youth workers did, but in this case the boys start saying bad things to the youth workers and to complain, they also said that if they had been Estonians they would not have been treated in such a way.

The youth decided to move in another room and started to play cards. But after 5 minutes they again started to use “bad language” and without being seen they hid behind the sofa. The youth worker warned them to stop acting in such a way because otherwise they would be asked to leave the centre.

Finally youngsters choose to go, but it took a long of time for them to actually leave. In the evening when the youth workers left the center they saw that youngsters expressed their feelings breaking glass bottles and damaging little parts of the walls of the youth centre.

Case Study analysis 3: Estonia

Before Estonia became independent in 1991, Russians were the majority within the Soviet Union, while Estonians were a rather small minority whose destiny was to be absorbed by the Soviet giant. As a result of the collapse in 1991, roles were reversed. Currently, in independent Estonia, the Russian minority is struggling to come to terms with this new state of things: keeping faithful to the Russian language does not make integration easier; therefore they are obliged to learn the local language – Estonian – and adapt to local customs. After 1991, the Estonian Russian speaking population was faced with the option of either choosing to become integrated or being assimilated,
which implies running the risk of becoming totally disconnected from their own language and culture.

The current case study focuses on intercultural and integration conflicts and is aimed at investigating how willing the people of this study were to distance themselves from their own cultural identity in order to learn to re-think reality through somebody else’s language and sets of values. Developingintercultural abilities should make it easier to be flexible and cooperative, respect the other’s identity and differences and to learn to overcome the prejudices that are often the main cause of biased interaction. Promoting a cooperative behaviour can help bridge the cultural gap and develop a new identity, as shared by the two co-existing ethnic groups, based on mutual respect and the acceptance of differences.
In the situation described in this case study, the tutors decided to punish the young people involved for their confrontational attitude, which caused the boys to respond with violence. The Russian teenagers’ reaction highlights a difficult relationship with the tutors in charge: to the tutors’ decision to punish without engaging in a constructive dialogue, young people responded with an equal non-verbal reaction: violence. As a result, a defence-attack mechanism is set up based on two main parameters: self-perception and the way others perceive us. In this context, ethnic identity and language are a pretext for setting themselves aside and for conflict, on the one hand; and for self-affirmation on the other. Ethnic and cultural identities are used as means to justify specific behavioural patterns and attitudes. Moreover, belonging to different language and cultural groups only serves to reinforce the separation between “we” – (Russian) teenagers and “you” – (Estonian) tutors, which
seemingly caused the conflict to take place. It is thus clear how, although it started as a clash of ethnic identities, the conflict has triggered other issues to come to the surface: the language barrier, the need of the Russian teenagers for more autonomy, the disregard for and dislike of authority, represented by the tutors who try to sedate conflicts through punishments.

At the heart of this conflict lies a lack of commonly accepted rules and shared agreements with regard to what one group – the Russian teenagers – needs and what the other – the Estonian tutors – provides. In order to manage the conflict constructively, the following educational game is recommended: “The dos’ and don’ts’” game. We feel that such activity could help the tutors achieve their objective of becoming one group with the Russian teenagers.

Methodolology and techniques

To start with, the teenagers’ needs should be identified through a dialogue with them, so that they feel their opinion is taken into consideration when it comes to establish do’s and don’ts of the recreational centre. In order for significant changes to happen, the relationship between young people and the tutors must be based on dialogue and shared agreements. Having a set of commonly accepted rules in place to govern the use of the recreational centre and its functioning will help teenagers to become more actively involved in the activities and will channel their energy and efforts into trying to integrate and become one group.
The recommended game activity is aimed at building trust, developing self-esteem and learning to interact with the environment and other people.
By playing, the teenagers will increasingly get to know themselves and their peers better, promoting the blossoming of friendships.
Social theatre and the “Theatre of The Oppressed” are also useful activities in this context. Indeed, playing games, organizing dancing classes and theatrical performances will provide them with further means of expressing their thoughts, their feelings and emotions. Acting helps the person to mature while learning the values of freedom and responsibility and expressing their creativity. What is more, by playing different characters and roles on stage, teenagers will develop sympathy towards others and a more open approach.

Below is an example of a game teenagers can play
Game-exercise: “It is allowed to, It is compulsory to/It is not allowed to, It is forbidden”
Players are divided into two groups and both of them are asked to draft a list of five rules each which they would like people to observe within the recreational centre. The first group must come up with rules starting with “It is allowed to/It is compulsory to”, while the second one must identify the rules starting with “It is not allowed/It is forbidden”; each rule must be no longer than 15 words.

Once all the members within each group are happy about the proposed rules, they will all be written down on a big piece of paper that will be hung on the wall so as to make it visible to the other group. Then participants from both groups are encouraged to discuss them openly, identify similarities and differences and see whether there is room for some of them to be integrated. After discussion and debate have taken place, two sets of rules are drafted: one contains those rules which will be binding for everybody – with no exceptions – and the other one containing those rules which, if needed, can be modified. Both lists will then be written down on a big cardboard piece of paper and hung in the main hall.


Educational games and activities are aimed at:

  • helping teenagers getting to know each other and facilitating group cohesion;
  • developing a trust-based relationship between tutors and teenagers; · breaking stereotypes;
  • alerting people’ senses so that “seeing” becomes “paying attention to”,
  • “hearing” becomes “listening to” and “touching” becomes “feeling the other”.

Acting and improvisation activities are aimed at:

  • improving body language and other means of communications besides voice;
  • exploring new points of view and finding new solutions to old problems;

The Image Theatre is aimed at:

  • teaching to interpret non-verbal means of communications;
  • distinguishing between being a spectator to an event and taking part in it;
  • developing the ability to understand other people’ opinions, thoughts and emotions;
  • developing sympathy.

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Acting conflicts! collects innovative methodologies that can be used in the non violent management of conflicts and can be developed in the daily work with less privileged youth at high risk of social exclusion.

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