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Conflict Constructions and Conflict Management in Families: The Case of Urban Chinese Malaysians

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Title: Conflict Constructions and Conflict Management in Families: The Case of Urban Chinese Malaysians


1
Conflict Constructions and Conflict Management in
Families The Case of Urban Chinese Malaysians
  • By Aaron J. K. Chong
  • Master of Conflict Management Student
  • 2007

2
Introduction
  • The dominant construction of Chinese cultural
    IDENTITY around the world The essential Chinese
    based on traditional Chinese culture
  • The dominant influences in Chinese values of
    conflict
  • Confucianism Defines conflict as the upset of
    the social order Emphasises conflict as harmful
    and dangerous Harmony must be preserved under
    social norms and relationships internally (more
    so in families)
  • Daoism Defines conflict as disequilibrium of a
    balanced state Emphasises conflict as part of
    diversity Balance can only be achieved if
    sincere action is taken

3
  • Dominant traditional Chinese third party
    approaches
  • Mediation as (Re)Conciliation A vested social
    member intervenes and remedies the immediate
    emotional and symbolic interests of both parties
    as an advisor. Interventions are enforced
    through the power of the mediators face and
    social connections as a threat of social sanction
    (Goh, 2002)
  • Arbitration as an alternative to mediation A
    vested social member intervenes and awards
    outcomes when mediation of a prolonged/extremely
    petty conflict no longer works. Interventions are
    enforced much more harshly through face and
    social connections similar to mediation
  • Traditional Chinese third parties
  • Dominant qualities of a third party
  • Age (elder) wise mature sex adherence to
    patriarchal norms parenthood family and
    community representative social connections to
    people in conflict

4
  • Family constructions in traditional Chinese
    culture
  • A cohesive group consisting of several
    generations (Goh, 2002)
  • The human body analogy (adapted from Hwangs
    1997-1998 dragon body analogy)
  • Head leader elder (the patriarch)
  • Neck spouse - supports the leader elder (the
    matriarch)
  • Body the children (the bloodline)
  • Limbs the outer family - community/state

5
  • Current research gaps
  • Historical context and social environment shapes
    the way we think and how things ought to be, and
    ultimately the way we act. Our actions are
    mediated by knowledge of the context (Morris
    Fu, 2001)
  • How sure are we that the modern Chinese are not
    experiencing change in their values systems?
  • How certain are social researchers that the
    changing historical contexts of different Chinese
    communities have not altered Chinese conflict
    constructions and conflict resolution strategies
    in Chinese communities throughout the world?
  • Do contemporary Chinese mediators/arbitrators all
    possess similar qualities as traditional Chinese
    mediators/arbitrators in family conflicts?
  • What factors do contemporary Chinese
    mediators/arbitrators have to consider in the
    intervention of family conflict(s) and dispute(s)
    as compared to traditional Chinese
    mediators/arbitrators?

6
  • What this research is about
  • Focus of the modern contemporary Chinese
    experience in Malaysia Comparing traditional
    Chinese constructions of conflict and
    contemporary Chinese Malaysians
  • Focus of an urban target population
  • Promoting cultural diversity in cross-cultural
    conflict research
  • Challenging cultural assumptions of the Chinese
    people as per reflected in the literature
  • Providing input for family conflict resolution
    theory and practice involving Chinese Malaysians
  • What this research is NOT about
  • Promoting Chinese Malaysian political interests

7
Research Questions
  1. What are the dominant constructs and values in
    relation to family conflicts as constructed by
    urban Chinese Malaysians?
  2. What are the dominant conflict resolution styles
    (e.g. withdrawing, compromising, accommodating,
    forcing or collaborating) used by urban Chinese
    Malaysians in relation to family conflicts?
  3. What is the dominant informal conflict management
    third party approach (e.g. arbitration or
    mediation or mediation/arbitration) used in urban
    Chinese Malaysian culture?
  4. What are the dominant contemporary social
    characteristics of a Chinese Malaysian family
    mediator or arbitrator in the Chinese Malaysian
    community?
  5. What are the important elements to be considered
    by a mediator or arbitrator when managing
    conflicts involving urban Chinese Malaysians and
    their families?

8
Methods
  • Sample profile
  • Chinese Malaysians living in urban areas who have
    access to emails and online access to the World
    Wide Web urban being defined as a population
    area that has more than 10,000 people (Department
    of Statistics Malaysia, 2000)
  • Proposed snowballed sample 20
  • Current snowballed sample 32 (18 males 14
    females)

9
  • Sampling considerations
  • Ability to communicate in English
  • Online access to complete the survey
  • Age range was fixed between participants late
    thirties up till their late sixties this age
    range was ideal because cultural literature has
    demonstrated that elders achieve their status
    when they are responsible social members in their
    community
  • All participants had experienced conflict at some
    point in time, and had intervened in conflicts
    within their families and other families
  • Male and female groups will participate although
    more males would be expected

10
  • Survey method The best method of collecting
    primary data at the cheapest cost
  • Survey Conflict Survey of Chinese Malaysians
    (CSCM) via the TellUs2 Online Interface (UniSA)
    approved by the UniSA Divisional HREC on 25th
    June 2007
  • CSCM design
  • Quantitative
  • Five multiple choice questions
  • E.g. How do you generally manage conflict in
    your family? (A) Avoid (B) Compromise (C) Compete
    (D) Collaborate (E) Accommodate (F) Other (Please
    specify in next question)
  • Qualitative
  • Eleven open-ended questions
  • E.g. Who would you consider to be members of
    your family?

11
  • Procedure
  • Researcher forwards the research information
    sheet (which contains the survey link) to two
    sources who have informal links to the Chinese
    Malaysian community via email
  • Email was sent to potential participants who had
    to respond to the CSCM questions. Participants
    were asked to forward the CSCM to other potential
    participants via email.
  • All participants had to complete each question
    and SUBMIT their responses after they had
    completed
  • Responses were collected, organised and stored in
    the form of a Microsoft Excel file downloaded
    from TellUs2

12
  • Data analysis
  • Quantitative analysis (Shaugnessy, Zechmeister,
    Zechmeister 2003) Descriptive statistics
    Frequencies Percentages
  • Qualitative analysis Thematic analysis (Braun
    Clarke, 2006) and thematic network
    (Astride-Stirling, 2001) building thematic
    connections within the data and understanding
    underlying assumptions

13
Quantitative Results
Table 1 Percentage of Chinese Malaysians view
of conflict
Conflict View Percentage ()
Necessary/Desirable 15.63
Unnecessary/Undesirable 68.75
Neither of the above 15.63
Both 0.00
Total100.01
14
Table 2 Frequency of Chinese Malaysians
particular family conflict management style
Family Conflict Management Style Frequencies (f/Nf) Percentage ()
Avoid/Withdraw 25 78.13
Compromise (5050 Split) 26 81.25
Compete/Force 10 31.25
Collaborate 26 81.25
Accommodate/Give in 23 71.88
Other(s) 13 40.63
Total frequency for each conflict management
style was 32
15
Table 3 Number of participants frequencies of
being called upon as a third party intervener
Frequencies of being called to intervene N
Never 2
Sometimes 17
Often 13
Total N 32
16
Table 4 Percentage of Intervention Strategy Type
Intervention Strategy Type Percentage ()
Mediate 62.50
Arbitrate 3.13
Both of the above 34.38
None of the above 0.00
Total 100.01
17
Qualitative Results
  • Themes generated
  • Family
  • Conflict
  • Conflict constructions
  • Conflict interventions
  • Intervener qualities and characteristics
  • Intervening factors

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Discussion
  • The traditional constructions of the inner family
    (i.e. three generations) and outer family have
    not structurally changed in urban Chinese
    Malaysians
  • Conflict is constructed into positive and
    negative aspects in urban Chinese Malaysians.
    However, a majority of responses indicate that
    conflicts are generally negative (i.e. antecedent
    to harmony, balance and peace relational and
    communication breakdown) consistent with the
    literature
  • But the constructions of conflict slightly differ
    from traditional constructions as participants
    highlighted that urban Chinese Malaysian culture
    has been adaptive to the social-historical
    context in Malaysia. Each urban Chinese Malaysian
    generation gain a different social outlook as
    they receive different education systems, legal
    contexts and expositions to other religious
    belief systems
  • Conflict constructions influence ideal ways of
    approaching conflict. Majority of responses
    showed that there is no one dominant conflict
    approach, rather approaches to conflict are
    continuously evolving across time and relative
    contexts

24
  • Approaches to conflict and conflict constructions
    influence the intervention strategy adopted
    accommodate, avoid, collaboration and compromise
    for long term solutions in mediated/arbitrated
    conflicts
  • Mediation is the most dominant conflict
    resolution strategy in family conflicts and is
    consistent with the literature to a certain point
  • Participants also cite a combination of both
    mediation and arbitration intervention tactics to
    resolve family conflicts. Possible reasons
  • To achieve long term harmony and contain the
    escalation, consistent with dominant Confucian
    values on relational cohesion does not
    necessarily mean that justice is served
  • Urban Chinese Malaysian family conflicts are very
    difficult to be resolved especially when family
    members appeal to another family member to
    intervene. Theyd rather have on outsider who is
    outside the family to mediate and/or arbitrate in
    order to save face.

25
  • Mediators and/or arbitrators are expected to have
    desirable social qualities superseding face
    value high status in the social hierarchy good
    character impartial open-minded essential
    connections experiential knowledge language
    skills and a similar Chinese Malaysian
    background rather than of any other Chinese
    national backgrounds.
  • Urban Chinese Malaysian mediators/arbitrators
    have to consider the following factors in family
    conflicts
  • Context of the conflict what happened? why has
    it occurred? can it be managed internally? what
    is the truth of the matter?
  • In sync with traditional cultural notions of
    non-confrontational strategies
  • Self-esteem of the family and community in
    conflict
  • Personal effect how does this affect me?
  • Those factors are said to impact on the
    impartiality of the intervener.

26
Limitations
  • Self-reporting bias
  • CSCM did not take into account what types of
    conflicts can be resolved
  • Relatively small sample size (N32) representing
    the urban Chinese Malaysian population
  • Sample could be representative of a particular
    social group within the urban Chinese community
  • Sample was limited to participants who had online
    access to the WWW.
  • Short research time frame

27
Implications
  • Family conflict resolvers working with urban
    Chinese Malaysian clients need to consider that
    conflict is constructed as negative and that
    social harmony must be preserved in both short
    and long term solutions
  • Family conflict resolvers need to consider the
    primacy of privacy in conflict and conduct
    themselves impartially despite their close
    connection with one of the disputants
  • Family conflict resolvers need to possess a high
    face value and carry themselves with high
    social status
  • Family conflict resolvers can call upon people
    who are socially connected to the disputants to
    assist with the mediation or co-mediate
  • Family conflict resolvers in the urban Malaysian
    context need to engage reflectively and fluently
    from their own cultural underpinnings and adapt
    to the cultural norms
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