Playing Different Roles

Louis Kriesberg

Professor Emeritus, Sociology, University of Syracuse; author of numerous books on intractable conflict

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: Tell me about roles, shifting roles, and how people in this field can wear different hats at different times.

A: Well, I've been an academic basically for most of my life now, but in doing that I've taught, done research, and written about that in a theoretical position, but also in doing that I've also been a student throughout. I've learned through the students, who I try to teach, through their experiences. They've been very active in a variety of roles in a variety of countries. In doing research, I've ended up kind of being what I'd call a "quasi-mediator"-carrying information from one side to another, I'm an American, studying US-Soviet relations, interviewing Soviet officials, academics and colleagues. I'm giving them some information, and they're giving me some, which I then communicate back to my compatriots. It's a kind of Track II work at a variety of levels, sometimes quasi-official work with a sort of people to people diplomacy. I'm doing research but I'm also doing Track II, I'm also subverting them and also perhaps subverting my own country.

All of this is going on more or less at the same time, one's a little more salient than another. I'm Jewish and working on Israeli-Palestinian conflict I'm looking at it as someone who feels a sort of solidarity with Israel but also a sort of solidarity with Palestinians. Just as an American I feel some sort of solidarity with the Soviets, because that's where my parents came from. I would walk around Moscow and Leningrad and people there looked like my relatives. The fact that I can have some of that emotional connection also gave me some credibility when I was doing research.

It also gave me access to people in these places because it was another kind of bond that I would have because of my own history and my own actions, sometimes as an advocate, because of all this time I would write op-ed pieces, saying what our government or our people should do. I would not think of that as being private, and knowing some of the people I interview, collect the data from, I'd be aware that I'd said these other things, in these other roles and in some ways this opened up opportunities to talk to people that I wouldn't have had otherwise.