EARLY HISTORY OF IACM

Dean G. Pruitt
(February 26, 2017)

This year (2017) we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the founding of IACM, so it is appropriate to review the early history of our organization. We owe a debt of gratitude to our founder, M. Afzalur (Afzal) Rahim, a Professor of Management at Western Kentucky University. In the early 1980s, Afzal became aware that there were many scholars worldwide who did research on conflict but did not know each other. The Academy of Management had a Conflict Management Division, but being part of a management association limited its appeal to many of these scholars. So Afzal began to assemble a list of names and addresses with the intention of putting them in touch with each other. In 1984, he announced the formation of a Conflict Management Group. By 1986, the group had become large enough (86 members) that Afzal, with the help of a small number of colleagues, began putting out an annual membership list, an annual list of member publications, and a semi-annual newsletter, which he called Signal, the name we still use today. And he started planning the first conference, which took place June 22-25 1987 on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. By that time, membership had grown to 128.

Among the people who worked with Afzal in those early days were Gabriel Buntzman, Steven Musser (Signal Editor), Linda Putnam, Dean Tjosvold, and Evert van de Vliert. In addition to those scholars, participants in the first conference included Robert A. Baron, Max Bazerman, Peter Carnevale, Robert Coulson, William Donohue, David Johnson, Tricia Jones, Sanda Kaufman, Deborah Kolb, Margaret Neale, Gregory Northcraft, Michael Roloff, William Ross, Kenneth Thomas, James Wall, Deborah Weider-Hatfield, and myself.

The conference was a great success, with 83 papers, 3 symposia, and 3 plenary speakers (Robert Coulson, Kenneth Thomas, and myself). Most of the attenders were from the United States, but there were also scholars from Canada, England, India, Israel, The Netherlands, Poland, and Turkey. You met people for the first time whose work you had been reading for years. At the business meeting, it was proposed that the group adopt a loftier title, and the name International Association for Conflict Management was developed in a back-and-forth discussion. Twenty-one of the conference papers were later published as a book: M. A. Rahim (Ed.), Managing Conflict: An Interdisciplinary Approach. New York: Praeger, 1989.

In the next two years, Afzal continued his building activities, establishing a Board of Directors, developing a logo, putting out a list of dissertations and theses in the field of conflict studies, and starting a new journal: the International Journal of Conflict Management, which was loosely affiliated with the association. A second conference was held in 1989 at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia. Afzal developed the program and Deborah Weider-Hatfield made the local arrangements.

The business meeting at that conference was a major turning point for the association. It was agreed that there should be yearly conferences and that IACM should move toward a member-run status. Afzal agreed to head the organization for one more year and was given the titles of Founder and (first) President. Afzal again published a book of (12) papers from the conference, Theory and Research in Conflict Management. New York: Praeger, 1990.

The third conference was held in 1990 in Vancouver, British Columbia, with Jim Wall as Program Chair and Dean Tjosvold as Local Arrangements Chair. At the business meeting, Afzal was thanked with admiration for his organizational work, and the newly elected president (myself) and Board members (Peter Carnevale, Linda Putnam, Dean Tjosvold, and Jim Wall) were asked to serve for two years to ensure a smooth transition.

The next year was a gratifying but exhausting one. My wife, France Pruitt, and I kept track of the membership, collected dues, arranged for preparation of a constitution (drafted by Peter Carnevale), edited two issues of Signal, participated in planning the next conference, registered conference attenders, collected their fees, made plans for the next Board meeting, etc., etc. My admiration for Afzal’s previous dedication and hard work grew mightily as I learned about the scope of the job. Fortunately during my second year in office, Jim Wall took pity on us and agreed to become the organization’s first Executive Officer.

With the fourth conference in 1991, we began the current pattern of alternating between North America and overseas by holding it in Den Dolder, the Netherlands. Dean Tjosvold and Evert van de Vliert were responsible for the program and Martin Euwema and Christien Vijlbrief handled the local arrangements. I recall that Evert and Martin, two practical guys, took charge of me, with my usual head in the clouds, trundling me out at critical times when I was supposed to speak and show leadership. The entertainment at that conference was the most unusual I can recall. A truck pulled up and some men set up perhaps 15 games of skill and luck on a large lawn at the conference center. Each of us went from one game to another, and some sort of score was kept. In the game I remember best, I sat on a seat and an apparatus released rods behind me, which I was supposed to catch without fully seeing them. I did amazingly well given my impractical nature.

Our fifth conference in 1992 was held at the University of Minnesota, with Dean Tjosvold and William Ross organizing the program and Tom Fiutak making the local arrangements. Dean Tjosvold was installed as President, Linda Putnam as President-elect, Jim Wall continued as Executive Officer, William Ross became Editor of Signal, and Afzal Rahim and Evert van de Vliert replaced Dean Tjosvold and Jim Wall on the Board. Bill Ury was the Keynote Speaker, which gave us a rare opportunity to meet this conflict management star.