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Biographical Sketch

Dr. John Wear Burton was born in Melbourne, Australia on March 2, 1915. He was the son of Reverend John W. Burton and Florence M. Hadfield. Burton graduated with a degree in psychology from the University of Sydney in 1937. He earned his Ph.D. in 1942 at the University of London. Burton had a keen interest in public service from an early age. He began his career as a postal clerk after graduating from college and continued to work his way up through Australian government service. In 1944 Burton was named Acting Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, Australia. By March of 1947 Burton was appointed Permanent Secretary of the Department of External Affairs. At this time the Dutch/Indonesian conflict was beginning to flare up and impact the Australian and Asian economies. Australia, as a temporary member of the United Nations Security Council, assisted in peace negotiations. Burton took part in these negotiations, supporting Indonesian independence. He became known as a key player in the final peaceful resolution of the conflict in 1949.

In 1950 Burton expressed disagreement with the Australian government’s opinion regarding the recognition of the People’s Republic of China in Peking. Burton was adamant that Australia should recognize the new government. The electorate mistakenly saw this a "soft" stance on the spread of Communism. As a result, he lost the parliamentary election to become a key foreign minister. Burton resigned as Head of the Department of External Affairs in June 1950. He went back to the interior of Australia to become a farmer for a brief time and later opened a mobile bookshop selling books in remote regions of Canberra. He continued thinking and writing about themes in international relations, particularly that of Communism vs. Capitalism.  He argued that Communism was no threat to capitalist society and probably a good system for developing countries. His first book, The Alternative, which examined Communism in Asia, was published in 1954. Burton continued to write on international relations and conflict analysis through the 1950s. He wrote about Australian domestic issues in Labor in Transition (1957), The Nature and Significance of Labor (1958), and The Light Grows Brighter (1956).

Burton’s career as an academic in the field of conflict resolution took shape in the 1960s. In 1960 he was offered a fellowship at the Australian National University at Canberra. While there he wrote and published Peace Theory in 1962. In 1963 he accepted a teaching appointment at the University College, London. While there he wrote International Relations: A General Theory in 1965 and founded the Center for the Analysis of Conflict (CAC) in 1966. Burton did not follow the generally accepted academic “canon” of international relations and conflict studies as a college faculty member. He came from a background of diplomatic service experience and not academia. Consequently, he stressed innovative, logical, and practical approaches to problems. Burton’s work at the CAC expanded conflict resolution's reach to the international arena. CAC produced two major studies: Systems, States, Diplomacy and Rules in 1968, and Conflict and Communication in 1969. Burton’s next work was World Society (1972). World Society concentrated on the role of individuals instead of states in international politics and affairs.

In 1978 the CAC was moved from the University College of London to the University of Kent at Canterbury. Burton followed his colleagues there and continued his work at the University of Kent until leaving in 1982. While at Kent, he wrote Deviance, Terrorism and War in 1979.

In 1982 Burton left the University of Kent for the United States, where he became a faculty member of first, University of South Carolina, then the University of Maryland, and finally George Mason University. In 1985 Burton joined George Mason University and collaborated in the founding of the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (ICAR). He was also a visiting scholar at the United States Institute of Peace in 1988.

Burton authored, co-authored, or edited a four-volume series known as “the Conflict Series” in 1990, which comprised: Conflict: Resolution and Provention, Conflict: Human Needs Theory, Conflict: Readings in Management and Resolution, and Conflict: Practices in Management, Settlement and Resolution. The first in this series helped introduce Burton’s concept of “provention”. The term “provention” was used to describe the steps taken proactively to avert conflicts. Burton’s work at Mason had been involved less in international relations and more in conflict resolution and peace and justice studies. It also formed the basis for curriculum development and innovation.

Buton’s Conflict Resolution: Its Languages and Processes appeared in 1996, and Violence Explained was published the next year. Burton by now had established a unique place for himself among global scholars with his philosophy toward and understanding of the many facets of international relations. He created frameworks upon which organizations could draw and perfect methods to resolve global conflicts.

Burton died on June 23, 2010 in Sydney, Australia.