IG’s Peace Blog

Peace and its many aspects

Another basic issue: is conflict good, bad or just there?

One area of some confusion in peace studes and related fields, is how to view conflict (defined as two or more individuals or groups in contention over specific stakes).  This question has a long history (don’t they all?) and is related to whether societies and history in general are fundamentally about conflicts between between groups or about getting beyond those conflicts to achieve broader/higher levels of integration and cohesion.  Marx, as you might guess, was in the first category.  Again, I don’t want to go deeply into this, but you can see that if views of conflict are tied into such basic (and ideological) concerns then there is going to be divergence of perspective.  For some, conflict in itself is a problem, for others it is the very stuff of social and political life.  The latter view has a lot going for it since much of mainstream political discourse talks about interest group conflicts, party competition, national rivalries,etc…in short conflict seems to be everywhere.

I would suggest (being, at the end of the day, more practical than theoretical) what matters most is how we react and what we do when conflict arises.  Do we aggravate it, and run the risk of it turning violent, becoming self-reinforcing and going on a very long time with catastrophic consequences (and I’m not just talking about international conflict here–this dynamic also operates in communities, in marriages, and possibly even within the self). Or, do we see it as a sign that something isn’t working at some level, and view it as a point of departure, as an opportunity to creatively and positively change something in our societies and ourselves.  Sure, conflict can be all and any of these, depending who is involved, on their mindsets and world views.  However, it is important to make the distinction between conflict as such, which is an important indicator of a necessary direction, and violent conflict (we’ll get to the types of violence later), which can be seen as pathological and which needs to be stopped and its underlying dynamics and causes treated.

Thoughts?  I know this is just one “take” on these issues, and I would like to “hear” some others.


July 22, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. I think we will always have conflicts, but it has been repeatedly shown that we have the ability to resolve our conflicts in non-violent ways. This is the key.

    Of course the strongest people/nations will sometimes prefer to ignore or discredit forms of non-violent conflict resolution because they have a better chance for victory if they are allowed to use their strength.

    This is why I like the quote from Shakespeare that goes something like, “O, it is excellent to have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant.”

    Comment by Nathan Andover | August 16, 2008 | Reply

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