Intractable Conflict Dynamics


Why do some types of conflicts seem impossible to resolve and what can we do to address them?

Intractable conflicts are defined as those that are highly destructive, enduring, and particularly resistant to attempts to resolve them. Currently, about 40% of intrastate armed conflicts have persisted for 10 years or more, with 25% of the wars being waged lasting for more than 25 years. In these settings, entire generations of youth are socialized into war, a condition we know to perpetuate war. At a local level, communities and organizations worldwide face ongoing struggles over racial, class, and gender inequities, as well as over such polarizing issues as abortion and the effects of industrialization on the environment. These conflicts often escalate into long-term malignant processes with high social and economic costs, eventually appearing boundless and hopelessly unsolvable.

Our ability to address seemingly intractable conflicts may very well determine our capacity to survive as a species. Our scholarship in this area has focused on improving our understanding of the unique dynamics involved in intractable conflicts; both generally as whole systems as well as specifically through the investigation of key components of these problems. This has included research on the underlying motivational processes involved, identity formation and change under these conditions, the role moral emotions play in sustaining such conflicts, and differences in the complexity of the dynamics between more and less destructive forms of conflict.

Currently this work involves the development of dynamical systems models of conflict intractability and transformation. The key variables identified through our previous exploratory and experimental research (on ripeness, collective identity, and moral emotions) constitute some of the main parameters of our dynamical models of conflict intractability. This allows us to explore the long-term consequences of changes in the levels of the variables (such as more adaptive identities), in the context of a network of other key variable interactions.

To access a series of brief video introductions to conflict intractability here.





Intractable Conflict
In Coleman, P. T., Deutsch, M., & Marcus, E. (Eds.), The Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice, 3rd Edition
By Peter T. Coleman
Attracted to conflict: The emergence, maintenance and transformation of malignant social relations
By Robin Vallacher, Andrzej Nowak, Peter T. Coleman, Lan Bui-Wrzosinska, Larry S. Liebovitch, Katharina Kugler, and Andrea Bartoli (2013)
Navigating the landscape of conflict: Applications of dynamical systems theory to protracted social conflict. in Systemic thinking and conflict transformation
By Peter T. Coleman, Robin Vallacher, Andrzej Nowak, Lan Bui-Wrzosinska, and Andrea Bartoli (2013)
The five percent: Finding solutions to seemingly impossible conflicts
By Peter T. Coleman (2011)
Playing the odds: A multi-level framework for addressing probabilities for intractable conflict at work
By Peter T. Coleman, Nicholas Redding & Lily Ng (under review)
Special Issue. Peace and Conflict: Intractable Conflicts as Dynamical Systems
By Robin R. Vallacher, Peter T. Coleman, Andrzej Nowak & Lan Bui-Wrzosinska (Eds., 2010)
Special Issue. American Behavioral Scientist: Intractable Conflict
By Barbara Gray, Peter T. Coleman & Linda L. Putnam (Eds., 2007)
Conflict, Complexity, and Change: A Meta-Framework for Addressing Protracted, Intractable Conflicts—III 
By Peter T. Coleman (2006)
Paradigmatic Framing of Protracted, Intractable Conflict
By Peter T. Coleman (2004)
Characteristics of Protracted, Intractable Conflict: Toward the Development of a Metaframework-I 
By Peter T. Coleman (2003)




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