Why Do Conflicts Become Intractable? The Dynamical Perspective on Malignant Social Relations

Robin R. Vallacher, Peter T. Coleman, Andrzej Nowak and Lan Bui-Wrzosinska

in The Oxford Handbook of Intergroup Conflict

Published in print July 2012 | ISBN: 9780199747672
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

 Why Do Conflicts Become Intractable? The Dynamical Perspective on Malignant Social Relations

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Conflict is generally a constructive process, but in a small proportion of cases it can degenerate into a self-sustaining pattern of negative interpersonal and intergroup relations that seem impervious to change. We conceptualize these seemingly intractable conflicts within a dynamical systems perspective. Intractable conflict develops when a social system loses its complexity and converges on a narrow range of mental and behavioral states—an attractor—and becomes resistant to external influence that might otherwise promote a different set of states. Beyond its manifest attractor, a system may have a latent attractor representing a different set of mental and behavioral states. A latent attractor creates the potential for a rapid, nonlinear change in the relations between individuals or groups—from destructive to benign or vice versa. Beyond providing insight into the nature of intractable conflict, the dynamical perspective offers 3 general strategies for the transformation of such conflict into positive relations.

Keywords: Intractable conflict; dynamical systems; self-organization; attractor; latent attractor; nonlinear change

Article.  12034 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology

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