Conflict, Delegitimization, and Violence

Daniel Bar-Tal and Phillip L. Hammack

in The Oxford Handbook of Intergroup Conflict

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

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

Conflict, Delegitimization, and Violence


In this chapter we focus on a key sociopsychological mechanism that frees human beings from their normative and moral restrains and therefore leads individuals and groups to engage in acts that intentionally harm others, including discrimination, oppression, ethnic cleansing, and even genocide. Delegitimization is defined as the categorization of a group, or groups, into extremely negative social categories that exclude it, or them, from the sphere of human groups that act within the limits of acceptable norms and/or values, since these groups are viewed as violating basic human norms or values and therefore deserving maltreatment. It thus plays a major role in intense, vicious, violent, and prolonged intergroup conflicts by legitimizing, and allowing the involved group members to carry out, the most immoral acts. In the chapter, we elaborate on our conception of delegitimization, distinguish it from other similar constructs in the literature, and review relevant theoretical and empirical studies that illustrate the utility of the concept in understanding various intergroup practices, particularly behaviors in intergroup conflicts. Second, we describe its roots and development in societies, focusing on the context of intractable conflict. Third, we outline the various sociopsychological negative consequences of delegitimization. Finally, we outline potential ways to reduce delegitimization, focusing on both individual-psychological and collective-structural strategies.

Keywords: Stereotype; delegitimization; dehumanization; conflict; violence; intergroup relations; prejudice

Article.  18762 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology

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