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Conflict In Action: Dynamics and Functions

Conflict In Action: Dynamics and Functions

Author: marlene johnson

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand how to analyze and map the dynamics and functions of a conflict

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Conflict in Action: Dynamics and Functions

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Conflicts are always dynamic and changing, even when it appears that things have come to a standstill. I'm Marlene, and I'd like to talk today about how the conflict mapping process can help an intervener notice small changes that can explain what is happening and changing within the conflict.

So, as I said, conflicts are dynamic. They're always changing even during a period of a stalemate. Now, a stalemate is a situation where the conflict has reached an impasse. Nothing is happening. Nobody's taking any action. Neither party is willing or perhaps able to move forward to advance its interests. Now, this could be because of money, perhaps the party has run out of funding. Or it could be because the risks appear too high, the loss too great. Should they continue to move forward?

So those are a couple of reasons why they may have reached a stalemate. Now, I think we've seen this in the Cold War, which was a stalemate between the Soviet Union and the United States. However, even during that stalemate there were subtle changes. And attitudes and perceptions continued to intensify, attitudes towards communists in this country and their attitude towards us capitalists here, for a variety of reasons.

And mapping can bring out these reasons. There was a hardening of positions. Now, in long term conflicts this is when parties strengthen their belief that their way is the only way, my way or the highway, so to speak. It's the only acceptable way to resolve the conflict. That is a hardening of position. And the longer a conflict goes on, the easier it is for people to harden these positions.

And this is often because there's a polarization of attitude. Now, this refers to when parties' attitudes towards the other side move to even more negative extremes. Now, particularly this can happen during stalemate, but particularly if there's escalation the negative attitudes are going to be moving more to an extreme. And I know we can see this in any of the conflicts happening over in the Mid East right now, this polarization of attitude.

So an escalation, of course, is when the movement of the conflict goes from a less intense or harmful stage to a more intense or harmful stage. And oftentimes this will move from unrest and protests to perhaps violence in the street, and then violence will beget violence. And so you have this escalation. And there might be changes within the society, changes in attitudes and perceptions, unrest that can be noted through the conflict mapping process that can explain why a conflict would escalate. What is happening here to escalate that conflict?

In fact, quite often an intervener could come to see that in conflict, keeping the conflict going might be a way of promoting an interest for one side. It might be actually seen as a benefit to continue in a particular direction. And, now, the benefit of the conflict could be anything from perhaps strengthening their ranks, people gaining more support, creating more awareness for the interests at stake here that a particular party has.

And if that is happening even against all odds the conflict will continue to evolve. It may reach periods of stalemate where there still will be attitudes and perceptions changing, and then it may escalate or de-escalate. But once an intervener becomes aware of an interest that a particular party holds, then that interest, that benefit of a conflict, which is an interest, serving an interest for this party, that benefit must be considered one of the party's interests in any conflict resolution process.

So once again, the conflict mapping process is a bit like putting the pieces of the puzzle together, seeing how things fit together and being able to understand how the things are progressing based on perhaps what might be small changes that wouldn't otherwise be observed. So thank you for joining me today, and I look forward to next time.

Terms to Know

Movement of a conflict from a less intense or harmful stage to a more intense or harmful one.

Hardening of Positions

In long term conflicts, when parties strengthen the belief that their position is the only way to acceptably resolve the conflict.

Polarization of Attitudes

In conflict, when parties’ attitudes towards each other move to more negative extremes.


A situation where conflict has reached a state of impasse; neither party is able or willing to take further action to advance its interests.