The Paradigm: Complexity, Psychology and the Study of Peace and Conflict
Rooted in complexity science, the approach combines insights from psychology and peace and conflict studies to broaden our thinking on conflict dynamics as they unfold across time and in more complex contexts.
The materials presented below offer an introductory subset of literature to further your exploration of DST and its foundation in social psychology, complexity science, and the field of peace and conflict. These resources inform our insights into understanding, thinking about and engaging with intractable conflict, complex social systems and sustainable peace.
Rethinking Intractable Conflict: The Perspective of Dynamical Systems
Robin Vallacher, Peter T. Coleman, Andrzej Nowak, Lynn Bui-Wrzosinska
An intractable conflict is one that has become entrenched in cognitive, affective, and social-structural mechanisms, a transformation that effectively distances the conflict from the perceived incompatibilities that launched it. (Vallacher, Coleman, Nowak & Bui-Wrzosinska, 2010)
Research on conflict presents a wide range of
factors and processes associated with intractable conflict. The challenge, however, is to provide a coherent perspective that supports action. This article, presented in a question and answer format, explores the application of the dynamical systems perspective as an approach to understand the mechanisms that keep intractable conflicts ‘stuck,’ including our need for coherence in the face of complexity and ambiguity, the loss of adaptability, and our desire for a stable platform for action. [More…]
Vallacher, R. R., Coleman, P. T., Nowak, A., & Bui-Wrzosinska, L. (2010). Rethinking intractable conflict: The perspective of dynamical systems. American Psychologist, 65, 262-278.
Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology
Special Issue: Dynamical Systems Theory and Conflict
Editor: Fathali Moghaddam, PhD
Authors include Wieslaw Bartkowski, Andrea Bartoli, Lan Bui-Wrzosinska, Peter T. Coleman, Morton Deutsch, Larry Liebovitch, Jay Michaels, Naira Musallam, Andrzej Nowak, Ryszard Praszkier, Sorin Solomon, and Robin Vallacher.
This special issue conceptualizes and investigates intractable social conflict from the perspective of dynamical social psychology. This approach represents a distillation of the concepts, methods, and tools associated with dynamical systems and complexity science that were initially developed in mathematics and the natural sciences. Articles in this special issue address interpersonal to international contexts, formation of attractors and insights from social simulation modeling, and a case study where the emergence of peace in Mozambique is viewed through a
dynamical system lens.
(2010) Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 16(2), 211-230.
Attracted to Conflict: Dynamic Foundations of Destructive Social Relations
Robin Vallacher, Peter T. Coleman, Andrzej Nowak, Lynn Bui-Wrzosinska, Katharina Kugler, Larry Leibovitch, & Andrea Bartoli
Conflict is inherent in virtually every aspect of human relations. This book addresses the subject of intractable social conflict as self-organizing phenomena, emerging quite naturally from the ongoing dynamics in human interaction at any scale—from the interpersonal to the international. Using the universal language and computational framework of nonlinear dynamical systems theory in combination with recent insights from social psychology, intractable conflict is understood as a system locked in special attractor states that constrain the thoughts and actions of the parties to the conflict. [More…]
The book reframes the essential features of conflict in terms of the principles, metaphors, and methods of dynamical systems. The following two chapters, in particular, provide groundwork for further study of the dynamical systems theory and intractable social systems.
Foundations: The Dynamical Perspective on Social Processes [More…]
Escape: How Conflicts Can Be Transformed [More…]
Vallacher, R. R., Coleman, P. T., Nowak, A., Bui-Wrozsinska, L., Kugler, K., Leibovitch, L. & Bartoli, A., (2013). Attracted to conflict: The dynamic foundations of malignant social relations. New York, NY: Springer. (Note: Available in print or as an E-book.)
A Case Study: The Emergence of Peace in Mozambique
Mozambique, after 16 years of violent civil war, successfully transitioned to peace in 1992. The following three resources offer a dynamical systems perspective of what happened and provides a case study to understand the implications of the dynamical systems theory. The trio of listed resources starts with a short five-minute video, followed by recommended reading in the The Five Percent by Peter T. Coleman. Lastly, the journal article, Peace is in Movement: A Dynamical Systems Perspective on the Emergence of Peace in Mozambique, suggests the transition to peace as an emergent process impacted by a variety of interdependent elements including unique local conditions that helped to shift the attractor landscape from conflict to peace.
Video: A Conflict in Mozambique – The Five Percent Problem
Peter T. Coleman
This video provides a short five-minute introduction to the conflict as seen through a DST lens.
Book: The Five Percent: Finding Solutions to Seemingly Impossible Conflicts
Peter T. Coleman
The Five Percent includes a more in depth and readable case study of peace breaking out after years of conflict. The three practices of complicate to simplify, build up and tear down, and change to stabilize are discussed. Please refer to pages 187 – 217 for the case.
Coleman, P. T. (2011). The five percent: Finding solutions to seemingly impossible conflicts. New York, NY: Public Affairs.
Journal Article: Peace is in Movement: A Dynamical Systems Perspective on the Emergence of Peace in Mozambique.
Andrea Bartoli, Lynn Bui-Wrzosinska and Andrzej Nowak
Bartoli, Bui-Wrzosinska and Nowak use the dynamical systems framework to explore the shift from an open, adaptive social system to a closed one with limited adaptive potential that maintained the conflict. The reintroduction of adaptive functions into the social system is explored and its association with the emergence of peace. [More…]
Abstract: The Mozambique peace process is one of the most promising cases of an intervention strategy that transformed a protracted, intractable conflict into a resilient social system of sustainable peace. After 16 years of extremely violent civil war, a series of semi-official interventions led to a successful transition to peace in 1992, much to the surprise of the international community. This article uses the dynamical systems perspective to explore how the escalation, maintenance, and transformation of the Mozambican conflict may be understood and systematized. First, this article analyzes how the social system lost its adaptability after the country had gained independence, and illustrates how a strong enmity system was created and maintained in the country. This article discusses how various counterintuitive conflict transformation initiatives changed the political landscape and promoted the re-establishment of adaptive functions of the social system, moving Mozambique from war toward peace. This article analyzes political, cultural, and symbolic aspects of the conflict transformation, with an emphasis on how peace was institutionalized in the country. The article concludes by outlining some general principles of the dynamical perspective on the formation and dissolution of intractable conflicts, based on this case analysis.
Bartoli, A., Bui-Wrzosinska, L., & Nowak, A. (2010). Peace is in movement: A dynamical systems perspective on the emergence of peace in Mozambique. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 16(2), 211-230. doi:10.1080/10781911003691609
Ongoing Research and Additional Resources & Publications
The Morton Deutsch International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution (MD-ICCCR) at Teachers College is committed to developing knowledge and practice to promote constructive conflict resolution, effective cooperation, and social justice. The Center supports a robust basic and applied research agenda that includes exploring the Dynamical Systems Theory and its application to intractable conflict and complex social systems. Please see the MD-ICCCR’s Research pages and, more specifically, their project on Intractable Conflict Dynamics for details of the current and past research in this area.