Psychology and Intractability:
Theory Informing Practice

February 04, 2013

Medford, MA, USA

“Psychology and Intractability: Theory Informing Practice” held in Medford, MA, USA on February 4, 2013.

Conference Proceedings

The one day meeting in February 2013 at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University brought together theorists from psychology and practitioners in conflict resolution. The purpose was to begin an exploration of what can be learned from recent research in psychology about approaches to conflict intractability. Intractable conflicts are those that seem irresolvable; even though possible solutions can be imagined, the disputing parties are stuck and unable to move to any agreement.

Two significant points emerged from this preliminary discussion. The first is that the conflict resolution field should be much more systematic about collecting data on what "works" to resolve political conflict, rather than focusing on why processes do not work. The second is that the dynamics in conflicts about which psychology could be helpful include questions of justice, sacred values, and identity. As one participant stated, we should be looking for insights into the "degrees of freedom" around these questions. For example, what is it that allows people, despite having sacred values, to make them pseudo-sacred or to bend on them? What is it about the thirst for revenge that could be satisfied short of tit for tat bloodshed? What is it about group psychology, group preference, tribalism that is plastic enough to move from exclusive to inclusive identities? Many suggestions were made about existing literature on these topics, with a commitment from several members of the group to continue the exploration.

Participant Pictures

Past REAP Workshops

“Between Nonviolent Conflicts and Reconciliation: An International Workshop Addressing Deadly Conflicts in Asia Pacific held in Chiang Mai, Thailand, on January 19-20, 2013.