Conflict Research Consortium
University of Colorado, USA



Book Summary:

Social Conflict

Dean G. Pruitt
New York: Random House, 1986, 213 pp.

Social Conflict describes the nature of conflict, the factors which escalate conflict, and strategies which may be used to de-escalate and settle conflict.

Social Conflict will be of interest to those seeking to understand and limit escalation in conflicts. This work is divided into eleven chapters, with a glossary of terms. Chapter One offers an overview of the text. Conflict is defined as the perceived divergence of interests. The authors introduce five basic strategies used by conflicting parties. A party may contend, yield, or attempt to problem solve. Parties may also abandon conflict by withdrawing or by inaction.

Chapter Two elaborates on the definition of conflict, and explores the sources of conflict. This chapter discusses stability, the absence of conflict, and argues that the complete suppression of conflict is undesirable. Chapter Three presents the strategic choice model of conflict. The five basic strategies of conflict are elaborated in more detail. This chapter describes the conditions which lead conflicting parties to choose one strategy over another. Chapter Four discusses some of the tactics commonly employed by conflicted parties. These tactics include ingratiation, gamesmanship, persuasive argumentation, promises and threats, and irrevocable commitments.

Chapters Five through Seven discuss conflict escalation. Chapter Five offers a set of criteria for identifying escalation within a conflict, and describes a number of conditions which tend to increase or decrease the likelihood of escalation. Chapter Six examines the events which occur when conflict first begin to escalate. Chapter seven then focuses on the factors which cause escalation to persist.

Chapter Eight discusses the stalemate stage of conflict. Stalemated conflict have reached maximal escalation. This chapter describes the conditions which lead to stalemated conflict, and suggests ways of moving from stalemate to a de-escalation phase and ultimately toward a problem solving strategy. Problem solving is "any effort to locate a mutually acceptable solution." Chapter Nine discusses the problem solving approach in more detail. It describes the possible goals of a problem solving approach, outlines the steps in creative problem solving, and describes strategies for persuading the other party to engage in problem solving. Chapter Ten discusses third-party intervention in conflicts, focusing on the role of mediators. It explores various forms of intervention, and their respective "virtues and liabilities." Finally, Chapter Eleven reviews the major themes of the book, and suggests areas for further study.

Social Conflict describes the strategies, tactics, and conditions which lead to conflict escalation, and offers strategies for de-escalating and settling conflicts. Clear, direct prose makes this text, as the authors intended, very accessible to the educated public.


Summary by Conflict Research Consortium Staff

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Copyright 1997-2003 Conflict Research Consortium

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