OTPIC Officially Retired

As of December 2, 2005, the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflict (OTPIC) has been officially retired, and is no longer open to new registrations.

The successor to OTPIC is a course called Dealing Constructively with Intractable Conflicts (DCIC). The new curriculum is built around one of our major projects, Beyond Intractability, and offers a much more extensive and informative set of learning materials than that available through OTPIC.

Gandhian Satyagraha: An Example of Controlled Confrontation

Paul Wehr


There is a well-known historical illustration of such methods of controlling confrontation, Gandhian nonviolence. Wehr (1979) has termed Gandhi's approach to conflict as a self-limiting one. Gandhi was challenging a number of political and social conditions in British India, most notably colonial rule, caste and religious discrimination, and exploitation of workers and peasants. He had to confront these "opponents" but he had to do so without unleashing the enormous potential for violent upheaval existing in the India of that time. His moral and political philosophies found practical form in methods he used to inhibit runaway responses. To prevent proliferation of issues, for example, Gandhi was careful to focus each satyagraha campaign on a single, clear issue around which agreement might be reached. This helped to keep the conflict within bounds. His practice of maintaining good personal relations with his opponents during a campaign prevented the shift from disagreement over an issue to personal antagonism. His policy of complete openness in both interpersonal and media communication reduced the threat and suspicion that secrecy and unpredictability introduce into a conflict. His total commitment to nonviolence tended to insure that response reinforcement would operate to encourage a cooperative solution rather than a competitive power contest. Finally, Gandhi's training and retraining of his satyagraha leaders in nonviolent discipline reduced the possibility of extremist elements gaining entrance to the movement.  Gandhi saw his opponents as partners in a search for a fair and truthful resolution of a struggle rather than an enemy to be humbled or destroyed. Bondurant (1988) has called this approach the "Gandhian dialectic." Satyagraha was a dialectical process where nonviolent action (antithesis) engages existing structures of power (thesis) in a truth-seeking struggle leading to a more just and truthful relationship (synthesis). Nonviolence is the confrontation-controlling device. Stepwise escalation, by providing intervals of reflection and withdrawal between escalating steps, ensures that opponents may suspend confrontation or loop back to negotiation (Ury et al 1993), returning from more intense power methods to an earlier, more cooperative stage.

Supporting literature: Joan Bondurant, Conquest of Violence . Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988; William Ury, Jeanne Brett and Stephen Goldberg, Getting Disputes Resolved . Cambridge MA: Harvard University Program on Negotiation, 1993; Paul Wehr, Conflict Regulation . (Chapter 3) Boulder CO: Westview, 1979.


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