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.

usiplogo.gif (1499 bytes)International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict

Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA

General Information About Framing

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Conflict scholars use the term "framing" to mean the process of describing and interpreting an event. According to conflict theorist, Jay Rothman, "framing focuses attention. When a frame is put around a painting, it gives the viewer a focus." (Rothman, 1997, page 21) Conflict framing does the same thing. It helps the parties understand and interpret what the conflict is about--what is going on and what they should do about it.

The way one frames a conflict is based on many factors beyond what "actually" happened. In addition, the way one interprets or frames a conflict is based on what has happened to that person (or group of people) in the past, what values are important to them, and whether they see the situation as a threat or a potential benefit. All of one's knowledge and life experiences serve as a background--a view of the world and one's own place in it-- upon which any new event is interpreted. Hence, these accumulated experiences shape how any particular event is interpreted or "framed."

The way one frames a conflict is important for many reasons. For one, it determines whether they see a situation as a conflict at all. If one person makes a rude comment to another person, the recipient of the comment may take offense (thus framing the situation as a conflict) while another might just ignore it, or laugh about it.

Secondly, one's frame determines what one will do about a situation. If a situation is considered unimportant, it will probably be ignored. If the conflict is considered important, however, the people involved need to decide how they are going to handle it. If they think it is a resolvable problem, they may try to talk about it informally or try to negotiate a solution. If they think it is only resolvable by force, they are likely to use that approach.

Often disputants frame conflicts in adversarial or win-lose terms. They assume that they have a conflict of interests and that the only way to get what they want is if the other party does not get what he or she wants. Rather than seeking a win-win solution, they therefore seek ways to build their power so that they can force the other side to give in. When both sides do this, the inevitable result is escalation, a hardening of positions, an increased danger of destructive confrontation (perhaps even violence) and a much diminished possibility of solving the problem.

An extreme case of such adversarial framing is what we call "into the sea" framing, in which one party wishes or even tries to get rid of the other party altogether--to figuratively, at least, "push them into the sea." This occurs when the problem is defined solely in terms of the other party's villainy--the opponents' very existence is seen as the problem, and the solution is to get rid of them. Obviously, this way of addressing a conflict will not be received well by the other side.

Even less hostile frames can be problematic. Since all of one's life experiences, one's current situation, and one's values affect how one frames a problem, it is very common for one person or group to define the problem very differently from another. One disputant may define the problem in terms of material interests, while another may focus on values, rights, or needs. If the definitions of the problem are incompatible, it is easy to see how it would be extremely difficult to reach a mutually accepted solution.


Links to Examples of Framing Problems:

Paul Wehr--Social Reality Construction


Links To Outside Sources of Information on Framing Problems

Sean Bryne and Neal Carter--Social Cubism:  Six social forces of ethnoterritorial Politics in Northern Ireland and Quebec

Click here to read about particular Framing Problems.

Copyright 1998 Conflict Research Consortium  -- Contact: crc@colorado.edu