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


Opening Page | Glossary | Menu Shortcut Page

Polarization is the process that causes people who had been staying neutral to take sides in a conflict. It also causes the people on the two sides to take increasingly extreme positions-becoming more and more opposed to each other and more clearly defined as "different" from the other (hence moving toward the "poles" or becoming "polar opposites."

Paul Olczak and Dean Pruitt (1995) see polarization as the second of four stages of conflict escalation. During the first stage the conflict is not particularly escalated. Perceptions of the opponent are relatively accurate (not stereotyped) and the parties still have a good relationship. As a result, they are likely to want to try to find a win-win solution. However, conflicts often escalate to a second stage, which they call polarization. As conflicts polarize, they say, "trust and respect are threatened, and distorted perceptions and simplified stereotypes emerge." (Olczak and Pruitt, 1995, p. 81.) Enemy images are formed, even to the point where the enemy is considered less than human, and hence not worthy of respect or what might have previously been considered "fair" treatment. Olczak and Pruitt's third stage is segregation, which is actually a second level of polarization. In this stage, the conflict is characterized by competition and hostility, and threatens the parties' basic needs. The last stage--going beyond polarization--is destruction. Here the parties' goals cease to be winning, and instead becomes destroying the other.

Like other aspects of escalation, polarization is a very destructive process that makes managing and resolving conflicts much more difficult. However, Olczak and Pruitt suggested that polarized conflicts are easier to de-escalate than conflicts that have reached the third or fourth stages of escalation.


Links to Examples of This Problem:

Joseph Nye Jr. -- International Conflicts After the Cold War
This article begins by examining the process of Cold War polarization and the way that polarization spawned international conflicts between the East and the West. Nye then explores how the structure and process of international conflict has changed since the end of the Cold War.
Janet Gross Stein - Image, Identity and Conflict Resolution
This article examines the processes of polarization, escalation, and de-humanization that often occurs in identity conflicts.
W. Barnett Pearce and Stephen Littlejohn - Moral Conflict
Pearce and Littlejohn explore how moral conflicts (we call them value conflicts) differ from conflicts over interests and needs. One argument they make is that the "normal ways" of handling interest-based conflicts are inappropriate in the case of moral conflicts, and may even tend to polarize these conflicts further.
Melissa Baumann and Hannes Siebert--The Media as Mediator
This article shows how the media can contribute to the polarization of a conflict.


Links to Possible Solutions to this Problem:

Third Party Intervention


Dialogue Project

Opening Lines of Communication

Establishing Personal Relationships


Links to Related Problems:

Outgroup/Enemy Image


Inaccurate and Overly Hostile Stereotypes

Overly Competitive Approaches to a Conflict

"Into-the-Sea" Framing

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