Culture of conflict evolvement institutionalization and consequences
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Culture of Conflict: Evolvement, Institutionalization and Consequences. Daniel Bar-Tal School of Education Tel Aviv University. A conflict begins in human mind and therefore also its ending must be initiated in the human mind. Assumption

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Culture of Conflict:Evolvement, Institutionalization and Consequences

Daniel Bar-Tal

School of Education

Tel Aviv University

A conflict begins in human mind and therefore also its ending must be initiated in the human mind.


Conflicts are over real issues like money, love, territories, natural resources, self-determination, statehood, religious dogmas, and/or basic values and it is these real issues that have to be addressed in conflict resolution. But, the fact that they are accompanied by socio-psychological dynamics influences their nature and requires taking them greatly into the consideration for their understanding, prevention and resolution.

Fundamental Premises

  • Prolonged and harsh experiences of intractable conflicts not only shape the psyche of the individuals involved but also the culture of the engaged societies.

  • Subsequently, it is this evolved culture of conflict that fuels the continuation of the conflict and obstructs its peaceful resolution.

Plan of the Presentation

  • Intractable conflicts

  • Socio-psychological infrastructure

  • Culture of conflict

  • Optimistic ending

  • Characteristics of Intractable Conflicts

  • (Bar-Tal, 1998; Kriesberg, 1993)

  • 1. They are total

  • 2. They are of a zero-sum nature

  • 3. They are violent

  • 4. They are central

  • 5. They are perceived as unsolvable

  • 6. They demand great investments

  • 7. They are protracted

  • Prototypic Intractable Conflicts


    • Middle Eastern conflict (1948-1977)

    • Sri Lankan conflict

    • Northern Ireland conflict (1968-1998)

    • Chechnyan conflict

    Psychological Experiences in Intractable Conflict

    • Chronic feelings of mid-level threat, stress, insecurity

    • Feelings of pain and grief for human losses

    • Sense of hardship and demands (in psychological and material terms)

    • Feelings of uncertainty

    • Feelings of lack of control and sometimes helplessness

    • Feelings of determination

    • Feelings of solidarity

    • Feelings of ability to endure

    Psychological Challenges of a Society Involved in Intractable Conflict

    • Developing psychological conditions that enable the society to at least withstand the enemy.

    • Adaptation – trying to satisfy basic needs and learning to live with their deprivation.

    • Coping with stress and other negative psychological phenomena.

    Proposition 1

    Societies involved in intractable conflict attempt to evolve a functional socio-psychological infrastructure in order to meet the psychological challenges of the conflict.

    Socio-psychological Infrastructure

    • Societies in intractable conflict develop a specific socio-psychological repertoire that includes shared beliefs, attitudes, motivations and emotions.

    • It eventually turns into a socio-psychological infrastructure, which means that the shared repertoire gradually crystallizes into a well organized system of societal beliefs, attitudes and emotions and penetrates into institutions and communication channels' of the society.

    Basis for Proposition 1

    This proposition is based on conceptual and empirical literature which suggests that successful adaptation and coping with threatening and stressful conditions requires the construction of a meaningful world view(e.g., Antonovsky, 1987; Frankl, 1963; Greenberg, Solomon, & Pyszczynski, 1997; Horowitz, 1986; Janoff-Bulman, 1992; Kobasa, 1985; Moos & Schaefer, 1986; Taylor, 1983).

    Socio-psychological Ways to Meet the

    Psychological Challenges of Intractable Conflict

    • Evolvement of the Functional

    • Socio-Psychological Infrastructure

    • (Bar-Tal, 1998, 2007)

    • Collective Memory

    • Ethos of Conflict

    • Collective Emotional Orientations (e.g., hatred, fear, anger)

    Socio-Psychological Infrastructure


    • Collective memory is the narrative of a remembered group's common past (Kansteiner, 2002).

    • Ethos consists of the configuration of central societal beliefs that provide a particularorientation to a society (Bar-Tal, 2000).

    Themes of the Emerging Socio-Psychological Infrastructure 1) Collective Memory and Ethos of Conflict

    • Societal Beliefs about the Justness of Ingroup Goals (their importance, justification, adherence).

    • Societal Beliefs about Security (threats, conditions of security).

    • Societal Beliefs about Delegitimization of the Opponent (dehumanization, blame for the conflict and intransigence, blame for violence and atrocities, lack of trust).

    Themes of the Emerging Socio-Psychological Infrastructure2) Collective Memory and Ethos of Conflict

    • Societal Beliefs about Positive Collective Self-Image (morality, courage, heroism, peace-loving).

    • Societal Beliefs about CollectiveSelf-Victimization (suffering, losses, injustice, responsibility of the rival).

    • Societal Beliefs about Patriotism (mobilization, sacrifice).

    • Societal Beliefs about Unity (necessity of being united).

    • Societal Beliefs about Peace (wish).


    Emotions shared by society’s members and expressed in their culture

    Collective Emotional Orientations


    Collective Fear Orientation is an aversive emotion that arises in situations of threat and danger to the society and its members and enables adaptive response.

    Collective Hatred is a hostile feeling directed toward another group that consists of malice, repugnance, willingness to harm and even annihilate the object of hatred.

    Collective Anger Orientation appears when a group appraises that what another group has done is an unjustified and unfair violation of social norms.


    The evolved socio-psychological repertoire serves as a prism through which society members process information and experiences.

    This is a selective, biased an distorting processing.

    Functions of the Socio-psychological Infrastructure

    • Epistemic function of illuminating the conflict situation

    • Justifies the ingroup’s acts toward the enemy

    • Prepares for threats and dangers

    • Enhances motivation for solidarity, mobilization and action

    • Creates a sense of differentiation and superiority over the rival

    • Forms, maintains, and strengthens social identity

    Proposition 2

    Societies that live under prolonged experiences of intractable conflict with the dominant socio-psychological infrastructure evolve a Culture of Conflict.


    • Culture can be considered as "a historically transmitted pattern of meaning embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes towards life" (Geertz, 1973, p. 89).

    • Also culture can be seen as “a 'tool kit' of rituals, symbols, stories, and world views that people use to construct "strategies of action" (Swidler, 1986, p.273)

    Evolvement of Culture of Conflict

    A culture of conflict evolves when societies saliently integrate into their culture tangible and intangible symbols which are created to communicate a particular meaning about the prolonged and continuous experiences of living in the context of conflict (Geertz, 1993, Keesing, 1974; Ross, 1993).

    Culture of Intractable Conflict

    Symbols of conflict become hegemonic elements in the culture of societies involved in intractable conflict: They provide a dominant meaning about the present reality, about the past, and about future goals, and serve as guides for practice.

    In this case, a society may be characterized as being dominated by culture of conflict.

    Additional Themes

    Violent confrontations with the rival (events)

    The fallen society members

    Characteristics of the Culture of Conflict

    • The general themes are universal.

    • The specific content varies from society to society.

    • The culture of conflict evolves through a long process.

    • The culture of conflict changes dynamically in accordance with experiences.

    • The specific symbols (e.g., sacrifice) are expressed through different content (e.g., stories about heroes, old myths, aspirations, prescriptions, stories about events).

    • The content is expressed through different modes (books, ceremonies, art, films, speeches, monuments, etc.).

    Expressions of the Culture of Conflict

    • Society members extensively share the conflict repertoire.

    • The conflict repertoire is used widely in the society (in public discourse, physical space, ceremonies, speeches).

    • Expressions of the conflict repertoire in cultural products.

    • Appearance of the conflict repertoire in educational materials.

    Where We Should Look for the Symbols of Culture of Conflict?

    Shared beliefs of society members


    Speeches of leaders

    Mass media

    School books and curricular materials

    Protocols of public and governmental meetings

    Documents and other written material




    Theatrical plays


    Paintings and sculptures

    Statues and memorial sites


    Symbols of the Culture of Conflictin Northern Ireland

    Symbols of the Culture of Conflictin Israel

    Nature of the Culture of Conflict

    • It is characterized by a supply of information, symbols, and knowledge that confirm and validate the hegemonic themes of the culture of conflict.

    • It leads to selective, biased and distorted information processing by society members, which perpetuates and eternalizes the hegemonic themes of the culture of conflict.

    • The culture evolves societal mechanisms to maintain and preserve the hegemonic themes of the culture of conflict.

    • Societies socialize the younger generations within the hegemonic themes of the culture of conflict.

    Effects of the Culture of Conflict

    • Issues related to the conflict receive major status and weight in decision-making.

    • Problems that direct attention away from the conflict are set aside.

    • Emergence of a powerful and influential military stratum in the society.

    • Crystallization of the traditional gender roles and gap between them.

    • Deterioration of moral standards and disregard for human rights and codes of international behavior.

    • Weakening of the democracy.

    • Penetration of violent modes of behavior and illegality into the society.

    • Vicious Cycle of Intractable Conflict

    • Culture of Conflict

    • Socio-psychological Infrastructure

  • (Societal beliefs, collective emotions,

  • social identity)

    • Acts of Intractable Conflicts

  • (Verbal hostile statements, violent acts, wars, atrocities)

  • Proposition 3

    A conflict begins in the human mind and therefore its ending alsohas to be initiated in the human mind.

    Appearance of Seeds of Peace

    • Emergence of ideas stating that continuation of the intractable conflict harms societal goals and needs.

    • Emergence of ideas stating that the conflict causes unbearable losses, suffering, and hardship.

    • Emergence of ideas stating that the violent conflict violates moral norms and international codes.

    • Emergence of ideas about the need to resolve the conflict peacefully.

    • Emergence of a minority that begins to promote these ideas and struggles to legitimize and institutionalize them.


    Striving towards peace should not be a dream or a wish, but a continuous struggle to mobilize peace supporters which leads to the signing of a peace agreement and eventually to the development of a culture of peace.

    “We will pursue the course of peace with determination and fortitude.

    We will not let up.

    We will not give in.

    Peace will triumph over all our enemies, because the alternative is grim for us all.

    And we will prevail.

    We will prevail because we regard the building of peace as a great blessing for us, and for our children after us.”

    Assassinated Prime Minister of Israel Yitzhak Rabin, upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo

    Thank You

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