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Understanding Conflict

Conflict is a major paradigm for all fields of contemporary social studies. It is a topic whose citation index is among the highest. It is also ma ss media's daily bread, and a persisting headache for politicians and diplomats. Its definition is a challenge for academics. Its incarnation is often a tragedy comparable to black plague for millions of people worldwide. One will hardly succeed trying to explain them the theories that a "constr uctive violence" also exists, and that every war eventually accelerates progress. Ye t, like it or not, conflict belongs to the few issues that "make the world go round". In our age it also make s the news of the day. "Conflict is a growth industry", assure us conflict experts1.

The art and science of conflict resolution ha s already generated the amount of literature comparable to religious. Various handbooks teach us how to avoid, forecast, de-escalate, settle, transform, use, or just live in peace with c onflicts. Most people would like to develop these skills, but real-lif e situations, unlike those in the books, are usually elusive and subjectively disguised, and the tips often di sagree. One way to overcome this Babel was sought in creating a comprehensive and well subs tantiated conflict theory.

What is normally meant by conflict theory in scien tific writings, is either its partly or fully formalized version, or even an abstract mathem atical theory often derived from, or based on John von Neumann's theory of games, to a limited exte nt applicable to signif icant fields of social life, or would rather represent a summarized acc ount of various conceptions pertaining to major types of conflict. Fully comprehensive conflict th eory is hardly expectable to emerge, but the already discovered regularities s hould make for more precise and unified definitions, and more adequate interpretation and use of terms. Still, neither of the existing theories has managed to sufficiently clarify the basic issu es that brought them to life, to the extent of making them applicable to people's lives and decision-making.

It is very easy to theoretically imagine the c onflict situations releva nt to non-zero-sum games where 'win/win' or 'lose/lose' outcomes are possi ble, but it is extremely hard to upgrade your living to this elementary truth. Why does it happe n that judgments and ge neralizations jeopardize conversation, interpretations en force "black/white" (binary) thinking, lack of communication creates "enemy", and simple othern ess grows into intolerance? Do "true" and "false" pictures of conflict really exist, or can their antagonism be overcome? It turns out that these (already) traditional issues of conflict studies are closely linked with the problems of systems analysis, philosophical logic, political psychology, and other fields of modern academic research. Many of the frequently used terms do not necessarily have to be used on the intuitive basis, as they already have clarified and precise meanings in the relevant fields of theoretical knowledge. Yet there are many others that have to be used in all of their obscu rity, or to be proven as empty signifiers. 'Tender is the night', a nd 'life is just a walking shadow', but we 'poor players' have to make it signify something.

 

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