Protracted, Intractable Conflict

Intractable conflicts are a type of human interaction that may very well determine our capacity to survive as a species. They are defined as conflicts that are highly destructive, enduring, and particularly resistant to attempts to resolve them. They are also quite common. Currently, about 40% of intrastate armed conflicts have persisted for 10 years or more, with 25% of the wars being waged lasting for more than 25 years. In these settings, entire generations of youth are socialized into war, a condition we know to perpetuate it. Indeed, enduring conflicts have been linked to one half of the interstate wars since 1816, with 10 out of 12 of the most severe international wars emerging from protracted destructive relations. At a local level, communities and organizations worldwide are facing ongoing struggles over race, class, and gender inequities, as well as over such concerns as the adverse effects of industrialization on the environment. These conflicts often escalate into long-term malignant processes with high social and economic costs, eventually appearing boundless and hopelessly unsolvable.

Our scholarship in this area has focused on improving our understanding of the unique dynamics involved in intractable conflicts; both generally as whole systems, as well as specifically through the investigation of key components of the problems. This has included research on the underlying motivational processes of disputants, identity formation and change under these conditions, and the role moral emotions play in sustaining conflict. Our current work in this area is summarized below.