Summary of "Conflict and Defense"

Summary of

Conflict and Defense

By Kenneth Boulding

Summary written by Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: Boulding, Kenneth. Conflict and Defense. (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1962) 349 pp.

Conflict and Defense presents a general theory of conflict, drawing on theoretical analyses from sociology and economics. This text examines the common processes of conflict, the roles of different participants in conflicts, and describes features which are unique to specific types of conflict.

Conflict and Defense will be of interest to those who seek an improved theoretic understanding of conflict. This work is divided into sixteen chapters, with an index and preface. Chapters One through Nine draw on models from many of the social sciences to develop a general theory of conflict. Chapters Ten through Fifteen focus on the application of this theory to particular cases, "with emphasis on the differences among the various kinds of conflict rather than on their similarity." Chapter Sixteen concludes with the author's epilogue, which examines the (then) present crisis of conflict and defense.

Chapters One through Four explore conflict through various sociologic and economic models. Chapter One applies static-equilibrium models to conflict. Chapter Two explores the dynamic processes of conflict via the Richardson Process Model. Chapter Three discusses the contributions of game theory, which decision-making under conditions of uncertainty, to understanding conflict. Chapter Four discusses the theory of viability. Viability refers to "the ability and willingness of one party [to a conflict] to destroy or eliminate another."

Chapters Five through Nine consider the various types of parties to a conflict, and explores their particular roles and behaviors. Chapter Five discusses the individual participant, contrasting the economic and psychological approach to human behavior. Chapters Six and Seven discuss the participation of groups, drawing on the ecological and epidemiological models respectively. Chapter Eight explores the organization as a party to conflict. Chapter Nine then explores conflicts between these different types of participants: between individuals and organizations, for example.

Chapters Ten through Fifteen analyze particular types of conflicts, with an eye toward identifying significant differences among diverse types of conflict. Economic, industrial, and ideological and ethical conflicts are explored. International conflict is described using both the basic model elaborated above, and a modified version of the basic model which recognizes the unique potential for war in international conflicts. Generally, the author concludes that "the process by which relations go from bad to worse are rather similar in all cases." Conflicts differ primarily in the sorts of crisis, or breakdowns, which may occur. Chapter Fifteen turns its attention to the control and resolution of conflict, and describes two general obstacles to control and resolution: the failure to detect conflicts, and inadequate understanding of conflict resolution procedures.

Conflict and Defense offers both a general theoretic model of conflict, and analyses of the unique features which distinguish international, economic, industrial and ideological conflicts. It is clearly written and will be accessible to the well-informed reader.