Summary of "The Social Psychology of Intergroup and International Conflict"

Summary of

The Social Psychology of Intergroup and International Conflict

by Ronald Fisher

Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff

Citation: The Social Psychology of Intergroup and International Conflict, Ronald Fisher, New York: Springer-Verlag, 1990, 277 pp.

The Social Psychology of Intergroup and International Conflict Resolution explores the "causation, escalation, de-escalation, and resolution" of intergroup conflicts from the perspective of social-psychology.

The Social Psychology of Intergroup and International Conflict Resolution will be of interest to those who seek a better understanding of the social psychological approach to conflict studies. This work is divided into ten chapters, with author and subject indices. Chapter One introduces the social-psychological approach to intergroup conflict. Social-psychological approaches to conflict studies share three common elements, which "can be characterized as phenomenological, interactive, and multilevel within a systems approach."[6] Intergroup conflicts range from conflicts between departments within the same organization, to ethnic conflicts, to international conflicts. Of particular interest to the authors are protracted social conflicts, which are "typically rooted in a combination of economic underdevelopment, structural inequality, and nonintegrated political systems."[5] A social psychological approach addresses such conflicts through consideration of human and group-based needs.

Chapter Two reviews classic theories in the field of social psychology, with special attention to their definitions of conflict, and accounts of the causes and escalation of conflicts. The authors review realistic group conflict theory, social identity theory, and classic field studies. Chapter Three stresses the phenomenological element of social-psychological research. It reviews contemporary research on social perception and cognition, with particular attention paid to the effects of categorizing individuals into groups. Chapter Four turns its attention to conflict escalation. It examines how particular features of groups can contribute to conflict escalation. The authors examine the role of self-esteem, group identity, ethnocentrism, group cohesion, conformity, polarization, leadership and constituent pressure in escalating intergroup conflicts. Chapter Four also examines the tendency of groups to resort to crisis decision-making rather than the more effective problem-solving approach to decision-making.

Chapter Five draws upon the earlier chapter to presents a "social-psychological model of intergroup conflict that captures the essential variables and processes at the individual, group, and intergroup levels of analysis."[18] The authors describe the key variables at each level in some detail. They then describe twenty principles which govern interactions among these key variables. The chapter concludes with discussions of the boundaries, system states, and basic predictions of the model.

The remaining chapters turn from theory development toward theory application. Chapter Six describes Intergroup Conflict Simulation, and assesses its usefulness as a tool for further conflict research. Chapter Seven explores destructive international conflicts, focusing on Cold War superpower conflicts. It presents a social-psychological analysis of communication, cognitive factors, sources and negotiation of international conflict. It closes with an assessment of the potential for de-escalation of international conflicts. Chapter Eight describes social-psychological approaches to conflict de-escalation, management and resolution. The use of Graduated Reciprocation in Tension-reduction (GRIT) and problem-solving workshops are discussed in more depth. Chapter Nine examines the contributions of third-parties to conflict resolution, and attempts to develop a taxonomy of third-party intervention. Use of facilitated problem-solving is contrasted to and evaluated against more traditional mediation techniques.

Chapter Ten concludes this text with a discussion of the major themes which structure the work. Major themes include the importance of addressing cognitive structures, group and individual identity, and group level processes in order to understand the escalation and de-escalation of intergroup conflicts. The authors also stress the need to take a systems approach to understanding conflict. Finally they discuss the implications of their theories and findings for conflict de-escalation and conflict resolution.

The Social Psychology of Intergroup and International Conflict Resolution attempts to provide a comprehensive and cumulative account of social psychological theory and research regarding intergroup conflict. This text will be most helpful to the reader who has some familiarity with social psychology, or related fields.