Integrative Power

Máire A. Dugan

October 2003

"In life, the issue is not control, but dynamic connectedness." -- Erich Jantsch

In August 1945, the world witnessed the impact of a startlingly destructive new weapon. The mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki represented so significant an advance in the technology of weaponry that they heralded the dawning of a new era -- the Atomic Age. Its advent was a product of humankind's unleashing of a physical power more potent than any previously used. We had harnessed the power of the atom.

It was clear that the peoples and nations of the world had witnessed a turning point, one that made the world different from what it had been. History and physics books alike had to be rewritten. And many of us still struggle to understand the physics behind this destruction -- the power within the nucleus of the atom.

Invoking the most destructive days in human history may seem a strange way to introduce a chapter on cooperative and integrative power. But the forces that hold together the atom are to physical life what integrative power is to social life. Integrative power is the binding force in society, and like the atom's nuclear forces, its effects are virtually invisible when things are going well. Like nuclear forces, it represents tremendous power, a foundation upon which other forms build. Though it is as important to society as nuclear forces are it the atom, integrative power receives scant attention in either theoretical or practical literature.

In a real sense, intractable conflict represents the absence of integrative power. This may be because integrative power has broken down, as in the case of the former Yugoslavia, or because it never existed, as in the case of many oppressed peoples.

Theorists and Practitioners on Integrative Power

Dennis Sandole describes how integrative exchanges are superior forms of power and coercion.

Some theorists have recognized the importance of integrative power. Kenneth Boulding[1] is pre-eminent among them, having identified integrative power as the most potent in comparison to the other main forms, coercive power and exchange power. Integrative power, Boulding argued, is the most basic form in that the other two cannot exist without some measure of integration, whereas integration may exist with neither force nor trade going on. Without the "esprit de corps effect," the most well-equipped army is a mere rabble; without an agreed-upon set of rules and expectations, production and trade cannot proceed.

Karl Deutsch defines "the essence of politics [as] the dependable coordination of human efforts and expectations for the attainment of the goals of the society."[2] In this regard, he sees communication both as a primary function of any organization, including government, and as the source of the capacity (power) of the organization to maintain itself.

Hannah Arendt's definition of power underscores its root cooperative nature: "power corresponds to the human ability not just to act but to act in concert."[3] Applied to government, its source at the base is not arms or riches, but the support of the governed: "It is the people's support that lends power to the institutions of a country, and this support is but the continuation of the consent that brought the laws into existence to begin with."

Some practitioners and activists also recognize the value of integrative power, as did the American Black Power movement of the 1960s. While the movement is often associated with calls for coercive power on the part of the aggrieved, its key representatives nonetheless saw the need for integrative power at its base:

The adoption of the concept of Black Power ... is a call for black people in this country to unite, to recognize their heritage, to build a sense of community. It is a call for black people to begin to define their own goals, to lead their own organizations and to support those organizations. ... It does not mean merely putting black faces into office. ... The power must be that of a community and emanate from there.[4]

Integrative power, or what Boulding called "the hug," thus represents the most varied, complex, and basic form of power. Yet, while persuasion, integration, and cooperation are all studied to one degree or another, they receive little scholarly attention as sources of power. To discuss the importance of integrative power in situations of intractable conflict therefore requires extrapolation from sources that do not necessarily equate these concepts with power. The task is easiest with persuasion, since it is treated as a form of power in fields such as marketing and has an extensive literature of its own. The persuasive form of integrative power is therefore treated in a separate essay.

It is up to this essay, then, to discuss integrative power more broadly and to illustrate its relationship to intractable conflict.

A Working Definition

Kristen Clay talks about a successful advocacy campaign designed to encourage an Indonesian paper mill to practice sustainable forestry.

Though theorists such as Boulding, Deutsch, and Arendt discuss integrative power and its importance, not one of them clearly defines it. Arendt comes closest, having caught the essence of the form in her focus on cooperation, but we are still left to ask what is inducing the cooperation of which she speaks. Boulding tries to deal with this question, giving the most attention to love as the source of integrative power. He suggests that if the word love seems too strong, the word respect can be substituted. Rather than saying, "You do something for me because you love me,"[5] one can say, "You do something for me because you respect me."

Love seems incongruent with most of what we know about large group behavior, and respect or even loyalty does not seem in itself sufficiently strong or intense to explain that form of power on which all others rest. I suggest that its base is something more primordial -- the human need to belong.

Abraham Maslow identifies belonging and love as just above physiological and safety needs, in his hierarchy of needs. In other words, once our survival is ensured our next most pressing agenda as human beings is to belong, to love and be loved. Mary E. Clark points out that "the most fundamental aspect of our biological origins is our social nature. Indeed, there is no doubt that our ancestors were social before they were human, and consequently the greatest human need that we all have is for social bonding."[6] Clark goes on to stress that such bonding must be meaningful:

(H)uman beings require more than simple familiarity in order to feel "comfortable" with one another and accepted in a deeply meaningful social group. They require a sense of shared social goals. ... The historically remembered past extends through the brief present into an indefinite future. Perhaps one of the greatest human needs of all is this sense of temporal continuity between an unexperienced yet culturally present past and a never to be experienced yet personally significant future.[7]

Our need for belonging thus cannot be satisfied simply by being in the presence of other people. We must share past experiences and have common visions of the future. Our relationship must have continuity over time, and a depth of connectedness. On this basis, we build a shared social fabric.

Integrative power is thus defined as the capacity to obtain what we need and want, in concert with others. This is the richest form of power because it is rooted in the most basic element of human nature. It also has the richest potential. Because human organizations are dynamic and organic, the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts. Integrative power thus transforms in a way that always adds to what existed before the change.

Costs of Disintegration

When integration crumbles, the costs are enormous. In a very real sense, intractable conflict may be seen as a loss of integrative power. The former Yugoslavia, in the 1990s, is a good example. The many ethnicities within the country initially lived and worked together in apparent harmony, but they gradually became less integrated, and were instead held together by defining each other as enemies. Here we have "disintegrative power." Disintegrative power involves a "severe pathology of the integrative system...where a negative identity (where people derive their identify from what they are not -- not what they are) leads into a pathological situation of internal violence."[8] In general, "(b)oth personal and political violence are closely related to some kind of breakdown or deficiency in the integrative system."[9]

In the most severe cases of intractable conflict, integrative power, particularly in its collaborative form, has been severely fragmented and depleted. The fabric of the community has been torn. The absence of integrative power leads to the situation that power, in the sense of power to bring about change in the behavior of others, is not a factor in such conflicts. The purpose of the actors in such situations is not to change the behavior of the other party; it is rather to annihilate the other, or to wreak revenge. Historical examples include the Holocaust of the Jews in the mid-20th century, the Armenian genocide in the early 20th century, and An Gorta Mor (The Great Hunger) in mid-19th-century Ireland.[10] Modern cases of "ethnic cleansing" include Bosnia and Rwanda.

Although power is not operative in these cases, force and violence are still present. Indeed, they are rampant.

It may be a young widow who lost her children under the ruins of her family home and who turned herself into a sniper. It may be a Palestinian child who witnessed how his brother bled to death, shot by an Israeli soldier, a boy who then grabbed a stone and became a freedom fighter.[11]

Joined together in cells, mobs, gangs, or paramilitary troops, such people, often understandably, may hate, seek revenge, and wish to obliterate their opponents and have them suffer the same unbearable pain. These people are not seeking to change their targets' behavior. And just as they are not seeking to change the behavior of their adversaries, they are often beyond the reach of third parties.

Contemporary conflict is not rational. The tools of official diplomacy and military solutions are not adequate for handling such conflicts. Who is the enemy of well-equipped, highly trained NATO soldiers and Russian UFOR boys who are sent to the region ready for modern combat? Typically, their "combat field" is a street in a small town or village, and the "enemy" is a crowd of angry men and women, former neighbors shouting at each other, cursing each other, ready to stone or shoot each other.[12]

In order for such conflicts to move toward peace, the parties must rebuild their integrative power, their capacity to live together, to be a community. Unfortunately, the individual desire for revenge tends to be mirrored in national and international policy in responding to terrorism and to ethnic cleansing. We tend to respond with the stick, sometimes carrots, but almost never the hug. "The renewal of civil community requires the catalyst of empathy."[13] If we seek to quell modern warfare, be it gang warfare, terrorism, or ethnic cleansing, we need to commit ourselves to helping fragmented communities build their own integrative power.

Mechanisms for Building/Rebuilding Integrative Power

Where integrative power does not exist or has been damaged or destroyed, the key question thus becomes how to create it. Specific approaches to rebuilding integrative power are discussed in other essays. Botcharova[14] emphasizes Track Two diplomacy and facilitated dialogues. My nested model[15] suggests working primarily at the level of the subsystem, reforming organizations and institutions to serve as oases of peace within a fragmented society, and as models of what society could be like.

For purposes of connecting the conflict-resolution literature in general with strategies for recreating integration in intractable conflict situations, I suggest looking at those processes that relate to three general phases: Understanding, Conciliation/Reconciliation, and Cooperative Work.


For people to act effectively, they must understand each other's motivations, interests, and needs. In intractable conflict, there is little base for mutual understanding. This is why there is such an emphasis on talking, in the field of conflict resolution. I cannot know if I am willing to be responsive to your concerns, if I do not know what they are. If I am in the midst of an intractable conflict with you, whatever recent communication we have had is likely to have taken the form of stating our own individual positions or mutual recriminations. We have probably been withholding information from each other rather than sharing our individual interests and needs.

Communication offers a path to increasing our understanding. The emphasis on communication in conflict resolution, however, focuses on talking about the conflict, and developing joint strategies for dealing with it. What I am suggesting here is different: that we need forums simply for getting to know each other better.

In the midst of intractable conflict, this is no small task. We are each likely to feel endangered on each other's territory. Facilitated discussions often provide only surface knowledge. One mechanism that has been used in the past is human exchanges, of children, of students, of travelers, of businesspeople. Kenneth Boulding[16] goes so far as to suggest the exchange of generals and spies. Morton Deutsch spoke of the potential role of leadership exchange in improving relations between the United States and Soviet Union during the Cold War:

Obviously encouraging more and more of their leaders to visit the United States and to talk informally with congressmen, administration officials, businessmen, and others, may enable them to realize that many of our most influential citizens do, in fact, perceive our orientation as defensive and determined by their hostile, threatening orientation (as opposed to the U.S. orientation being based on a desire to harm the Soviets).[17]

However instructive human exchanges may be, however, they are insufficient in themselves to prompt the development of sufficient integrative power to overcome intractable conflict.


A second step involves seeking forgiveness. Reconciliation is the term most often used in the literature, but conciliation may be a more appropriate word. Reconciliation implies that the relationship has been a good one at an early time period. In the case of intractable conflict, this may have been so long in the past, that it is not part of the operative memory of key parties. Here, Elise Boulding's idea of the 100 Year Present[18] may be useful. She points out that people are a product of both their pasts and their futures, of what they've learned from parents and grandparents, and what they hope for children and grandchildren. To go beyond this time frame asks us to take into consideration a much broader time frame than most of us are equipped to do (although some Native American groups call upon themselves for much more: hearing the wisdom of all ancestors, and considering the needs of descendants down to the Seventh Generation). The more deeply we are involved in a conflict, the less likely we are to be able to take such a broad viewpoint. The rule of thumb I suggest is that we work on conciliation rather than reconciliation, if a good relationship with the adversary was not part of one's grandparents' experience.

This may seem a purely semantic point, but it is not. The parties in conflict, and those intending to resolve it, must be mindful that they are talking about creating something new, rather than building on something that previously existed. Apologies and efforts at atonement are appropriate strategies for conciliation. This too has great challenges. Even more than individuals, social groups tend to be fearful of making apologies, let alone atoning, for past wrongs.

Additionally, the form that apology and atonement take vary widely. Sometimes, a sincere apology is sufficient. At other times, apology rings hollow to the aggrieved; credible strategies for behavioral change or recompense for past wrongs are required. It is not possible to reach back into the past and undo the harm done, so actions that will lead to forgiveness are not obvious. To increase the likelihood that the promised behavioral change or atonement action will be acceptable, it is important to listen to what the other party feels would be appropriate. Sometimes both parties feel aggrieved; in this case, it is important for each side to take into consideration that it has more control over its own actions and responses than over those of the other, and that therefore one should not delay beginning until the other acts.

Cooperative Action

In the 1950s and 1960s, social psychologists, led by Muzafer and Carolyn Sharif, conducted a series of experiments in which high levels of conflict were artificially created between groups of boys attending summer camp.[19] The Sharifs and their colleagues then tested a variety of strategies to reduce the hostility among the boys. The strategy that worked most effectively was the introduction of what the researchers called superordinate or transcendent goals. They created crises in the camp, which they were able to define as requiring the joint efforts of boys from opposing sides in order to solve. By the time the boys had completed a series of joint tasks and celebrated their achievements, the pre-existing tension had completely dissipated. One particularly impressive indicator of this was that boys were just as likely to name members of the "other side" as friends, as they were members of their own group. At the height of the conflict, virtually no one named a member of the other group among his friends.

This, of course, was not a deep intractable conflict; it was therefore much more open to resolution than the many deep and long-term divisions that we experience in our society and our world. The Sharifs had the advantage of being able to manipulate the situation in ways that real-world conflict parties and interveners do not. Nonetheless, the benefit of working together on joint goals stands out as the strongest possible strategy for knitting torn social fabrics. It makes sense. If cooperation is the basis of integrative power, as Arendt posits, then cooperating on specific projects is a reasonable way of producing a spirit of cooperation. Aside from the opportunity to increase mutual understanding and respect, joint ventures produce outcomes that can be of benefit to all involved. As Morton Deutsch notes, "(I)t is, of course, these very gains from cooperation which will create a web of interdependence that gives each side a positive interest in the other's well-being."[20]

Cooperative work must include the involvement of all levels of society. While acknowledging the importance of the work of political leaders in fashioning new agreements and redefining power relationships in Northern Ireland, Geraldine Smyth stresses that "any new political and judicial arrangements must be embedded in their acceptance by local communities, and that the political strategies will succeed only if some counterbalancing weight and vitality is allowed to the role of groups and movements in civil society.[21]

A Case for Hopefulness

The tasks briefly outlined above underscore the overwhelming nature of any attempt to create integrative power. It may be helpful to remind ourselves that there are historical examples of successful intentional efforts to build integrative power.

In 1945, much of Europe stood in shambles as the nations of that continent surveyed how to move forward. France and Germany had been bitter enemies for decades, and with the pain inflicted on each other by yet another war, long-term peace in Europe seemed a remote possibility. Yet a few decades later, the European Union was a reality.

This did not happen by chance, but rather through a series of moves, carefully thought out as steps toward the desired vision. All of the steps recommended earlier in this essay were taken. Meetings were held, in areas where people of French and German heritage lived near each other. There were opportunities for gaining understanding as well as for apology. A stage not mentioned above was very important, that of envisioning what a united Europe would look like and developing a plan for getting there.[22] The plan rested on cooperative action, the first step of which was the European Coal and Steel Community.

Hallstein identifies four essential characteristics of the Community, the first three being that "it was supranational, that it was practical and that it was partial," and the fourth, that "it shares with all aspects and phases of the movement for European unity: that is, its evolutionary nature."[23] In other words, the European Coal and Steel Community was something on which European nations could cooperate for mutual aid and benefit, and it was also part of a larger plan to build on the integration that it itself would achieve.


The establishment of the European Union generates hopefulness about the possibilities of generating positive outcomes for current intractable conflicts. But this will not be done solely with coercive power or negotiation (exchange power). Most important of all is the regeneration of integrative power. That is by far the key ingredient in conflict transformation.

[1] Boulding, Kenneth E. Three Faces of Power. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1989.

[2] Karl Deutsch 1966, p. 124

[3] Arendt, 1970, p. 41

[4] Carmichael and Hamilton, 1970, pp. 362-363

[5] Boulding, 1989, p. 20

[6] Mary E. Clark, 1990, p. 39

[7] Mary E. Clark, 1990, p. 48

[8] K. Boulding, 1989, p. 62

[9] K. Boulding, 1994, p. 52

[10] Often euphemistically referred to as the Irish Famine, which serves to obscure the genocidal impact of the British Corn Laws. Ireland had abundant grain crops during those years, but the grain was reserved for export and the Irish were left to starve or emigrate.

[11] Botcharova, 2001, pp. 280-81

[12] Botcharova, 2001, p. 280

[13] Schriver, 2001, p. 163

[14] Botcharova, Olga. "Implementation of Tract Two Diplomacy: Developing a Model of Forgiveness," in Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Religion, Public Policy and Conflict Transformation. Raymond G, Helmick, S.J. and Rodney L. Petersen, eds. Radnor, PA: Templeton Foundation Press, 2001, pp. 279-304.

[15] Dugan, M'ire A. "A Nested Theory of Conflict," Women and Leadership: Sharing the Vision, Vol. 1, No. 1, Summer 1996.

[16] Boulding, Kenneth E. Conflict and Defense. New York: Harper & Row, 1962.

[17] Deutsch, M., 1964, p.155

[18] Boulding, Elise. Building a Global Civic Culture: Education for an Interdependent World. New York: Teachers College Press, 1988.

[19] Sharif, 1966

[20] M. Deutsch, p. 157

[21] Geraldine Smyth, 2001, pp. 332-33

[22] Dugan, 2000

[23] Hallstein, pp. 12-13

Use the following to cite this article:
Dugan, Máire A.. "Integrative Power." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: October 2003 <>.

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