Oppression and Conflict: Introduction

Morton Deutsch

March 2005, updated in June 2017, by Heidi Burgess

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This post is also part of the
Constructive Conflict
MOOS Seminar's

exploration of the tough challenges posed by the
Constructive Conflict Initiative.


Oppression is at the root of many of the most serious, enduring conflicts in the world today. Racial and religious conflicts; conflicts between dictatorial governments and their citizens; the battle between the sexes; conflicts between management and labor; between heterosexuals and homosexuals, between liberals and conservatives,  all stem, in whole or in part, to oppression or perceived oppression. In 2017, conflicts between religion and races seem to be on the significant increase, both in the U.S. and abroad. Many (on both sides) talk about a serious conflict between "the West" (mostly Christian) and Islam. The conflict between Jews (mostly in Israel) and Muslims has a long, extremely intractable, history.  The conflict in Syria is one of oppression based on religion (among other things), and the migration that has caused has spawned oppression of minorities in many other countries as well. In the United States, race was a big factor in the 2016 Presidential election, as working-class whites, long feeling oppressed by the liberal elite, lashed back by electing a President, who, though extremely rich, they still viewed as "one of their own," or at least one who wouldn't oppress whites, as they believed President Obama and other liberals before him had done.

Additional insights into oppression are offered by Beyond Intractability project participants.

This section of the knowledge base explores oppression: what causes it, and what can be done to address it. Most of the essays in this section (including this one) are drawn from a larger essay originally entitled "Oppression and Conflict[1]" Since that essay was too long to stand alone in Beyond Intractability, it is here divided up into six essays, which together make up an "oppression" section of the website.  In addition to this short introduction, the essays in this section currently include:

1. The Nature and Origins of Oppression;

2. The Forms of Oppression;

3. What Keeps Oppression in Place?

4. Awakening the Sense of Injustice;

5. Overcoming Oppression with Power;

6. Overcoming Oppression Through Persuasion

[1] The original paper was delivered as a plenary address at the annual meetings of the International Society of Justice Research in Skovde, Sweden on June 17, 2002.

Metagraphic "Fist Icon" Image – Source: https://pixabay.com/en/solider-salute-man-fist-hand-2345373/; By: Coffee; Permission: CC0 Creative Commons

Use the following to cite this article:
Deutsch, Morton. "Oppression and Conflict: Introduction." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: March 2005 <http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/oppression-introduction>.

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