Frontiers Topic Area: Scale, Complexity, and Intractability



Frontiers Seminar posts offer articles and video lectures that offer a more in-depth look at many of the ideas being discussed in the
Hyper-Polarization Discussion

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This seminar is actually a combination of the first four seminars in the Conflict Frontiers Massive Open Online Seminar (MOOS) Series. Here we explain how intractable conflicts are different from "ordinary" conflicts and what that means for how they should be addressed. The four seminars in this combination seminar are linked and described below.

  • Frontiers Seminar 1 The Challenge of Complex, Large-Scale Intractable Conflict -- Here we explain the many factors that create intractability, and why we think these factors make intractable conflicts the biggest threat to humanity's well-being. (Hint: it's because we can't solve any of our other problems if we can't successfully deal with these conflicts!) 
    Note: This seminar is made up of 6 short (10-15 minute) videos.  For a much shorter, text-based version of the same content, see The Challenge of Complex, Intractable Conflicts.
  • Frontiers Seminar 2 Pushing the Frontier: Limits of Business as Usual Approaches -- It is often assumed that all conflicts can be addressed with the same well-tested, very successful conflict resolution techniques that work for small-scale intractable conflict.  We assert here that these "business-as-usual" strategies are not sufficient for intractable conflicts for a variety of reasons--they are highly complex, they are very large scale, and the people involved have concerns that go beyond a rational weighing of interests.
  • Frontiers Seminar 3 Introduction to Complexity and "Systems Thinking" -- Theoretical Antecedents -- A few conflict theorists and practitioners have recognized the limits of traditional approaches to conflict and have been developing a variety of ideas about "systems" and "complexity-based" approaches to conflict which are reviewed here.
  • Frontiers Seminar 4 Moving Toward a Complexity-Oriented Paradigm -- In this seminar we (Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess) present "our take" on systems thinking and complexity, drawing from these earlier authors but also integrating the ideas of Kenneth Boulding and Wendell Jones relating to levels of systems and complex adaptive systems. These ideas have led us to develop the concept of "Massively Parallel Peacebuilding," which is explored in the next Featured Seminar.

    Note: This seminar is made up of 13 short (10-15) minute videos.  For a much shorter overview of the key ideas, you can read our essay on A Complexity-Oriented Approach to Intractable Conflict.

The Hyper-Polarization Crisis: A Conflict Resolution Challenge

We continue to develop and refine the above ideas in the context of an online discussion that Beyond Intractability is convening in partnership with the Conflict Resolution Quarterly. For our latest thinking, we recommend these articles and invite you to follow and contribute to the discussion.