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TC's Coleman Will Discuss His New Book on Intractable Conflict

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Peter Coleman

Peter Coleman


Israel and Palestine. The abortion wars. A horrible divorce that degenerates into a mutual desire to simply inflict hurt. They’re called intractable conflicts, and while they constitute only about five percent of all disputes, they go on—and on—becoming more rancorous, entangled and destructive for all involved.
 
Together with a global team in the International Project on Conflict and Complexity, Peter Coleman, Associate Professor of Psychology and director of the TC-based International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution (ICCCR), has made intractable conflict the focus of his research.

This coming Thursday, May 5th, at 4 p.m., Coleman will discuss his soon-to-be-released book, The Five Percent: Finding Solutions to Seemingly Impossible Conflicts. The event will be held in Room 555 in Columbia’s Alfred Lerner Hall. To RSVP click here or contact Juliette de Wolfe at 212.678.3402.

The hallmark of intractable conflict, Coleman says, is that “as the situation becomes more complicated…the players’ positions become more simplified. And that paradox is key.”

In fact, intractable conflicts degenerate into standoffs precisely because antagonists frame them as right versus wrong, us versus them, ignoring all nuance. Mediation over specific bones of contention—alimony payments, land rights, prisoner exchanges—often has no impact; instead, Coleman recommends focusing on “attractors” that pull antagonists back into the least flexible and most destructive stances.

Attractors often relate to emotional context, how issues are framed and entrenched patterns of behavior. The key, Coleman argues, is to “unattract” antagonists—to wean them off conflict by, for example, promoting peripheral initiatives that show them the benefits of cooperation. Or as he recommends: “Identify the small things that change everything.”

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