Solved IGNOU Assignment >> MPC004 >> Q3

3. Discuss the nature of social conflict. Explain the methods of conflict resolution with their application to social conflicts in India.

The Nature of Social Conflict

Sometimes, members of society may perceive their personal interests as incompatible, and instead of coordinating their efforts, may work against each other, often producing negative results for all. This is known as conflict, and can be defined as a process in which individuals or groups perceive that others have taken, or will soon take, actions incompatible with their own interests (DeDreu, 2010).

The nature of conflict is discussed below:
1. Conflict is correlative to power: Power, simply, is the capability to produce effects; conflict is the process of powers meeting and balancing. To understand what powers succeed requires comprehending their conflicts; to understand conflict involves untangling the powers involved.
2. Conflict can be a potentiality or a situation: Reality comprises multiform and interwoven potentialities, dispositions, and powers. What aspect becomes manifest (turn into a situation) depends on the dialectical confrontation between this reality and our perspective, which is a power, an outward directed vector.
3. Conflict can be an event or a process: Conflict is a process, for has a nasty way of escalating—from simple mistrust, through a spiral of anger, to actions designed to harm the other side. It may also be an event that happens once and never repeats.
4. Conflict is universal: Our learning about ourselves, others, and reality, our growth and development, and our increasing ability to create our own heaven or hell, comes through conflict. It exists everywhere.

Methods of conflict resolution and their application to social conflicts in India

Conflicts within groups are often likely to develop under conditions of scarce resources where group members must compete with each other to obtain them. A variety of social factors can play a strong role in initiating and intensifying conflicts. Because conflicts are costly, people are motivated to resolve them.

Following are some conflict resolution methods:


The most common strategy for resolving conflicts is bargaining or negotiation (Pruitt & Carnevale, 1993). In this process, opposing sides exchange offers, counteroffers, and concessions, either directly or through representatives. If the process is successful, a solution acceptable to both sides is attained, and the conflict is resolved. If, instead, bargaining is unsuccessful, costly deadlock may result and the conflict is likely to intensify.

An important determinant of the outcome of bargaining involves the overall orientation of the bargainers to the process (Pruitt & Carnevale, 1993). People taking part in negotiations can approach such discussions from three distinct perspectives (also known as scientific approaches).
1. They can view the negotiations as “win–lose” situations in which gains by one side are necessarily linked with losses for the other. So they try to win at any cost. The typical solution is forcing/competing. Ex: The wars over Kashmir, where both India and Pakistan want to win due to its strategic and military importance.
2. They can view negotiations as “lose-lose” situations in which both the sides will necessarily suffer losses. The typical solution is to compromising, smoothing or withdrawing. Ex: When two communities are fighting over petty issues such as “loudspeakers during festivals” and members end up in jail.
3. They can approach negotiations as potential “win–win” situations in which the interests of the two sides are not necessarily incompatible and in which the potential gains of both sides can be maximized. The typical solution is confrontation and problem solving or collaborating. Ex: Separatist movements where allowing the separatists to surrender and become part of mainstream population creates a win-win situation for both.

The last approach produces more favorable results in the long run—and is typically what is used when negotiating major long-running conflicts. When the two parties communicate clearly about their underlying needs, a new option that satisfies both parties’ needs can often be found. This technique—called bridging—is one of many techniques for attaining such integrative solutions to conflicts.

Pro-social behavior

Research has found that when members belonging to one of the parties involved in conflict engage in some kind of prosocial behavior, such as giving charity, working for welfare, helping in distress etc., toward members of other community, it impacts the perception and thus the attitude towards them. This can lead to significant reduction in conflict.

Example: It has been seen that in times of hardships Gurudwaras have opened their doors for Muslims to offer Id prayers and Mosques have opened their doors to Hindus to offer Puja, which have been projected as examples of communal harmony throughout the country.

Super-ordinate Goals

Members of groups in conflict often divide the world into two opposing camps—“us” and “them.” They perceive members of their own group (us) as quite different from, and usually better than, people belonging to other groups (them). These tendencies to magnify differences between one’s own group and others and to disparage outsiders are very powerful and often play a role in the occurrence and persistence of conflicts.

They can be countered through the induction of super-ordinate goals— goals that both sides seek, and that tie their interests together rather than driving them apart (Sherif et al., 1961). When opposing sides can be made to see that they share overarching goals, conflict is often sharply reduced and may, in fact, be replaced by overt cooperation.

Example: Two villages who may be in conflict over water resources can be shown that if they work together to construct a road to the next water resource, their problems will be permanently solved.

Third Party intervention

Mediation by an arbitrator or third party plays a crucial role in conflict resolution. The third party typically helps in the problem solving process – helping generate a solution that appears to be “win-win” for both the parties. Considering the solution is obtained through open discussion and negotiation, the chances of its success are high.

Example: In cases of conflict between various states over issues such as water and power sharing the central government or the relevant political parties may act as mediators to ensure that an amicable solution is reached.

* * *

Scarcity of resources of interest or perception that interests are incompatible can cause conflict. By nature conflict is correlative to power, it can be a potentiality or a situation, it can be an event or a process and it is universal. It can be resolved using various methods such as bargaining (includes various ways such as compromising, smoothing and confrontation and problem solving), pro-social behavior and setting superordinate goals. In any case third party intervention may prove to be beneficial to the contract resolution process.

Social Psychology, 12th Edition by Robert A. Baron, Nyla R. Branscombe, Donn R. Byrne, Gopa Bhardwaj (Click for eBook)

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