About the Field

Conflict as a Field of Study and Practice

The Study of Conflict

The study of conflict goes by many names: Dispute Resolution … Conflict Resolution.... Conflict Management … Conflict Transformation … Collaborative Problem Solving … Consensus Building … Peace Building… and many others.  Regardless of what it is called, the study of conflict includes essential core components:

  • Causes & characteristics of conflict, both individual & systemic
  • Contexts in which conflict occurs and the importance of different contexts (e.g. family, organizational, international, or cross-cultural) as they influence the management of conflict
  • Consequences of conflict
  • Strategies for conflict prevention
  • Intervention strategies.

Students will explore alternative ways of coping with conflict that include:

  • Diagnosis of organizational conflict patterns and the design of better organizational processes
  • Relationship of settlement-oriented processes to decision-making processes
  • Uses and limits of training as an intervention technique
  • Political implications for management, resolution, or escalation of conflict.

The study of conflict is interdisciplinary, and draws on law, sociology, psychology, social psychology, political theory, international relations, and public policy.

Conflict Resolution Practice: Not Just Mediation

One common role that conflict practitioners play is that of third party neutral. Mediation is increasingly used in a variety of settings. In the legal system and in the courts, mediation is used as an alternative to, or in conjunction with, litigation. It has become increasingly prevalent in dealing with divorce and custody issues. Other areas where mediation is being used include adoption, elder care, end-of-life decision making, medical malpractice, and organizational and workplace issues.

However, the scope of work of conflict practitioners is broader than mediation. While “conflict practitioner” is not often listed in a job posting, the skills involved are highly valued in a wide variety of contexts.

Many conflict practitioners work within organizations, others as outside consultants. For some conflict resolution and management is their primary job; for others it is one of many responsibilities. Their titles are as varied as Ombudsperson, Human Resources Specialist, Nurse Manager, Division Chief, Foreign Aid Coordinator, School Principal, Environmental Specialist, or Patient Advocate. In their roles, they might:

  • Undertake a comprehensive analysis of conflict resolution systems within an organization or help to design such systems
  • Be asked to help resolve conflicts between employees or departments
  • Facilitate meetings
  • Become involved with customer relations
  • Conduct negotiation, or coach others involved in complicated negotiations
  • Train others in conflict skills such as life skills for violence prevention, advocacy, and self-advocacy.

A review of the web sites of professional organizations such as the Association for Conflict Resolution and the International Ombudsman Association can provide additional perspective about the field.

The "conflict" field is broad and varied, and anything but static. The work of our current students  and alumni helps illustrate the range of opportunities available.