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The Resolution of Conflict: Constructive and Destructive Processes


reviewed by Max Birnbaum - 1974

coverTitle: The Resolution of Conflict: Constructive and Destructive Processes
Author(s): Morton Deutsch
Publisher: Yale University Press, New Haven
ISBN: , Pages: 420, Year: 1974
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Morton Deutsch is professor of psychology and education and director of the social psychology laboratory at Teachers Col­lege, Columbia University. The Resolution of Conflict is the publication of Deutsch's Carl Hovland Memorial Lectures, Yale University's prestigious platform for psy­chologists of the first magnitude. Titles of the theoretical essays that comprise the first half of the book clearly indicate con­cern with matters of prime importance to schools: "Cooperative and Competitive Processes," "Group Formation," "Inter-group Conflict," "Threats," "Promises and Influence," and "Trust and Suspicion." The research papers, which make up the second half of the volume, also bear di­rectly on vital school problems: "Experi­mental Studies of Trust and Suspicion," "Effects of Threat and Communication Upon Interpersonal Bargaining: Initial Studies," and "Strategies of Inducing Co­operation: Experimental Studies." The sole chapter omitted from this list of re­search papers, as perhaps too far afield from the practical concerns of either teach­er or administrator, is "Intra-psychic Con­flict," and strong arguments can be offered for its inclusion. Finally, the concluding essay in Deutsch's volume, "Factors Influ­encing the Resolution of Conflict," touches on issues of the highest significance to a generation of men and women who have seen their schools become the cockpit of some of the fiercest intergroup conflicts of the 60s.

Yet despite Deutsch's present academic positions, which he has held for ten years, and the desperate needs of schools, es­pecially on the secondary level, for the sys­tematic exploration of intragroup and in­tergroup conflict and tensions, there are few references to schools or school teach­ers in the entire volume. Why is this the case? Deutsch and his colleagues are sure­ly not disinterested in what has been hap­pening to the social fabric of both secon­dary schools and universities. The off-cited paucity of research funds cannot here be blamed as the villain; money for research into school problems, including conflict issues, was widely available during the 1960s. Is it perhaps the special difficulties associated with intensive social psycholog­ical research in real-life situations, or the low academic status of applied research, which has inhibited the use of their shools as the matrix for research and theoretical spec­ulation? Undeniably, there are research de­sign difficulties in setting up neat experi­mental groups and corresponding control groups, and consequently, research find­ings which need to be capable of substan­tial predictability are not certain. However, it is very possible that the difficulties of research design, the low status of applied research, and other researcher-based causes may not be the major factors. School people are, let's face it, very reluc­tant to submit themselves and their stu­dents to the critical assessment of "out­siders" whose findings notoriously are up­setting to administrators and teachers, to say nothing of parents, politicians, and others 'who are influential outside the school. Imagine, if you please, a series of researches into the areas of threats, prom­ises, and influences within a specific class­room where teacher and students make up the universe under study; or a similar study scrutinizing comparable interactions be­tween the principal, teachers, students, and parents. Or, take another: the factors which influence "Trust and Suspicion" in selected secondary school classrooms. Final­ly, consider a series of school-based stud­ies on "The Effects of Threat and Com­munication Upon Interpersonal Bargain­ing," which would surely be a revelation to both teachers and students.

Some people will find selective reading in Deutsch's book, despite the virtual ab­sence of school-connected research or ex­plicit applications, most illuminating. For example, the entire chapter on "Threats, Promises and Influence" has concrete ap­plicability to the classroom situation; it in­cludes a section on "Credibility" where one researcher determined that the "threat-ener," whether he implements his threat or not, has relatively little believability when he subsequently makes a promise. Consider the numerous times each teach­er finds himself on the horns of this di­lemma in his classroom, or the implication of the assertion that when force of major magnitude is applied "unauthentic cooper­ation with covert resistance is the likely outcome."

Some of Deutsch's findings are un­doubtedly too simplistic to be applied un­changed to school contexts. His emphasis on the findings that cooperative efforts are invariably preferable to competitive ones sounds much too pat when applied to the complicated conflict between black and white students, teachers, and admin­istrators. These are conflicts of long stand­ing; pent-up emotions and the need to "feel good" many times override the need to "be effective." Here the task may be to diminish excessive conflict, rather than to attempt overnight a cooperative mode of relating. The best one can hope for is a transient collaboration.

Deutsch is by no means a prisoner of his belief in cooperation as opposed to com­petition, however. He does not obscure the known fact, forgotten by too many naive school administrators, that authoritarian leadership may be more functional when achievement goals of a group are at stake than a democratic mode when suitable conditions are not present.

Were Deutsch to undertake or authorize others to translate the speculation and re­search findings of this volume to school contexts, it would be a tool of major utili­ty. Perhaps more to the point would be the replication of his researches within many classrooms and schools.

The National Institute of Education was presumably established to emphasize re­search which would have practical appli­cability to education. Here is surely a ma­jor project for its support. The possibility of this funding occurring might be en­hanced if school people themselves were to demand such support. To hope to achieve this end, however, is probably to engage in fantasy. Given their current state of mind, educators are not likely to mount a strong support for such a proposal. Cam­pus and classroom are quieter today. And there are at least two points of view as to the meaning of the present calm. Some see the comparative quiet, the "return to the books and practical goals," as a short interim before new conflicts break out. Others see the reaction from the past decade as an opportunity to reinstate older and more effective ways of dealing with students, parents, and other groups who have, during a period of national unrest, assaulted that must vulnerable of institu­tions—the public schools.

A substantial segment of opinion would support intensive research during this in­terim period so as to be forearmed with tactics and strategy more effective than those which were employed heretofore. It is an open question whether this latter group has the influence to achieve its am­bition. Finally, even if the impossible were to happen and funds were made available for purposes of research and application, there remains the complex problem of en­gineering consent for this research from school people beset with fears and anxie­ties about having their schools used as re­search laboratories. Perhaps we should settle for the first suggestion—rewriting Deutsch with application to school situa­tions as the central focus.



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 76 Number 1, 1974, p. 160-161
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 1378, Date Accessed: 5/21/2022 7:34:12 AM

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