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Volume 2

Expanded Contents


1. Introduction and Summary
2. The Concept of Field
3. Reality and the Intentional Field
4. Freedom and Intentional Humanism
5. Perceiving Another
6. Intentions, Attitudes, and Interests
7. Perceiving and Behaving
8. Behavior
9. Social Behavior and Interaction
10. Types of Social Interaction
11. The Equation of Social Behavior
12. The Transition to a Sociocultural Field
13. The Sociocultural Space
14. The Field of Social Forces
15. The Sociocultural Field
16. Distances
17. Status Distance
18. Status Distance and Behavior
19. The Fundamental Nature of Power
20. Social Power
21. The Family of Power
22. Social Fields and Antifields
23. Groups and Antifields
24. Class
25. Social Class And the Class-Literature
26. Conflict
27. Conflict in the Sociocultural Field
29. The Process of Conflict
30. Social Fields and Types of Societies
31. The State and Political System
32. Societies, Politics, and Conflict
33. Societies in Empirical Perspective
34. Testing for the Existence of Exchange, Authoritative, and Coercive Societies
35. Is Conflict Manifest as Theorized?

Other Volumes

Vol. 1: The Dynamic Psychological Field
Vol. 3: Conflict In Perspective
Vol. 4: War, Power, Peace
Vol. 5: The Just Peace

Other Related Work

The Conflict Helix: Principles and Practices...

Conflict And Violence page

Democratic Peace page


Chapter 28

The Elements Of
Social Conflict*

By R.J. Rummel

Take but degree away, untune that string, and, hark! What discord follows.
---- Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida I.iii


The levels of social conflict consist of space, structure, situation, and behavior. What are the constituents of these levels? That is, what elements enable us to understand the dynamics of conflict at each level and the transition between them? To aid in the discussion of these, Table 28.1 shows the various levels, dynamics, and elements of conflict and their relationships.

At the level of potentiality, the conflict space, the elements are the common components of sociocultural space. The components of religion and philosophy, of ethics and law, of science, of language, and of fine arts delineate the space of our meanings, values, and norms; the status components of wealth, power, and prestige, and the class component define social space. Together, they span our sociocultural potentialities or, in other words, our conflict space. At the most general and basic social level, the building blocks of our social conflicts are the meanings and values with which we endow reality, the norms through which we judge reality, the status we have to others, and the class to which we belong.

Note that the social potentiality for conflict lies totally in the subjective realm. The matrix of meanings, values, norms, perceived status, and class is the social seat of conflict. Our opposing interests are subjective in origin and not the automatic result of objective facts, conditions, or events.

For some people conflict may be generated over the shape of a table (as in the diplomatic negotiations to end the Vietnam War) because of the meaning a particular shape has for the parties involved; some may conflict over an old, useless broken cup, simply because of its religious significance; some may conflict over whose name should be first on a theater marquee, simply as a matter of status. And so on. From our experience with our families, we know how trifles become subjectively significant points of conflict. An innocent joke is interpreted as ridicule; uneaten food on a plate can bring a cook's ability into question; ten dollars can be a final straw initiating a serious conflict over the family budget; and so on. Objects do not carry potential for conflict; this potential is latent in the varied meanings we give them.

It is therefore a mistake to try to classify things as sources of conflict. Land, money, sex, private property, objective inequality, objective restraints, physical strength do not themselves carry conflict potential. If they are subjects of conflict it is because of their role in the space of our meaning, values, norms, status, and class.

But, then, what about needs? Needs, drives or instincts surely are potentialities for social conflict and are components of the psychological space. At the center of our intentional field is the biopsychological space of our personality, perception, behavioral dispositions and expectations. The motivational aspect of our personality which are needs (id), superego, and superordinate goal--our calculus of interests--provides the strength for our interests. The attitude which underlies interests--the direction of interests (as for example towards a desire to eliminate nuclear weapons, to eliminate old people from the tribe, or to dance around a fire to appease the rain god)--depends on sociocultural meanings.

Interests are part of the attitudinal lattice that connects our basic needs to our specific goals. The nature of this lattice, the roles and sentiments around which attitudes cluster, is socioculturally learned. In one culture, for example, the need for status may be exemplified by accumulated possessions; in another, by the destruction of such possessions. An interest, then, gets its energy from the needs and its direction from our society and culture. Since our concern is social conflict, which is dependent on the direction of our interests, I have emphasized the basic nature of meanings, values, norms, and culturally defined status and class.

What are the major needs that potentially provide strength to attitudes, which underlie interests? These are sex, hunger, gregariousness, protectiveness, curiosity, security and self-assertion, discussed in Section 3.3 of Chapter 3. All these needs can be sources of the strength of opposing interests. Even gregariousness, seemingly innocent, can be the source of social conflict if a husband wants to spend some evenings with friends at a neighborhood bar while his wife prefers to have him home. Even curiosity (the desire to seek truth or to know) can be the source of conflict, as Galileo soon discovered in the antagonism of the church what he saw through his telescope.

At the societal level, however, certain needs are more prominent than others in the development of interest groups. Occasionally hunger is a source of mass protest or riots, but more often mass conflict is generated by security needs (as the insecurity of inflation, political instability, or foreign threats), or self-assertion (the striving for power, as for status or against a dominant class), or protectiveness. The role of a need for security or self-assertion seems clear, but why protectiveness?

We not only want security and status for ourselves, we need to help others. Our esteem is not wholly selfish. A totally egoistic individual with no regard for his impact on family, lover, children, or friends is rare indeed. Our esteem is partly a function of our superego, a moral concern for helping and improving others. We are a social animal, and part of that sociality--our orientation towards other selves--is the need to help others in distress. Thus, we are driven to help the needy, the helpless, the lame, and so on. No mass political philosophy or religion has ever been based on hurting others. All have emphasized altruism and love for others, although the "others" may be restricted to the members of one's church, nation, race, or class.

Indeed, a major source of power in conflict is our protective need. Thus, today's contending ideologies differ in their means, such as socialism versus capitalism, but all have as their primary end the improvement of human conditions. Indeed, many mass conflicts are precisely over this. It is not our selfish needs that always generate all conflict, nor, I will argue, our frustrations. Conflict and associated violence is also due to our inherent goodness, our inherent protectiveness, our inherent sociality.

While I am mentioning the importance of security, protectiveness, and self-assertion for mass conflict--conflict between interests that similarly involve large numbers of individuals--I should note that these needs correspond to the three major ethical issues concerning the organization of society or the virtue of any public policy. Society as the social interaction between diverse individuals is a balance of order, power, and justice. Virtually all public debates, large-scale social conflict, and philosophical analyses concern how much order (security) should be sacrificed for how much justice (freedom, equality, welfare), and how much power (authoritative, coercive, force) is required to maintain the proper division between order and justice. This historical division of social interests into order, power, and justice corresponds to our need for security, protectiveness, and self-assertion. And many major historical conflicts have been over the proper interpretation and balance among these concerns.

Recognizing the fundamental importance of our needs, however, as well as the role of expectations and perception which I will discuss later, the emphasis here is on our sociocultural space. And the constituents of this space from which comes the opposition of social powers are meanings, values, norms, status, and class.


What constitutes the structure of conflict? By definition it is the tendency of interests to oppose each other. But while providing an abstract and general understanding, the definition enables no practical understanding of everyday affairs at the structural level. Needed is a specification of what in social relations is correlative to these tendencies. These are the sociocultural distances shown in Table 28.1.

As I discussed in Sections 16.4-5 of Chapter 16, sociocultural differences reflect the relative similarity and dissimilarities between people on the components of sociocultural space. Moreover, in the psychological field they are potential psychological forces towards specific social behavior. In other words, the sociocultural distances when viewed psychologically are dispositions towards others. In the psychological field, however, distances relate to temperament, moods, states, and abilities, as well as motivations. But in our focus on social conflict, our concern is wholly with motivations and goals, i.e., attitudes in our motivation subspace.

What then is the relationship between attitudes and sociocultural distance? Insofar as different groups are identified in a society, people within a given group usually share similar attitudes, as with different religions, occupations, political parties, ethnic groups, and families. This is not to say that all attitudes or even most differ between groups, but that some cluster of attitudes will differentiate a group from others. Moreover, we know that the more distant groups are in status and in meanings, values, and norms, the more different their attitudes. These attitudes, however, may not oppose each other. A high-rise apartment dweller and artist in New York and a Fijian fisherman have different attitudes, but the meaning and values involved may simply be incomparable rather than opposed.

Attitudes thus differ along lines of group membership, which identifies sociocultural distance. Individual differences in attitudes lie along their sociocultural distances on the components of sociocultural space. These distances then define the clusters of attitudinal differences, such as in religion and philosophy or ethics.1

Therefore, the tendencies for attitudes to oppose each other should lie along these components. And indeed, we know this to be the case. Social conflicts are usually based on differences (distances) in religions, philosophy, science (different scientific schools), ethics, law, art, language, wealth, power, prestige, and class. In other words, socioeconomic (status), social (class), political (philosophical, legal, ethical), and cultural distances (religions, world philosophy, science, language, art) are the cleavage lines along which opposing attitudes can form. Again, this is not to say such opposition will form, but that these social distances provide the disposition to conflict.

The structure of conflict should now be clear. It comprises the sociocultural distances between individuals. The greater these distances, the more likely that attitudes are in opposition. The greater these distances the more opposing dispositions emerge from potentiality into actual tendencies. The more congruent these distances, the more crystallized the structure of conflict.2

Societies may be crisscrossed with diverse and weak structures of conflict, as in a culturally diverse society like India. An individual may belong to many groups and the distances from another person may differ radically depending on the sociocultural component. Individuals may differ in religion and language but belong to the same status and share the same ethics and political philosophy. Crosscutting structures segment lines of possible opposition between individuals.

But when these singular and weak structures of conflict overlap and individuals are at opposite ends of sociocultural space, vastly different in status, class, and culture, then weak diverse structures of conflict are merged into one cleavage, one clear and strong structure of conflict, one line along which attitudes differ. In societies, these divisions historically have been between the Great Classes. Peasant versus land owner, proletariat versus bourgeoisie, and manager versus managed.

One necessary condition for a conflict-structure has been omitted so far. Such a structure between people assumes a mutual awareness of each other. Although there may be objective sociocultural distances between people, although there may be rich Bulgarians and poor Taiwanese, social distances are at their root psychological forces based on a perception people have of each other. With no awareness, there can be no meaningful sociocultural distances, no dispositions towards opposition. And therefore awareness is shown in Table 28.1 as part of the structure of conflict.

By awareness is not meant physical contact or social interaction. Books, jokes, propaganda, or television may make a person aware of another, at least as a category (such as a Russian, Buddhist, or New Yorker) with certain characteristics. It is necessary to know of another to generate tendencies towards opposition--a structure of conflict.


Attitudes are dispositions to want or desire specific gratification, as "In this situation I want to do this with that." An attitude may lack energy towards satisfaction, as the "I want steak" after a full turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. However, attitudes can be activated, and their strength towards gratification is an interest, a vector of power. Such an interest whose gratification lies through another self is a social interest or social power.

In a conflict-situation opposing attitudes (that is, interests or powers) are activated.

What activates opposing social powers? What turns attitude into interest? First is the stimulation of some need, a generation of energy within an individual's psychological field which activates--empowers--the associated attitudes. Such stimulation may be periodic and lie mainly within the individual, as with the need for sex and food, or it may result from external events or behavior, such as a supercilious salesman.

More important to understanding mass conflicts, needs may be stimulated by propaganda or indoctrination. For example, socialist propaganda may stimulate the self-assertive, security, and protectiveness needs of workers and activate attitudes opposing capitalists. The constantly reiterated theme "capitalist exploitation of labor's productivity for the benefit of a few" can create "class consciousness."

But propaganda is a concerted effort to create a particular consciousness, to stimulate particular needs. No less effective is indoctrination that offers a singular perspective, a specific doctrine, a particular ideology that stimulates certain needs and activates a range of attitudes without necessarily involving propaganda. Such are nationalistic or ideological indoctrination in the schools that consistently portray historical or class enemies in a threatening or antagonistic light; an intellectual model of history and events, unconsciously adopted by the popular media, which always structures the news or stories to the disadvantage of one group (such as the capitalists, Marxists, military, Arabs, speculators, and so on); or the anti-white or anti-black feeling and attitudes of children from a racist family or community environment.

Whatever the source, the stimulation of needs for security, protectiveness, self-assertion, and so on is necessary to transform a conflict-structure into a conflict-situation. And the arousal of needs is the creation of interests. With interests the disposition of attitudes to oppose each other is actualized. An individual is not only aware of another, but also perceives a mutual conflict of interest.

Conflicting interests are the dominant element of a social conflict-situation. Without them there is no such situation. But opposing interests do not exist alone. Three other elements are required, as shown in Table 28.1: the structure of expectations within which the interests exist or are activated, the capabilities of the parties, and their will to achieve their interests.

An expectation is the predicted outcome of a possible behavior. If I do m to j, I expect j to do n. If I kiss my wife, I expect a kiss in return. We have certain behavioral dispositions towards others, but the behavior we manifest depends on our expectations of the outcome for these dispositions: social behavior is in part a resultant of behavioral dispositions weighted by expectations (Chapter 11).

We do not come by our expectations automatically. They are learned in part from our culture, in the manner of norms, practices, custom, manners, and so on. Proper etiquette is simply formal expectations about others' responses on certain occasions.

Expectations are also learned in situations of interaction; they are particularized to specific people and occasions. From living with a roommate, we develop a structure of expectations about each other's behavior. We informally develop a set of implicit rules for interacting, understandings about each other's tolerance, idiosyncrasies, concerns, and so on. A structure of expectations enables people to five together cooperatively with minimal conflict. But the structure itself is formed dialectically out of a balancing of powers, a prior conflict situation and manifest conflict. But more on this below. For the moment, let us assume expectations that are learned constitute the structure within which behavior occurs.

A most important aspect of our expectations of others is their credibility, their perceived will-power.It is basic to the exercising of social power. Another's threats depend on his credibility, his will, to carry them out. Those threats perceived as bluffs have little power; idle threats (as parents learn) soon fail to coerce.

Credibility is not only necessary for successful coercion, however. Bargaining power also is dependent on the credibility of a promise to exchange y for x. Broken promises lead to zero exchange power. Intellectual power is derived from the credibility of one's expertise, knowledge, and relevant reputation. We expect truth, knowledge, wisdom, or logic from the other. A loss of reputation, of that aura of intellectual or specialized command, is a loss of persuasive power. Authoritative power is based on the credibility of one's formal and informal credentials.

From authorities we expect correct, legal, or moral responses to our behavior. A women wearing a judge's robe in a courtroom during a trial is credibly a judge. These physical credentials give her the authoritative power over those in the courtroom who do not know her, and for those who do, her education, experience, and authoritative election or appointment give her credibility. But let her credentials be questioned, let her law diploma be found a fake, for example, and her power is lost, even if she still formally fills the role. We have no more perfect example of this loss of credibility than President Nixon's decline in authoritative power through the Watergate affair.

An expectation, then, is our informal and formal predictions of the outcome of our actions; a structure of expectations is a mutual set of people's expectations that allows orderly interaction. An important aspect of this structure for understanding social power and conflict is the credibility each has for the other.

Besides interests and a structure of expectations, there is the capability and credibility each manifests. Credibility as seen by another is our will-to-action, and our credentials and legitimacy as measured by other's can be independent of our actual ability. Capability is our resources for exercising power to achieve our interests. Once an interest is activated, once it is a living, breathing motivation towards a goal, we can gratify it using many resources, including physical strength, influence over others, control over desirable goods, and so on. Thus, in the thug's threat to beat up a restaurant owner if protection money is not paid, the relevant capability is physical strength and leadership over a gang. Or in the application of intellectual power, verbal fluency, memory for details, and sharp wit are resources for persuading others.

Focusing on the structure of conflict between i and j, then, we have four elements in the structure of conflict shown in Table 28.1: expectations of the other, capabilities, opposing interests, and wills, Since interests are actual goals or intentions, and the relevant expectations index credibility (will), we have the basic power equation (Equation 21.1 of Chapter 21) of "situations of power." interests, capability, and will (credibility) delineate the situation of conflict.

When does a conflict situation exist at the dispositional level, then? When there are opposing interests. What defines the parameters of these situations? The direction and strength of interests, the capabilities to achieve these interests, and the actual and perceived will to use capabilities. Opposing interests contest, struggle. And through this process a balance of power-of interests-is determined. Here is a point of confusion that needs careful elaboration.

Balancing is a social psychological process, the establishment of an equilibrium of forces in the psychological field involving a person's needs, expectations, and perceptions of another's capabilities, interests, and will. It is a dynamic field process. Balancing may be automatic, as for a child told by a teacher that a fact is true, or the driver responding to a police officer's gesture to halt. Balancing may cause a person to absorb or fight an interest in order to realize some superordinate goal. A young doctor may resist interests he has in opposition to the chief surgeon until he has completed his internship; a couple may endure an unhappy marriage until their children are grown.

As we move from interests in opposition to a balance of interests, we have three cases to distinguish. First, there is the automatic balancing of opposing vectors within a given structure of expectations. In spite of opposing interests often stimulated between husband and wife, teacher and student, buyer and seller, child and parent, bureaucrat and citizen, and owner and renter, balancing follows well established lines, and balances conform to expectations. Such produces an orderly society.

Second, there is the balancing by inhibition or transformation. A person's diverse interests are not wholly consistent, congruent, or correlated, and can run in different directions, as the fearful dog attracted to the food offered in a stranger's hand. Much of the problem each of us faces psychologically is to integrate our various interests such that we can reasonably grow, develop, and manifest ourselves against the world.

We generally integrates our interests around a superordinate goal, a future something which we strives for and which defines for us perfection, completion, self-realization, and so on. I call this goal self-esteem. It is the common element uniting all our diverse concrete superordinate goals, whether becoming a gang leader, a beauty queen, a Nobel Laureate, a congressman, or a millionaire.

Interests united by a superordinate goal are integrated by the self and maintained by the will. The will fights against those interests which obstruct3 achieving the superordinate goal. A politician looking towards a high office will suppress any interests whose gratification may provoke scandal or a bad image. Or the strength of the interest may be absorbed (transformed) into the integrated field and used to help achieve the central interest. For example, an unjust series of laws may stimulate our opposing interests. Rather than enter a political fray, we may transform this motivation into a desire for a law degree-the passport to high political office-so that we eventually have the power to change the system.

When the balancing of interests is not automatic within a prevailing structure of expectations or the will has no reason to inhibit or transform an interest, we have the third case. The will pursues manifesting an interest: will-power is combined with strength of interest. Not only does a person want x, but the will brings him to getting or achieving x. The getting or achieving becomes an act; and purposive actions are undertaken to achieve x. And this is the level of manifestation, of overt conflict.

Generally, however, the we do not just decide to pursue an interest. Our interests tend to be stimulated or developed in an existing structure of expectations within which various mutual balances have been determined. Our interactions with others involve interlocking balances between altruistic, intellectual, authoritative, manipulative, bargaining, and coercive powers. Our culture provides us with a general structure of expectations (norms, practices, manners, and so on), our subculture with another, our family with a third, our occupations and roles with others, and so on.

Therefore, there are normally two kinds of situations within which the people will decide to pursue an interest beyond established expectations. First, if a new set of expectations are called for, as when two roommates or newlyweds move in together, a person takes up a new job (with new office politics, personalities, and so on), or a family moves to a new neighborhood. Thus, the radical change in social relationships requires a new structure of expectations, in the formation of which each person will test his uncertain expectations and try to gratify his interests.

A second type is when the existing structure of expectations is disrupted. This occurs when there is some sharp shift in social circumstances, or when expectations become increasingly incongruent with existing interests and capabilities and some occasion serves as the excuse to rebalance. Such a shift is the birth of a baby. The existing structure of expectations was not formed to accommodate the demands of an infant. Who will change diapers? When? How will the need for constant attention be handled? Who is responsible for getting up at night to check the baby's cries? Unless the culture dictates the expectations, as in traditional societies, husband and wife must reach some accommodations. And this involves working out the interests each is willfully striving for. Other examples of an occasion providing an excuse for realigning expectations and power are the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand at Serajevo in 1914, the takeover of Cube by the communist Castro in 1959, and the Watergate affair of 1973-74.

Therefore, to move from opposing vectors of power, from opposing interests, from a structure of conflict, to balancing powers and manifest conflict, two things are required: first, a will towards achieving an interest; and a trigger event--a sudden change in social relationships or circumstances providing an excuse to rebalance the structure of expectations.4


The level of manifest conflict shown in Table 28.1 is that of specific acts, concrete actions, determinate events. It is the level of debates, demands, threats, arguments, riots, assassinations, revolutions, wars, and so on. There is no need to review in detail the variety of manifestations associated with conflict, except to reiterate that conflict can involve all social powers and encompass specific altruistic, exchange, and intellectual actions as well as the violent and coercive. Later, I will focus on the coercive manifestations and clarify their empirical dimensions.

Note that what normally preoccupies us about conflict, its manifestations, is the tip of an iceberg--only the visible aspect of potentialities, structure, and situation; of meanings, values, norms, status, and class; of sociocultural distances and awareness; of interests, capability, wills, and expectations; and of a trigger event.

Much of conflict is latent; much of our comprehension of it must depend on apriori understanding and constructs. When we perceive conflict behavior in others, we see the balancing of powers. And when we perceive none, conflict still may be latent as situation or structure. Balancing may be going on psychologically, unseen. A count of conflict manifestations is no measure of conflict, therefore, although such may index conflict behavior. Measures of conflict must account for sociocultural space, structure, and situation.


Social manifestations not only are a balancing of powers but also a balance. All manifestations are either of balancing or a balance of powers. This I take as a philosophical truth. Even at the most basic level of perception, we perceive the outcome of a balancing--a struggle-between our perspective and reality's powers.

Society is either manifest conflict or a manifest balance of powers. Manifest conflict as an idea should perplex few, but making all other social specifics a manifestation of a power-balance, a balance of interests, is a radical departure for many.

What is manifested as society? Norms, mores, procedures, rules, interactions, groups, institutions, roles, social symbols, and so on all constitute the social order, a patterning of meanings, values, norms, statuses, and classes. Social orders exist at all social levels, from the simplest interaction between two people to the most complex at the international level. Social orders are nested within each other, as dyadic, family, neighborhood, town, county, and so on. Or social orders overlap and are segmented, as for the family, political party, religion, and occupation. Society is therefore crisscrossed and layered with different social orders.

Each social order in its informal and formal rules, understandings, meanings, interaction patterns, and so on is a structure of expectations. It constitutes a working arrangement accommodating the different interests, expectations, and capabilities of its members. No matter that a person is born into a particular order, such as family or subculture. As the growing individual becomes acculturated, his interests and these expectations will develop a mutual accommodation. Some individuals have the power to notably affect the larger social order, as did Franklin Roosevelt, Stalin, Plato, Einstein, Mohammed. Most of us can only affect the order involving our jobs, family, and friends.

At whatever social level, the particular order--the relevant structure of expectations--is a result of balancing of interests, of powers. The social order constitutes this balance. It is a simultaneous solution to the opposing equations of power, to capabilities, interests, and wills.

This solution, this balance, underlying a manifest social order, may be incongruent with current interests or lag behind underlying changes in capabilities and wills. Nonetheless what is manifested as part of this order is the routine of daily life, solidary interaction, cooperation. Such is the truth in the position of conflict theorists like Rex (1961), who assert that societies' norms reflect an underlying balance of power, or Marx, for whom norms in capitalist societies were a superstructure erected on the power-dominance of the bourgeoisie. They erred in not carrying this far enough and in limiting power to its coercive and manipulative forms. All of society, except those aspects involving a power-balancing, manifest a balance of powers in all its forms. Visible society is the confrontation or equilibrium of love, promises, threats, manipulations, exchanges, expertise, and authority.

This is not to say that a whole society is formed out of a particular confrontation and balance. Society in the aggregate is an order resulting from overlapping and intersecting structures of expectations developed through individual interactions and interests. Society, whether field or antifield, is thus an outcome, unplanned and unplannable,5 of individual balances; it constitutes a balanced aggregate of individual orders themselves balanced against each other through confrontation and accommodations of their different interests.

This picture of multiple and overlapping balances knitting society together complements the view that conflict unifies society. Insofar as conflict constitutes a working out of a balance between individuals, between social orders at differing levels, or between segmented orders (as the sometimes contradictory demands of job and family), it unifies by promoting a balance more in accord with individual interests, expectations, and capability.

Society is thus in its totality indeterminate. Here it is balance; there, balancing. Here it constitutes subjective meanings and understandings only relevant and understandable to those involved; there, specific acts, actions, and practices. It is wondrous that individuals can function and satisfy their needs in any large society. This is the miracle of social evolution. Through the centuries humanity has accumulated structures of expectations, of balances, that have enabled us continually to improve the satisfaction of our interests and to interact at high levels of social complexity. The major mechanism for this has been the evolution of an interlocking set of expectations and balances called the division of labor.

Society has gradually evolved into a complex field of intersecting and overlapping orders determined by the interests, will, and capabilities of individuals. Here and there it is spontaneous and antifield, balanced and unbalanced, evolving and stable, latent and manifest; it is a complex of structures of expectations and manifest conflict, of human beings in interaction. No one can plan society, try as they might as under communism. It is not a product or a construction, as the socialist might believe. It is a gestalt. No one can accommodate the variety of our interests, our subjective interpretations and weightings, our particular esteem, our individual perspective and wholly subjective expectations. Only those involved can balance their interests. Even in the most limited social order, that of two people living together, it is difficult if not impossible to plan one's relationships--the balance of interests. No. Society is a happening, an outcome of individuals working out their conflicts. And it is this working out--the actual process of conflict--I will focus on in Chapter 29.


To this point, a number of distinctions have been elaborated, the most important of which are shown in Table 28.1. The first three columns of the table duplicate the topic headings discussed in Chapter 26 and Chapter 27 so that they may be aligned with the elements described here.

In summary, the conflict-space consists of meanings, values, norms, status, and class. These are the components of our conflict and, indeed, of our sociocultural space.

Potentiality becomes actuality; the possibility of power becomes the actuality of opposing dispositions. Our motivations comprise needs, attitudes, and interests. Attitudes are our dispositions to want certain goals, while interests are attitudes Activated or empowered by our needs. Opposing dispositions are those attitudes which lie along the components delineating our similarities and dissimilarities. In the main, then, cultural, status, and class distances are elements defining our opposing dispositions. For dispositions to Oppose, for a structure of conflict, people must be aware of each other. Mutual awareness is also an element of a structure of conflict.

A situation of conflict is created by the energizing of attitudes, by the stimulation of interests. Interests are vectors of power towards achieving a specific goal and are a necessary condition of a situation of conflict. Parameters determining the nature of the situation are expectations, capabilities, interests, and wills. Particularly relevant are expectations of the other's will-power behind (or the credibility of) his promises, threats, authority, expertise, love. Capability comprises the resources a person has to manifest his interest. Together, the opposing expectations, capabilities, interests, and wills define a situation of conflict.

A balance of opposing powers, of capabilities, interests, and wills, is achieved in three ways. First, it may be done routinely within a structure of expectations (as two strangers walking towards each other will each move to the right to pass6); it may be achieved by the will inhibiting or transforming an interest to facilitate the self s striving for self-esteem; or it may be done through the will actively pursuing the interest in direct confrontation with other wills.

In the latter case, there is balanceing of interests which manifests conflict. Such balancing is initiated by a trigger occasion that calls for a new structure of expectations, disrupts the prevailing structure, or serves as the "last straw" regarding expectations incongruent with current interests and capabilities. Therefore, the manifest element initiating a balancing of powers is some trigger event.

Manifest acts or actions involved in the balancing of powers form the third element, conflict behavior. Such behavior is not necessarily violent, nor necessarily coercive, forceful, or antagonistic. Conflict behavior describes any behavior associated with the balancing of social power in its many forms, and therefore may be solidary as well as contractual or cooperative. Bartering, for example, is a manifestation of opposing bargaining powers.

The confrontation between powers ends in some sort of accommodation and a balance of power. All social manifestations are either of such a balance or of a preliminary balancing. Such balances define a structure of expectations, or social order comprising the meanings, values, accommodations made by individuals. Society is interlaced by such orders at various levels and segmented in diverse ways, and is itself the spontaneous outcome of these orders. Modern society is an evolutionary happening resulting in the division of labor, a resolution of diverse, multifold, and intersecting individual wills, interests, and capabilities. 


* Scanned from Chapter 28 in R.J. Rummel, The Conflict Helix, 1976. For full reference to the book and the list of its contents in hypertext, click book. Typographical errors have been corrected, clarifications added, and style updated.

1. I have already discussed attitudes associated with different statuses and classes. See Chapters 17,18, and 24.

2. Another way to put this is that the conflict-structure is the conflict latent in the position of people in sociocultural space. This location delineates their conflict potential. This idea has great currency in the social sciences: by position all classes have latent conflict, statuses tend to conflict, and powerful nation-states are enemies.

3. Sherif (1958) dealing experimentally with two groups of boys at a camp found that communication may only aggravate conflict unless it is in the context of some superordinate goals. See also Sherif (1966).

4. For a psychological discussion of occasions and triggers, see Rummel (Section 15.4 of Chapter 15).

5. Antifields can encompass whole societies, as in China, the Soviet Union, and Hitler's Germany; societies can be subject to total planning and control. Nonetheless, the outcome of such control over the whole society is inevitably unaccounted for, unforeseen, beyond expectations. For a systematic development of the reasons for this, see Von Mises socioeconomic treatise (1949). In my view, this work, still largely unknown to social scientists other than classical economists and libertarians, should rank along with Smith's Wealth of Nations and Marx's Das Kapital.

6. This is true of Americans, at least. Japanese move to the left, provoking frequent and amusing confrontations between American and Japanese pedestrians.

For citations see the Vol. 2: The Conflict Helix REFERENCES

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