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date: 10 December 2019

Social Psychology and The Study of Peace: Personal Reflections

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter offers reflections on the present volume from the perspective of someone who has worked at the interface of social psychology and peace research since the early 1950s. It describes the involvement of social psychologists in the beginnings of the peace research movement, including such initiatives as the Research Exchange on the Prevention of War, the Journal of Conflict Resolution, and the University of Michigan's Center for Research on Conflict Resolution. The author's own theoretical and empirical work and efforts as a scholar-practitioner in conflict resolution over the years are summarized, to illustrate potential contributions of social psychology to peace research. The chapter proposes that a major challenge in earlier years was bridging social-psychological approaches with international relations theory, anchored in political science; by now, social-psychological inputs are widely accepted in the field. One challenge today is bridging social-psychological research on peace and conflict—which, as this volume demonstrates, has become a flourishing and recognized specialization within the discipline—with mainstream social psychology.

Keywords: Research Exchange on the Prevention of War, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Center for Research on Conflict Resolution, University of Michigan, peace research movement, international relations theory, political psychology, interactive problem-solving, sch

This chapter is not intended to summarize or integrate the research and the ideas presented in this volume. Rather, it is an attempt to reflect and comment on the enterprise that this volume represents from the perspective of someone whose active interest in the interface between social psychology and peace research goes back some 65 years.1

It is exciting to see how far we have come in the intervening years, as evidenced by the range of topics, concepts, and methods covered in this volume and by the rich ideas and the innovative methodologies that the preceding chapters present. As a matter of fact, as I shall point out, the volume—rich and varied as it is—does not even cover the entire range of work at the interface between social psychology and peace research. The unique contribution of this volume is that it focuses on intergroup conflict, which has been a central topic for social psychology throughout its history and which is directly at its point of intersection with the study of peace.

Pioneering Efforts in Peace Psychology

Before turning to my account of the emergence of the peace research movement in the early 1950s and my own involvement in it as a social psychologist, I want to note that there is a longer history of psychological—including social-psychological—research and writing on issues of war and peace. The inaugural issue of Peace and Conflict (published in February 1995) reprinted William James's famous article, “The Moral Equivalent of War” (James, 1910), along with a commentary by Morton Deutsch (1995), presenting William James as “the first peace psychologist.”

(p. 362) The 1940s saw a fair amount of research and writing that we would characterize as peace psychology today. The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) had a committee on the Psychology of War and Peace, which was chaired by Ross Stagner and included Ralph White, Charles Osgood, and Ralph Gundlach among its members. In the early 1940s, Stagner and colleagues published articles on attitudes toward war, war prevention, nationalism, and aggression (Stagner, 1942, 1944; Stagner, Brown, Gundlach, & White, 1942), based in large part on work done under the auspices of the SPSSI committee. Other research in this domain was carried out in the 1940s and even earlier (e.g., Droba, 1931).

Several books on psychology and peace were published in the 1940s, including volumes by Edward Tolman (1942), Mark May (1943), and Otto Klineberg (1950). The SPSSI yearbook of 1945, edited by Gardner Murphy, was devoted to human nature and enduring peace (Murphy, 1945). Two collections on psychological determinants of war and peace, edited by Hadley Cantril (1950) and T. H. Pear (1950), respectively, were published in 1950. Another product of the 1940s, though published later, was Theo Lentz's book, Towards a Science of Peace (Lentz, 1955). This list is by no means complete; in particular, it does not include various publications on war and peace written from a psychoanalytic perspective.

Personal Background

Let me turn now to some personal reminiscences about my involvement, as a social psychologist, in the beginnings of the peace research movement.

In the immediate post–World War II period, I became active in the American antiwar and civil rights movements, working within the Gandhian tradition of nonviolent direct action. This activism—to get ahead of my chronological account—continued into later years and reached its height in the 1950s, when I helped to found a Baltimore chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). The chapter undertook a campaign to desegregate the lunch counters in the five-and-ten stores in downtown Baltimore, using a combination of techniques—sit-ins, picketing, public education, negotiation with store managers, and raising the issue at stockholders’ meetings of the parent corporations—which eventually succeeded. I later became a field representative for national CORE; my primary achievement in this role was to help revitalize the CORE chapter in Los Angeles. My work with CORE has had a profound impact on my view of social change and social movements directed toward change, as well as on my subsequent work in conflict resolution. It taught me about the importance of combining different methods and simultaneously working at different levels; about the relationship between the microprocess and the macroprocess of social change; about the importance of persistence—of working for change, when necessary, one lunch counter (or one dialogue group) at a time; and of the value of using methods of change that instantiate the future situation that one hopes to create.

To resume my chronological account: in the summer of 1945 (at age 18) I attended a conference in Chicago organized by politically engaged conscientious objectors (COs), who had recently returned from CO camps or prison. On the train back from Chicago to New York, I sat next to Charles Bloomstein, an articulate and impressive voice at that conference. In the course of our conversation, he made one remark that clearly struck a responsive chord. He suggested that, if he were at my stage of life, he would go into psychology or sociology, because these are the fields that are most relevant to the issues of peace, social justice, and social change, with which I was obviously concerned.

When I returned to Brooklyn College that fall—starting my junior year—I decided to become a psychology major. I had started out as an English major, not because of any specific career goals, but because I knew that—whatever career I might eventually pursue—I would want to write. I ended up as a double major in Psychology and English. There was never any doubt that the part of psychology that I was primarily interested in was social psychology. My choice was reinforced by the courses I took, especially Advanced Social Psychology taught by Daniel Katz. Dan Katz became my mentor; he introduced me to SPSSI, which I joined while still a college junior and which has remained a primary base for my professional activities throughout the years.

I was confirmed in my conviction that social psychology was indeed the discipline most relevant to the issues of peace, social justice, and social change with which I was concerned. Accordingly, I applied to graduate programs in social psychology and I began my graduate studies in the Psychology Department at Yale University in 1951. In the course of my graduate training, I became thoroughly socialized as an experimental social psychologist. But I never forgot my reason for entering the field.

(p. 363) The Research Exchange on the Prevention of War

In the spring of 1951—my last semester in graduate school—Arthur Gladstone and I published a comment in the American Psychologist (Gladstone & Kelman, 1951), in which we pointed out that pacifist theory challenges some of the assumptions about human behavior that underlie much of foreign policy, and proposed that psychologists and other social scientists might fruitfully examine these assumptions and put them to empirical test. The comment elicited some positive responses and expressions of interest, which identified a small community of scholars—mostly psychologists—interested in pursuing a peace research agenda. We organized a meeting at one of the psychological conventions in 1951, at which the decision was made to establish a modest organization devoted to promoting research on war and peace. The organization took final shape in 1952 under the name Research Exchange on the Prevention of War. To the best of my knowledge, it was the first organized effort in what soon became the peace research movement, to which I shall return below.

Over the next few years, the Research Exchange published the Bulletin of the Research Exchange on the Prevention of War, edited by Arthur Gladstone; I served as book review editor. We organized discussion groups at professional conventions, symposia that included some prominent figures in the systematic study of war and peace (notably Quincy Wright and Pitirim Sorokin), and two summer workshops to explore theoretical approaches and research ideas in the emerging field of peace research. Two of our symposia were published (Kelman, 1954; Kelman, Barth, & Hefner, 1955)—the latter, not surprisingly, in SPSSI's Journal of Social Issues.

A concern of some of us in the Research Exchange—and especially my own focus during those years—was the question of defining the contribution that social-psychological theory and research can make to the study of war and peace. My concluding article in the Journal of Social Issues publication of our symposium (Kelman, 1955) entitled “Societal, Attitudinal and Structural Factors in International Relations,” is an early attempt to address this issue, showing where social-psychological factors fit in a general mapping of the determinants of war and peace. I felt greatly validated in this effort when Stanley Hoffmann reprinted this piece in his volume Contemporary Theory in International Relations (Hoffmann, 1960). Further validation came with the reprinting of the same article in a German volume on American contributions to political science (Krippendorff, 1966). This was an important achievement, from my point of view, because it suggested that social-psychological contributions were taken seriously by political scientists and international relations specialists who, after all, “owned” the academic study of war and peace. I shall return to this issue below; I highlight it here to stress that international relations theory—mostly the domain of political science—was a major reference point for social psychologists seeking to contribute to the study of war and peace in those years.

The Interface Between Social Psychology and Peace Research

The starting point of my thinking about the interface between social psychology and the study of war and peace was the assumption that war and peace are in essence societal and intersocietal processes. The question then becomes how and where social psychology, which operates at the level of individual behavior and social interaction, can contribute to this enterprise.

Thus, in the 1950s and beyond, a major concern for me was the relevance of social-psychological inputs. Not surprisingly, my concluding chapter in the SPSSI-sponsored volume, International Behavior: A Social-Psychological Analysis (Kelman, 1965) was entitled: “Social-Psychological Approaches to the Study of International Relations: The Question of Relevance.”

In a similar vein, I have stressed the need to specify the points of entry for social-psychological analysis. Thus, most recently, I wrote that “the contribution of a social-psychological perspective to understanding international conflict depends on identifying the appropriate points of entry for psychological analysis—those points in a theory of international relations where social-psychological propositions may provide particularly relevant levers for theoretical explanation” (Kelman, 2007a, p. 63). For example, when international relations theorists seek to determine the conditions under which decision makers are likely to pursue more or less risky options, or the conditions under which public opinion is likely to support aggressive or conciliatory postures, they are invariably making assumptions about psychological processes at the individual or collective level. It is at such points that social-psychological analysis may be particularly useful, since it is geared to addressing such issues explicitly, critically, and systematically (Kelman, 2007a, p. 62). (p. 364) Social-psychological analysis, on its part, must be cognizant of the multidimensional context in which these psychological processes are played out.

The issue of how social psychology contributes to the larger enterprise is also reflected in my entry into the debate on the level-of-analysis problem in international relations (see, e.g., Singer, 1961). My focus was on the role of the individual in international relations (Kelman, 1970). I argued that analysis at the level of individuals and the interactions between individuals can illuminate international politics at various points—such as foreign-policy decision making, public opinion in the foreign-policy process, or personal interactions across national boundaries. It is essential, however, that the behavior and interaction of individuals are viewed in their situational, organizational, and societal contexts, with full cognizance of the constraints they impose on the actions and interactions of individual actors.

A clear implication of the focus on social psychology's contribution to the larger enterprise was that the work, of necessity, had to be interdisciplinary, with special emphasis on links to the disciplines of international relations and political science. The interdisciplinary orientation and our starting assumption that, as students of war and peace, we are dealing essentially with societal and intersocietal phenomena to which social-psychological analysis can make a contribution, are reflected in some of the topics that we chose to examine: public opinion on foreign-policy issues, foreign-policy decision making, negotiation and bargaining, cross-national contacts. These topics are well represented in International Behavior (Kelman, 1965) but, interestingly, not in the present volume. Clearly, social-psychological work on issues of peace today is not as closely linked to the disciplines of international relations and political science as it was in the earlier years.

Contextual Social Psychology

My analysis of the potential contributions of social psychology to the study of war and peace and of international relations more broadly was helped by my evolving definition of social psychology as the discipline “concerned with the intersection between individual behavior and societal-institutional processes” (Kelman, 1965, p. 22). In keeping with this definition, a central focus for social-psychological analysis is social interaction, where individual and institutional processes of necessity intersect. Social interaction can thus be viewed as the level of analysis that is most distinctly social-psychological.

This view of social psychology benefited greatly from my long discussions about the field with Thomas Pettigrew during the many years that we were close colleagues at Harvard University. Tom Pettigrew coined the term “contextual social psychology” to describe this view of social psychology (Pettigrew, 1991). Contextual social psychology systematically studies the behavior and interaction of individuals in their societal and organizational context. Not all the work in social psychology meets this criterion; much of social-psychological research—whatever else its merits—is decontextualized. What distinguishes the contributions to this volume, however, is that they are all examples of contextual social psychology at its best.

Contextual social psychology is in itself an interdisciplinary field, anchored in both psychology and sociology. Moreover, it is—by definition—uniquely relevant to bridging the psychological and societal levels of analysis, on which the relevance of social psychology to the study of war and peace depends. Psychological analysis of such processes as decision making or negotiation that is not grounded in the organizational and societal context in which they occur is likely to be too abstract to capture the dynamics of a conflict relationship or efforts to resolve it.

Development of Peace Research

Let me return to my account of the early years of the peace research movement and my personal involvement in it as a social psychologist.

In retrospect, the Research Exchange on the Prevention of War accomplished quite a bit with its modest means in a short period of time. I was disappointed, however, by our failure to attract international relations specialists—who, in my view of our research agenda, were critical to the success of the enterprise. I had the opportunity to act on this concern in 1954–55, when I had the good fortune of being in the first group of Fellows invited to the newly established Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. Though I was one of the youngest members of the group, the collegial, egalitarian atmosphere at the center enabled me to convene some of my colleagues, to inform them about the Research Exchange and solicit their advice on how to broaden its base and move the enterprise forward.

The group included, among others, the economist Kenneth Boulding, and the mathematical biologist Anatol Rapoport—both established scholars in their fields who went on to become leading (p. 365) figures in peace research. The group also included a young British sociologist, Stephen Richardson, who had brought with him two unpublished book manuscripts by his late father, Lewis Richardson, which eventually became prime models for systematic, quantitative peace research. Lewis Richardson was a physicist/astronomer and meteorologist—and, like Kenneth Boulding, a Quaker. During his lifetime, only brief reports of his peace-related work were published, including a chapter, “Threats and Security” (Richardson, 1950), in Pear's volume Psychological Factors of Peace and War (Pear, 1950). Boulding and Rapoport were much impressed with the Richardson manuscripts and indeed helped to get them published (Richardson, 1960a, 1960b). Lewis Richardson's work strengthened their conviction that mathematical models and quantitative methods can be applied effectively to the study of war and peace.

The discussions of the working group that I convened at the Stanford Center led to the decision to establish a new interdisciplinary journal that would replace and expand on the modest Bulletin of the Research Exchange on the Prevention of War. We named the new publication Journal of Conflict Resolution: A Quarterly for Research Related to War and Peace. We decided to house it at the University of Michigan because Boulding was on the faculty there, Rapoport was about to move there, and two energetic graduate students at the university—William Barth and Robert Hefner—were already putting out the Bulletin of the Research Exchange there.

With the inauguration of the new journal, the Research Exchange was gradually phased out. The journal replaced the Bulletin—at a much more ambitious level—and we concluded that our other activities could be pursued most effectively under the auspices of a newly formed SPSSI Committee on International Relations (see REPW merger with SPSSI, 1957).

The Journal of Conflict Resolution began publication in 1957 as the first journal in the emerging field of peace research. It was guided by an interdisciplinary editorial board, chaired by Kenneth Boulding. The majority of the members of the original board were drawn from the University of Michigan faculty. The editorial work on the Journal created an interdisciplinary community of scholars at the university interested in research on issues of war and peace—including, significantly, several specialists in the field of international relations. This group became the nucleus of the Center for Research on Conflict Resolution at the university. The center was soon joined by J. David Singer, who later became known for his Correlates of War project. On a personal note, I joined the center in 1962, when I came to the University of Michigan on a joint appointment between the Department of Psychology and the Center for Research on Conflict Resolution.

The Research Exchange, the Journal of Conflict Resolution, and the Center for Research on Conflict Resolution were part of an emerging peace research movement in the United States, Canada, and Europe during the 1950s and 1960s—a movement of which social psychology was, from the beginning, a core constituent element. Other organizational initiatives at the beginnings of the peace research movement include the Canadian Peace Research Institute, founded by Hannah Newcombe and David Newcombe in 1959; the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, which was conceived by the philosopher Arne Naess and originally established in 1959, under the direction of Johan Galtung, as a unit within the Institute for Social Research; the Polemological Institute at the University of Groningen, founded by Bert Röling in 1961; the Peace Research Society (International), founded through the efforts of Walter Isard (like Kenneth Boulding, an economist and a Quaker) and—in 1973—renamed Peace Science Society (International); the International Peace Research Association, established in 1964 through the efforts of John Burton, Elise Boulding, Kenneth Boulding, Bert Röling, and others; and the Centre for the Analysis of Conflict, founded by John Burton in 1966 at the University College of London.

In my analysis, a major impetus to the development of the movement in those years came from the convergence of two strands, loosely corresponding to two groups of scholars that recognized their interdependence. The first included scholars from fields outside of international relations—such as economists, psychologists, anthropologists, or sociologists, as well as occasional physicists, biologists, or mathematicians—who were interested in applying the concepts and methods of their fields to the study of war and peace because of their strong commitment to peace (as well as the intellectual challenge of the enterprise). The second included scholars of international relations—many of whom, of course, also had strong commitments to peace—who felt the need to go beyond the traditional approaches of international law, international organization, and diplomatic history to develop a scientific basis for the study of war and peace.

The two strands needed each other in order to fulfill their potential. The non-IR specialists needed (p. 366) the IR specialists in order to legitimize their forays into areas in which they had not been trained, to fill in the substantive knowledge they lacked, and to provide reality testing for their conceptual models. The IR specialists, in turn, needed their colleagues from other disciplines as sources of concepts and methods, as well as validation and encouragement, which they did not always receive in those days from their more traditional colleagues. The two groups thus formed a mutually beneficial coalition that provided stimulation and legitimization to both. The interdependence between these two overlapping groups contributed significantly to the vitality of their joint enterprise.

Personal Efforts at the Interface of Social Psychology and Peace Research

To illustrate some of the potential early contributions of social psychology to peace research, I shall briefly describe my own activities, starting in the 1950s—the activities of one social psychologist, along with numerous collaborators—at the interface of his discipline with that emerging field. I refer to my own work because I know it best. There were, however, quite a few other social psychologists, whose names appear in this chapter and elsewhere in this volume, who made significant contributions to peace research in those early years and beyond.

In the 1950s and 1960s, I continued the effort to define the contributions of social psychology to the study of war and peace—an effort that I had begun within the framework of the Research Exchange on the Prevention of War, as described above. The major product of this work was the SPSSI-sponsored volume, International Behavior, to which I have already referred—a project that took shape in 1959, although the book was not published until 1965 (Kelman, 1965). International Behavior was an interdisciplinary enterprise, with contributions from social psychologists (Harold Guetzkow,2 Irving Janis, Daniel Katz, Dean Pruitt, Milton Rosenberg, Jack Sawyer, William Scott, Brewster Smith, and Ralph White) and political scientists (Chadwick Alger, Karl Deutsch, Harold Lasswell, Richard Merritt, Ithiel de Sola Pool, James Robinson, and Richard Snyder), as well as one anthropologist (Robert LeVine) and one sociologist (Anita Mishler).

The chapters of International Behavior were grouped in two parts: “National and International Images” and “Processes of Interaction in International Relations.” It should be noted that both of these themes were interdisciplinary: Each of the two sections included chapters written by social psychologists and chapters written by political scientists. I wrote the introductory chapter (“Social-Psychological Approaches to the Study of International Relations: Definition of Scope”) and the concluding chapter (“Social-Psychological Approaches to the Study of International Relations: The Question of Relevance”), to which I have already referred. The volume brought together much of the theory and research on the social-psychological dimensions of international relations available at the time. It became an important text for students in international relations around the world, often required as background reading for their doctoral exams. It was better known among international-relations (IR) scholars than among my fellow social psychologists.

International Behavior clearly contributed to my standing within the IR community, as evidenced by my election to the presidency of the International Studies Association (1977–78) and my appointment (in 1976) to the core faculty of the Center for International Affairs (now the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs) at Harvard University, which has continued to serve to this day as the base of my conflict-resolution work, to which I shall return in the next section. It has always been clear to my IR colleagues that my core professional identity remains that of a social psychologist—but as a social psychologist who has done his homework in IR and who understands the difference between the psychological level of analysis and the systemic level at which IR theory mostly operates. My acceptance within the IR community has not only been an important source of validation, as I mentioned earlier in this chapter, but it has also had valuable practical implications. In particular, basing my conflict-resolution work at Harvard's Center for International Affairs over the past 35 years has provided me with important contacts—crucial to the effort—as well as with an important degree of legitimacy.

Over the years, I have also been engaged in several empirical research programs at the interface of social psychology and peace research. During the late 1950s and the 1960s, a major focus of my work was research on international educational and cultural exchanges. Within an IR framework, this line of research reflects the functionalist approach to international relations pioneered by David Mitrany (1943). A functionalist approach starts with the proposition that many of the social and economic needs of the world population can best (p. 367) be met through functional institutions that can cut across national lines. Within social psychology, it is linked to the study of intergroup contact, which goes back to the writings of Gordon Allport (1954), has been subjected to extensive research (see Pettigrew, 1998; Pettigrew & Tropp, 2011), and is the focus of Hewstone and Wagner's chapter in the present volume. One of our studies explored the impact of a year in the United States on the national, professional, and personal images of students from the Scandinavian countries (Bailyn & Kelman, 1962; Kelman & Bailyn, 1962; Mishler, 1965). Another study evaluated the impact of an intensive exchange program for broadcasting specialists from 16 countries around the world, who spent 4 months in the United States (Kelman & Ezekiel, 1970; see also Kelman, 1975, for a theoretical analysis of the effects of international interchanges more generally). At the most general level, some of our research has shown that the changes in attitude toward the host society are more often at the cognitive than at the affective level, taking the form of more complex and differentiated images of the society. In keeping with the contact hypothesis, positive change depended very much on the nature of the exchange experience, such as the extent to which it provided opportunities for equal-status contact.

In the 1960s and 1970s, a major focus of my work was the study of nationalism, national identity, and the relationship of individuals to the national political system (Kelman, 1969; see also Kelman, 1997b). My earliest research in this area was carried out in the 1960s in collaboration with Daniel Katz and colleagues at the University of Michigan (DeLamater, Katz, & Kelman, 1969; Katz, Kelman, & Flacks, 1964; Katz, Kelman, & Vassiliou, 1970). In the 1970s, as part of the research that was later published in Crimes of Obedience (Kelman & Hamilton, 1989), Lee Hamilton and I, in close collaboration with Frederick D. Miller and later also with John D. Winkler, developed scales to measure three types of political orientation—rule orientation, role orientation, and value orientation; and two types of political attachment—sentimental and instrumental—that cross-cut the political orientations and represent two fundamental sources of legitimacy of the political system. This line of research is represented in Christopher Cohrs's chapter on destructive ideologies and Sonia Roccas's chapter on group identity in the present volume.

In the 1970s and 1980s, an important focus of my work was on international crimes—genocide, massacre, torture (Kelman, 1973; see also Kelman, 2005a, and Kelman, 2009b, for more recent extensions). My analysis starts with identification of three social processes—authorization, routinization, and dehumanization—that help people overcome the moral restraints against participation in such crimes. In the present volume, closely related social processes are discussed in the chapter by Susan Opotow on moral exclusion and disengagement and in the Bar-Tal and Hammack chapter on delegitimization and justification of harm. Our empirical research in this area—carried out in collaboration with Lee Hamilton—began with a national survey in the United States on public reactions to the trial and conviction of Lieutenant Calley for the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. It continued with a subsequent survey of people's conceptions of personal responsibility for actions taken in response to superior orders. One of our interests was in the effect of political orientation (briefly mentioned in the preceding paragraph) on people's view of personal responsibility in the face of superior orders. The work culminated in the publication of Crimes of Obedience: Toward a Social Psychology of Authority and Responsibility (Kelman & Hamilton, 1989).

All three of these lines of research drew conceptually on my earlier work on processes of social influence (Kelman, 1958, 1961), going back to the days when I was still a mainstream experimental social psychologist (see Kelman, 2006, for a review of the extensions of the original model).

Interactive Problem-Solving

A significant turning point in my work occurred in 1966, when I met John Burton and learned about the approach that he called controlled communication at the time: an unofficial third-party approach to the resolution of international and intercommunal conflicts that he had been developing and was beginning to apply (Burton, 1969). John Burton was a highly innovative IR scholar who, at the time I first met him, had just established the Centre for the Analysis of Conflict at the University College of London, to which I referred above. I later learned that his first degree was in psychology, which helps to explain (in part) his emphasis on perceptual processes and human needs. He had been a high-level Australian diplomat, who disagreed with the thrust of his government's foreign policy in the immediate post–World War II period and chose to pursue an academic career.

I had read and appreciated some of Burton's writings, but I was particularly excited about his (p. 368) recent ventures into unofficial diplomacy. It immediately struck me that he was putting into practice the social-psychological approach to international relations that I had been exploring theoretically. I enthusiastically accepted his invitation to participate as a member of the third-party team in an exercise on the Cyprus conflict that he organized in London in the fall of 1966.

Since then, I have increasingly devoted my efforts to developing and applying the approach that John Burton pioneered. I soon began to write about problem-solving workshops in international conflict (Kelman, 1972) and—at the time of the Arab-Israeli war of 1967—began to think about applying the approach to the Middle East conflict. I conducted my first Israeli-Palestinian workshop in 1971, in collaboration with Stephen Cohen, and—at the time of the Arab-Israeli war of 1973—made a commitment to place this work at the top of my agenda, where it has remained ever since.

I have come to use the term “interactive problem-solving” to describe our approach (Kelman, 2002; see also Kelman, 2008). It is a form of unofficial diplomacy, directly derived from John Burton's model, and anchored in social-psychological principles. I have worked primarily with political influentials who are not currently in official positions. The unofficial, academic, and confidential context in which they meet enables them to enter into the perspective of the other side and to develop new ideas and explore new options in an interactive process. My students and associates have applied the approach to a number of international and intercommunal conflicts around the globe. My own work over the years has focused primarily—though not exclusively—on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the present volume, interactive problem-solving is very ably represented in the chapter by Tamra Pearson d'Estrée—one of my doctoral students who has gone on to make significant and original contributions to the application, extension, and evaluation of the approach (see, inter alia, d'Estrée & Babbitt, 1998; d'Estrée et al., 2001), starting with her doctoral dissertation (Pearson, 1990). Closely related concepts and issues are addressed in this volume in the chapter on dialogue by Ratnesh Nagda, the chapter on reconciliation by Arie Nadler, and the Christie and Louis chapter on intervention.

I view interactive problem-solving as an approach that is quintessentially social-psychological in that it is designed to promote changes at the societal level—in public opinion, political culture, national policy—through interaction between individuals in small group settings. In our practice, social-psychological concepts inform both the process and the content of interaction in problem-solving workshops, which are the major tools of interactive problem-solving. The process is designed to encourage active listening, joint thinking, and the development of working trust. The content addresses collective needs and fears, perceptions of self and other, national narratives and identities, and conflict norms.

We make it very clear that problem-solving workshops are not negotiations. They are completely unofficial, academically based events. Typically, the participants are politically involved and influential members of their respective communities, but not sitting officials. Although not negotiating sessions, workshops can contribute to negotiation at its various stages, by creating inputs into the policy process and the public debate and helping to promote changes in the political cultures of the conflicting societies (Kelman, 2005c, 2008). To assess the potential contributions of interactive problem-solving, we have to define the appropriate points of entry of such an unofficial, social-psychologically anchored approach into the larger conflict system—just as I have proposed earlier in this chapter that we need to identify the appropriate points of entry of social-psychological analysis into a broader theory of international relations.

My Middle East work has involved extensive travel in the region, conversations with political leaders (see, e.g., Kelman, 1983), dozens of problem-solving workshops with political influentials from the conflicting communities, and three Israeli-Palestinian working groups that have met over a period of several years (including a group that is currently meeting at periodic intervals) to explore the two sides’ perspectives on the conflict and jointly develop ideas for resolving it (or specific issues within it). These experiences, which can be described as a combination of field research and action research, have informed my writings about international conflict and conflict resolution in general (e.g., Kelman, 2007a), as well as about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the possibilities for resolving it in particular. I have used the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as my case study in theoretical writings about the role of various social-psychological concepts in the analysis and resolution of international conflicts, such as human needs (e.g., Kelman, 1990), identity (e.g., Kelman, 2001), attitudes (e.g., Kelman, 2007b), trust (e.g., Kelman, 2005b), group processes (e.g., Kelman, 1997a), and coalition formation (e.g., Kelman, 1993). Some of my publications about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—both in journal articles (e.g., Kelman, 1978, 1982a, 1982b, 1985, 1987, 1998, 2007c, 2009c) and in newspaper opinion pieces—constitute my particular version of policy analysis, drawing on my background as a social psychologist and peace researcher and on my experiences as a scholar-practitioner.

“Scholar-practitioner” is the term that my colleagues and I have come to use in describing our role in conflict analysis and resolution. One of the most satisfying aspects of my career has been the opportunity to contribute to the development of a cadre of scholar-practitioners through my work with my students across the years. With the support of the Hewlett Foundation, my students, associates, and I established a Program on International Conflict Analysis and Resolution (PICAR) at Harvard's Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, which—over a 10-year period (1993–2003)—was devoted to research, practice, and training in interactive problem-solving and related approaches. My students have gone on to elaborate the model that I have helped to develop, to explore its social-psychological foundations, to apply it to various identity-group conflicts around the world, and to undertake research to evaluate it.

The scholar-practitioner model, in my experience, has meant not only that social-psychological theory and research have informed our theory of practice, but that the practice has provided major inputs into our theoretical work (as well as into policy analysis and recommendations). My experience supports Lewin's (1951, p. 169) famous dictum, which I have paraphrased to propose “that there is nothing so conducive to theoretical insight as reflective application and practice, and nothing so practical as a good theory” (Kelman, 2004, p. 263). The second and most-often quoted part of this dictum (which uses Lewin's original language) matches the experience that my colleagues and I have had in the development and application of interactive problem-solving: Social-psychological concepts, propositions, and findings have provided a coherent framework and a rich source of ideas for formulating the microprocess of problem-solving workshops and its place in the macroprocess of conflict resolution. Our experience also supports the first half of the proposition, in that our practice has enriched our theoretical thinking, not only about conflict and conflict resolution, but also about some basic social-psychological concepts and processes. Thus, for example, I learned from my experiences as a scholar-practitioner that it may be analytically useful at times to separate the positive and negative evaluations of an attitude object (cf., Cacioppo & Berntson, 1994), rather than think about an attitude as a single point on a bipolar scale (Kelman, 2007b); that what I have called working trust—in contrast to interpersonal trust—is likely to increase if the other is perceived as acting out of his or her own interest (Kelman, 2005b); and that certain elements of collective identity can be and often are negotiated with others who are affected by that identity (Kelman, 1997c, 2001).

In expressing my obvious enthusiasm for the scholar-practitioner model, I do not wish to suggest that it represents the only way to contribute to scholarship or to practice in the areas of intergroup conflict. It is certainly possible to be a competent, thoughtful, and even innovative practitioner without pursuing a scholarly agenda; and it is possible to make creative contributions to theory and research in the field without engaging in conflict resolution practice. Working within the scholar-practitioner model is probably necessary to developing and refining an appropriate theory of practice. Beyond that, scholar-practitioners can draw on their scholarship to improve their practice and adapt it to changing circumstances; and they can draw on their practice to develop new theoretical insights about conflict and its resolution, as well as other social phenomena. For me and most of my students and associates, of course, the scholar-practitioner model allows us to combine two roles, both of which we value.


In conclusion, I return to my observation at the beginning of this chapter that the present volume, in all of its exciting and often inspiring richness and diversity, does not cover the entire range of work at the interface of social psychology and peace research. Certain topics that were central to scholars working at that interface in earlier days—as evidenced, for example, by the contributions to International Behavior (Kelman, 1965) or to Ralph White's collection on Psychology and the Prevention of Nuclear War (White, 1986)—are not featured in the present volume. These include such topics as public opinion in the foreign-policy process; foreign-policy decision making; political leadership; negotiation, bargaining, and mediation; mirror images in conflict; deterrence; and arms races and conflict escalation. By the same token, in contrast to the broader interdisciplinary roster of the earlier volumes, most of the contributors to the present volume are card-carrying (p. 370) social psychologists. This is entirely in keeping with the design of the volume, which focuses on how conflict is construed and experienced by individuals and groups living with conflict, rather than on the impact of social-psychological factors on foreign policy and on the macroprocesses of international relations.

The relative absence in the present volume of some of the topics that were central to earlier work at the interface of social psychology and peace research does not mean that these topics and their social-psychological dimensions are no longer on the research agenda. First of all, the social-psychological dimensions of international relations have increasingly become part of the conceptual repertoire of IR scholars based in political science (see, among numerous other examples, Jervis, 1976; Jervis, Lebow, & Stein, 1985; Levy, 1992). Second, work along these lines continues to be part of the agenda of the field of political psychology, which began to emerge in the early 1970s. Work on many of the topics that I have listed—such as decision making and public opinion in the foreign-policy process—is represented at the meetings and in the publications of the International Society of Political Psychology, an interdisciplinary organization, whose members are mostly political scientists and social psychologists. It is also represented in the meetings and publications of such organizations as the International Association of Conflict Management, the International Studies Association, and the International Peace Research Association—all interdisciplinary organizations, including varying numbers of social psychologists in their memberships.

In noting the relative absence of some of the earlier topics in the present volume I am also not suggesting that the contributors to this volume are less interdisciplinary in their orientations. This is clearly not the case. Many of the contributors would identify themselves as political psychologists and are active members of the International Society of Political Psychology and other interdisciplinary organizations. Indeed, as contextual social psychologists, they are of necessity—if not by definition—interdisciplinary in their orientations.

The difference in emphasis between the present volume and the early efforts at the interface between social psychology and peace research can be understood, I believe, in terms of differences in the stage of development of the field and the problematics confronted by its practitioners. A half century or so ago, social psychologists who wanted to contribute to peace research had to step outside of the field in which we were firmly anchored and to demonstrate to the specialists in issues of war and peace (as well as to ourselves) that we had something of value to offer. The challenge for us—to which I have alluded several times in this chapter—was to bridge social-psychological approaches with IR theory and political science, the discipline in which the study of war and peace is primarily anchored.

Today, social-psychological concepts and methods are widely accepted among IR scholars. Furthermore, social-psychological peace research has become—or is on its way to becoming—a recognized area of specialization within social psychology, just as peace psychology is increasingly becoming a recognized specialty within the mother discipline of psychology (Cohrs & Boehnke, 2008; Vollhardt & Bilali, 2008). One challenge for social psychologists working in this field today is to bridge social-psychological peace research with mainstream social psychology, including its experimental tradition. This is the challenge that the present volume has undertaken and that it has superbly met.


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(1.) Some portions of this chapter are taken or adapted from an article published in Peace Psychology: Newsletter of the Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict, and Violence (Kelman, 2009a) and are used here by permission of the editor.

(2.) Harold Guetzkow could be listed among both social psychologists and political scientists. His doctorate and his early research were in social psychology, but he retrained himself in international relations and became a major contributor to research and teaching in that field. He is probably best known for his leading role in the development of the Inter-Nation Simulation, which has been an important tool in research and teaching in the field (Guetzkow et al., 1963).