New Berghof Handbook Article: Emotional Dynamics


For decades, emotions have been downplayed when it came to the study of international relations, conflicts and conflict resolution. They were seen as something to be suppressed, in order not to weaken one’s stand in “battle” or not to muddle the rational resolution of disagreements. In recent years, however, emotions have gained their rightful place in the analysis of conflict and conflict transformation. This is evident in growing research on the topic and confident debate about its relevance.

The latest addition to our Berghof Handbook for Conflict Transformation unpacks “Emotional Dynamics in Conflict and Conflict Transformation”. The article written by researchers Isabel Bramsen and Poul Poder explores how emotions arise through interactions and how they may either enhance or weaken parties’ agency. Four forms of interaction are suggested that shape emotional dynamics in conflict and conflict transformation:

1) cooperative interaction, which leads to positive emotional energy such as confidence and trust that promote action,

2) dominating interaction, in which the dominating party gains more positive emotional energy than the dominated party,

3) conflictual interaction, which generates negative emotional energy that drives conflictual action, and

4) disengaged interaction, which causes loss of focus, boredom, indifference and fatigue.

Examples of conflict escalation in the Arab Uprisings and peacebuilding endeavours in Uganda illustrate the value of comprehending the interaction dynamics which lead to actors in conflicts and conflict transformation being energized (or de-energized). The article concludes with recommendations of practical steps to address agency formation in strategic and tangible measures.

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