Question on how Others have Grouped or Categorized Theories Regarding the Sources of Conflict (Suggestions Very much Welcome)

Dear Colleagues

Greetings. I am currently working on a textbook on conflict mainstreaming. One of the chapters I am writing, provides an overview of how various groups of theories identify and explain the root causes of conflict.

In thinking about the chapter, I am trying to explore how other scholars and practitioners group together theories about sources of conflict. I am particularly interested in macro level groups sets of theories. For example,

For example, Paul Collier, talks about Greed vs. Grievance.

Dr. Christopher Mitchell talks about micro, meso, macro

Kriesberg et. al Subjective vs. Objective

Obviously, theories related to cr can be grouped in their respective disciplines such as psychology (the individual), social psychology (the group), international relations (the larger international system), economics, etc. but I am seeking to identity or create an easier of categorizing large theoretical groupings.

If anyone has suggestions for how you group theories around root causes of conflict, or has read something interesting ideas are very much welcome. Please if you are citing yourself or someone else, please provide a name or link to relevant publications.


Dr. Zelizer

Tags: Conflict Mainstreaing, Grouping, Theories

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In my view, Pauls Collier's and Kriesberge's theorizing of conflict does not adds a new development as a sources of conflict in peace and conflict studies. It is only an extension of Political Economy  and Rational choice therory(Collier) and Innate(socio-biological) behaviour human beings to dominate others in search of natural resources or merely to obtain/maintain hegemony.

Tim Jacoby(2008), Understanding Conflict and Violence:Theorethical and Intertdisciplinary Approaches will help you a lot in this regards and wish you a success in your reaserch!


Thanks. That is one of the crucial questions of what is unique in terms of Peace and Conflict Studies. Will take a look at this book.

Dear Craig,

Maybe this text could be useful. It contains some insights about the theories of root causes of conflicts, but also about the insufficiency and inadequateness of all typologies.

In general, and in final instance, however, dominant and maybe only cause of conflict is unsatisfaction of human needs. That's my point of view, based on the works of John W. Burton, Johan Galtung, Edward E. Azar etc.

Best regards,

Mladen Stojadinovic,


Thanks. I use Berghof publications a lot. I do like basic human needs and Azar and have studied with Galtung and particularly find direct, cultural and structural violence, combined with Positive/Negative Peace to be useful concepts. But these are not larger typologies of ways of grouping theories (perhaps within direct, cultural and structural violence there is a way to group theories).

Well Craig, take a look at the following

A. Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations”, proposes cultural differences as the foremost cause of conflict, the actual root causes of clan warfare’s in Somalia, the ethnic conflict in Rwanda and religious conflicts between Palestinians and Israelis among others were precipitated by environmental factors.

 Micheal Klare (2001) in his work: Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict, discusses the unlimited, and unequal distribution of naturally endowed resources (like crude oil for instance, in the Persian Gulf), the competition over their accessibility and the elastic demand nature of the produce as the major cause of geo-economic, geo-political and geo-social volcanoes in the Middle – East. 

Blainey, G. 1988.  The Causes of War, in Michael Howard “The Causes of War” Wilson Quarterly 8, 90-103

Homer-Dixon T. 1994. Environmental scarcities and violent conflict: evidence from cases. Int Secur. 19, (1), 5-40.

Howard, M. 1984.  “The Causes of War”.  Wilson Quarterly 8, 90-103.


B. Causes of conflict (Theories of conflict causation)

-          Class struggle (Karl Marx)

-          Structural  violence – (Johan Galtung, 1969) – feminist issues-like abortion, children, traditional cultures (based on patriarchy)

-          Structuration – Anthony Giddens

-          Fraustration – Aggression Sigmond freud

-          Symbolic  interactionism – Mead/ Blumer (1969)

-          Relative deprivation – Ted Gurr

-          Over Population – Food production - Thomas Malthus

-          Human Needs theory – John Burton

 Good luck!

Maybe meaningfull for you; even this esoteric version
We have term of "wholeness" since atoom (micro) up to universe (macro). We started from "individual", we call "individual wholeness", if there are contained by physical, emotional, mental of personal form and spiritual (love,light and intelligent) of the Soul. Still, doesn't macthing to the individual wholeness if separated from "interconnectedness" into other being.
Wholeness, interconnectedness and co-creativity
It,s recognition and affirmation of human personal ,being processed into "individual wholeness", this relativity - tidak mutlak.

The soursces of conflict started by unballancing of whole elements inside, iether if our three element of personal (physical,emotional and mental) in ballancing , still we have to making ballance between Personal and Soul, if those Personal and Soul have been ballance, there are another dualistic personal and group (human) , ............... dualistic between "matter and energy".

Transformation from personal and Soul integrity in one side , into matter and energy (synthesized) in the other side, can'not explainable by only writing , must be smultaneusly with practical day by day saying to other and acting in each our family and communities, more better if we doing meditation. Then, we will find another "wholeness" in communities, then bigger - bigger-bigger until wholeness of "humanity" - one humanity.

We , as a personal getting peace just few time, regarding of change and change, also our peace in position of "individual wholeness",group wholeness position, nations wholeness , and for time being may we rest in human wholeness..

So, the source of conflict is coming from every one of us, if we uncapable to manage our inside conflict, conflict will born into our physik, into our decision, if our desicion in conflicts it's will radiated into other personal in conflicts, then we loosing the sources of conflicts. Who begginer?

I am writing this , because your ask yours coulegues, I am your colegeus, your friend, your brother.
Do not bring this for discussion, it's very very subjective.

Dear Craig,

Nonviolent Communication says that unmet needs lead to conflict. Focusing and the Theory of the Implicit ( show how to get in touch with needs that have to be met and listen to the needs of other.

Beatrice Blake, Nuevos Rumbos, Possibility Space

Thanks. THis is one theory that is useful and I am discussing basic needs, however I am searching more for macro level frameworks or ways to categories groups of theories around sources of conflict

Hi Craig, 

Try Chris Cramer's book 'Civil War is Not a Stupid Thing,' which nicely challenges the macro-level neo-classical/rational choice theories of violence, instead favouring a more political economy case-by-case examination of conflicts. If you were after a quick overview then this article, which pre-dates the book, is a good start -

Best, John

Thanks. Haven't heard of this one (a great title) and will take a look

I would suggest to look into the historical perspective of the conflict/s in the cross border areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan; especially when the case is of foreign invasion like British Era and now US presence in Afghanistan.
In tribalistic societies, like in Traibal areas of Pakistan, neglected segments, who have no chance to emerge on surface,wait for an opportunity, which can ignite the sentiments of the society; whether religious, cultural or social. The stagnation of social norms prove catalytic role in paving the way for conflict. The opinion leaders/Interest Groups fail to fill the gap, and ultimate outcome is that the gap is filled by unwanted segments, who react snatching their rights by force.


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