Escalation and Related Processes

By
Heidi Burgess

September 2003
 

Perhaps the most destructive conflict dynamic, escalation is the cycle of provocation and counter-provocation that can quickly transform constructive conflicts into destructive ones; tractable conflicts into intractable ones. This set of essays examines the process of escalation in detail. The first essay, on escalation in general, examines its causes and its effects. It also looks at models of how and why escalation occurs, and briefly, how it can be stopped or reversed. (An entire section of the knowledge base, however, is devoted to de-escalatory interventions and processes, so remedies are mentioned only briefly in the introductory escalation essay.)

The second essay in this section discusses how escalation can be used constructively. Although often destructive, escalation is at times necessary to raise people's awareness of a conflict. As Mai're Dugan discusses in her essay on Peaceful Change Strategies, sometimes one of the parties (most often the more powerful party) is unaware that there is a problem at all. It takes what Lou Kriesberg calls Constructive Escalation to raise the parties' awareness enough to get the problem addressed.

A third essay in this section is on polarization. Some theorists consider polarization a phase of escalation; others believe it is a separate process. It is so important that we felt it warranted its own essay in this section.


Use the following to cite this article:
Burgess, Heidi. "Escalation and Related Processes." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: September 2003 <http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/escalation-polarization>.


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