Galtung's ABC Triangle
What is Galtung's ABC Triangle?
How do attitudes, behaviors and contradictions drive conflicts?
These questions will be explored through a reading and discussion.
Galtung's ABC Triangle
In the 1960s, the Norwegian peace-researcher Johan Galtung formulated the ABC Conflict Triangle in which he describes the key aspects within a conflict as: (A) attitudes, (B) behaviors and (C) contradictions are the key aspects within a conflict. The model was originally meant to be applied to war situations, in which there are distinct conflicting parties. However, it can also be used to transcend other conflicts, such as family violence, racial discrimination and children’s human rights abuses. In general, the method is used to deal with destructive or violent conflicts.
In this model:
Attitudes refer to assumptions, cognitions and emotions that one party may have about the other. A common attitude in conflicts is one of superiority and self-righteousness, refusing to put oneself in the shoes of the other. In other words, it is failing to make an effort to take the other parties’ views into account. Such an attitude contributes to the growing rift in the relationship. In this case, the peaceful option is to work with the attitudes of the parties and their relationships with each other. This entails encouraging the different “sides” to take on an attitude of empathy by creating constructive dialogue between them. This can be done by building on common interests and identities so as to humanize the parties in each others’ eyes and to guide them out of a state in which they perceive each other as “enemies” incapable of dialogue.
Behaviors refer to the mental, verbal or physical expressions put forth in a conflict. In other terms, they are the thoughts, words and actions demonstrated when a conflict occurs. Violent behaviors include anything that reveals hatred, or a lack of respect toward the opposing party. This may come in the form of verbal insults, physical abuse or the outright denial of people’s basic human rights. Behavior is the only feature of the triangle that is visible, as it includes overt actions. This is not to say that behaviour cannot be covert as well, for example, in the case of implicit racism. Violent behaviour is not limited to acts of commission. Acts of omission, such as failing to help someone in need, are also violent and may result in serious consequences. The main focus of the peaceful approach is to stop violent behavior by creating nonviolent thoughts, words and actions in order to achieve a lasting solution to the conflict.
Contradictions are the perceived incompatibility or clashing of goals between two or more parties. The contradiction is the root of the conflict. It is the core issue that is causing the violent attitudes and behaviors. A conflict of interests (both within oneself and between parties) can cause repression of feelings, leading to frustration, stress, and other violent outcomes. Peaceful approaches to contradictions include taking a step back and figuring out what the conflict is actually about. Namely, asking the question: “What are the underlying root causes that are fueling the disparity in goals and points of view?” By first understanding the conflict on a deeper level, parties can then proceed to come up with creative solutions to transcend it. One of the main problems is that contradictions are often overlooked. Recognizing them and handling them with flexibility and creativity is quite possibly the core of transforming conflicts.
As illustrated in the above definitions, each of the features triggering a conflict (attitudes, behaviors and contradictions) can also serve as possible gateways to influence the conflict peacefully and work toward a resolution. The above also suggests that each of these elements influence one another. While attitudes influence both behaviors and contradictions, the opposite can occur, with behaviors and contradictions affecting attitudes, and also each other. Because of the interconnectedness among these three aspects of conflict, it is important to address each one in order to reach a sustainable solution. Addressing attitudes is important as it helps people become aware of and better understand the contradictions. The more profoundly a contradiction is understood, the easier it is to come up with creative solutions to overcome it. Addressing both attitudes and contradictions, in turn, influences changing behaviors. Finally, behaviors also affect attitudes. More concretely, the behaviours of people working toward positive change influence the attitudes of those whom they are trying to reach out to and can determine how successful they are in doing so. It is important to note, however, that in the beginning stages of conflict analysis, it may be most important to address contradictions, as they inform attitudes, which in turn, create the behaviour. The reason being that there is no hope for truly transforming conflict unless the contradictions are handled properly. After this, the three features may begin to positively feed off each other.
Czyz, Magdalena A. "Applying the ABC Conflict Triangle to the Protection of Children’s Human Rights and the Fulfillment of Their Basic Eeds: A Case Study Approach." Thesis. Stadtschlaining/Burg, Austria, 2006. EPU Publication Archive. European University Center for Peace Studies. Web. 8 Aug. 2014. <http://epu.ac.at/fileadmin/downloads/research/Czyz.pdf>.