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Identity and the psychology of conflict

by The Open University

This course material is only available in the iTunes U app on iPhone or iPad.

Course Description

In an interview about his role as a peace envoy, Terry Waite said ‘… there’s religion, religion and religion.’ He believes that religion is about humanity, rather than a doctrine, and that conflict resolution lies in cultural understanding and not religious differences.

Religion is just one of the ways we identify ourselves, and others. We also use race and culture to define what sets us apart from other people. But why do we perceive others in a particular way? And why do our perceptions cause such conflict? Can a psychological perspective on what provokes responses to other people help our understanding of history and current politics?

This hard-hitting pathway begins with a discussion of the concept of identity – we may think we choose who we are, but how much of our identity depends on how others define us?

The pathway also explores the psychologists’ perspective. We study the experiment run by Dr Zimbardo of Stanford University in 1971, where ‘prisoners’ and ‘guards’ fell easily into the social roles defined for them.

It was conducted in the aftermath of World War II, to understand how ordinary people were drawn in to behave in a particular way, and can be compared with a more controlled experiment set up in response in 2001 by Professor Haslam from Exeter University and Professor Steve Reicher from University of St Andrews. They were concerned with the ethics of Dr Zimbardo’s study.

Carrying on with the theme of imposed social roles, you’ll look at the demonisation of the Jews by Nazis – and its consequences. Next you will study of a speech by Himmler, and research into the behaviour of German police at the massacre at Josefow in July 1942.

The checkpoints and walls that control movement of Palestinians between Israel and the West Bank are seen as a security measure, but what are the psychological effects on both sides? And what about the distinction between physical and mental barriers? Dr Irus Bravurman from the University of Buffalo Law School said ‘…there’s this kind of cultural separation that has become a lot more formalised’.

A series of interviews with Terry Waite offers thoughtful ideas on creating rapport rather than defining identity, and the pathway ends with an example of rapport-building in action by the police, where they are guests in the homes of different ethnic groups.

This pathway will appeal to those with an interest in the interplay between history, psychology and politics.
Identity and the psychology of conflict
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