chapter  5
24 Pages


Power is an essential ingredient in understanding conflict relationships and behavior along with identity. In general, power can be defined in terms of what one party can either coerce or persuade the other to give up. Power is characterized by an ability to hurt each other economically, physically, and psychologically when actions and counter-actions are mutually opposed in direct confrontation. The outcome of a power struggle often results in the substitution of old relationships (e.g., the emergence of a new black majority government in South Africa and the independence of Namibia, E. Timor, etc.) as well as the creation of new conditions for future interactions (such as the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland). As power emerges from a wide range of social relationships, it is embedded in the diverse context of inter-group struggles. In asymmetric relationships, power can be used to impose and justify discrimination against another group. Power has not only physical effects (such as the control of bodies of adversarial group members through torture or killing) but also effects in an individual actor’s perceptions. The exercise of power varies according to the nature and nuances of inter-group relationships and social settings. This chapter discusses how to understand power in conflict analysis and resolution and examines cognitive, affective, and behavioral dimensions of power relations. It also investigates various sources of limiting the use of power, ranging from the benefit of interdependent relationships to contextual or cultural norms restricting coercive force to personal and group values as opposed to violence. It can generally be said that different degrees of power asymmetry present diverse prospects for conflict resolution. Given the almost inevitability of power imbalance in many conflict relations, it is important to discuss power asymmetry in a diverse context of managing human relations as juxtaposed by such factors as moral asymmetry.