Oppression and Conflict: Introduction

Heidi Burgess

March 2005, updated in June 2017, and again in July 2020.

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Oppression is at the root of many of the most serious, enduring conflicts in the world today. Racial and religious conflicts; conflicts between dictatorial governments and their citizens; the battle between the sexes; conflicts between management and labor; between heterosexuals and homosexuals, between liberals and conservatives,  all stem, in whole or in part, to oppression or perceived oppression.

In 2017, conflicts between religion and races seemed to be on the significant increase, both in the U.S. and abroad. Many (on both sides) were talking about a serious conflict between "the West" (mostly Christian) and Islam. The conflict between Jews (mostly in Israel) and Muslims has a long, extremely intractable, history.  The conflict in Syria is one of oppression based on religion (among other things), and the migration that has caused has spawned oppression of minorities in many other countries as well. In the United States, race, immigration, and resentment of elites were big factors in the 2016 Presidential election, as working-class whites, long feeling oppressed by the liberal elite, lashed back by electing a President, who, though extremely rich, they still viewed as "one of their own," or at least one who wouldn't oppress whites, as they believed President Obama and other liberals before him had done.

Now in the summer of 2020, racial conflict has boiled over again with the high-profile police killing of an unarmed Black man in Minnesota.  This event and the worldwide response to it has put the oppression of Blacks (in the U.S.) and other minorities around the world on center stage once again.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, we need to quit complaining about oppression and actually do something about it. And, in order to do that, we need to understand the multi-faceted nature of the problem and the strategies for addressing it that are most likely to be successful. 

Additional insights into oppression are offered by Beyond Intractability project participants.

This section of the knowledge base explores oppression: what causes it, and what can be done to address it. Most of the essays in this section are drawn from a larger essay originally entitled "Oppression and Conflict[1]" Since that essay was too long to stand alone in Beyond Intractability, here it is divided up into six essays, which together make up the "oppression" section of the website. BI is lucky to be able to include these essays from Mort Deutsch—they provide a comprehensive, succinct, and understandable introduction to this critically important topic.

In addition to this short introduction, the essays in this section currently include:

1. The Nature and Origins of Oppression

2. The Forms of Oppression

3. What Keeps Oppression in Place?

4. Awakening the Sense of Injustice

5. Overcoming Oppression Through Persuasion

6.  Overcoming Oppression with Power


[1] The original paper was delivered as a plenary address at the annual meetings of the International Society of Justice Research in Skovde, Sweden on June 17, 2002.

Metagraphic "Fist Icon" Image – Source: https://pixabay.com/en/solider-salute-man-fist-hand-2345373/; By: Coffee; Permission: CC0 Creative Commons

Use the following to cite this article:
Deutsch, Morton. "Oppression and Conflict: Introduction." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: March 2005 <http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/oppression-introduction>.