In This Article Conflict Resolution

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Textbooks
  • Bibliographies and Reference Resources
  • Key Contributions
  • Teaching Conflict Resolution (Higher Education)

Social Work Conflict Resolution
Allan E. Barsky
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 July 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0026


Conflict resolution (CR) may be defined as any process used to manage, determine, or settle differences that may arise among individuals, families, groups, organizations, communities, nations, or any other social unit. Social conflict may arise because of perceived differences in relation to values, needs, goals, interests, rights, positions, or wishes. Many social work roles require the use of conflict management methods, including negotiation, mediation, advocacy, group facilitation, family group conferencing, healing circles, and evaluation. Although social workers incorporate conflict resolution skills in virtually all contexts of practice, advanced conflict resolution theory, strategies, and skills have only been incorporated into the literature of relatively few contexts of practice, for instance, social advocacy, family and divorce mediation, and contracting with involuntary clients. This entry highlights the books and articles contributed by social work scholars and researchers but also includes core conflict resolution works from experts in related disciplines (especially law, management, criminal justice, psychology, and peace and justice studies).

Introductory Works

The following resources introduce readers to key conflict resolution theories, models, skills, and practice methods. Bossy 2003 provides a historical exploration of disputes and conflict resolution. Deutsch 1973 offers a classic overview of the field of conflict resolution. Deutsch, et al. 2006; Moffitt and Bordone 2005; and Sandole, et al. 2009 provide the most comprehensive analyses of conflict resolution theory and current practices. Barsky 2015 demonstrates how need theory, attribution theory, developmental theory, rational choice theory, systems theory, social constructionism, and a range of other bio-psycho-social theories can be used to inform conflict resolution practice in social work and the helping professions. Roche, et al. 2014 explores a broad range of conflict management systems in organizational settings.

  • Barsky, Allan E. 2015. Conflict resolution for the helping professions: Negotiation, mediation, advocacy, facilitation, and restorative justice. 3d ed. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Introduces students to five basic approaches to conflict resolution—power, rights, interests, therapeutic, and transformation—demonstrating how these approaches can be applied in a broad range of contexts, including family conflict, workplace disputes, ethical dilemmas, intercultural issues, criminal justice, and health care. Skills inventories and experiential exercises provide students with the opportunity to put theory into practice.

  • Bossy, John, ed. 2003. Disputes and settlements: Law and human relations in the West. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    This compilation of essays provides historical, anthropological, legal, and religious perspectives on social conflict and dispute resolution from the 6th to the 19th centuries in England, Scotland, Ireland, and France.

  • Deutsch, Morton. 1973. The resolution of conflict. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

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    Provides one of the earliest and most comprehensive analyses of the nature of conflict and factors that contribute to constructive or destructive resolution. This oft-cited text provides a typology of conflict and—of particular significance to social workers—examines how people with less power can use nonviolent means to persuade people with greater power and to promote social justice.

  • Deutsch, Morton, Peter T. Coleman, and Eric C. Marcus, eds. 2006. Handbook of conflict resolution: Theory and practice. 2d ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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    Brings together leading conflict resolution scholars, who analyze the relationship between conflict and a range of factors, including perceptions of justice/injustice, cooperation/competition, trust/mistrust, communication, culture, emotion, and power. The authors translate theoretical (social psychological) understandings of these factors into practical suggestions for conflict resolution trainers and practitioners.

  • Furlong, Gary T. 2005. The conflict resolution toolbox: Models and maps for analyzing, diagnosing, and resolving conflict. Mississauga, ON: John Wiley.

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    Rather than assuming that one conflict resolution model fits all conflict situations, Furlong provides a framework for analyzing conflicts and determining the best approach for intervention.

  • Lederach, John Paul. 2005. The moral imagination. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/0195174542.001.0001E-mail Citation »

    Lederach brings his experience in international community development and peace building to a thoughtful explanation of how to bring spirituality, serendipity, and moral imagination into conflict resolution processes. Whereas many conflict resolution textbooks focus on skills, strategies, and cognitive analysis of conflict, Lederach demonstrates how the art of conflict resolution and the openness to opportunities may be equally important.

  • Moffitt, Michael L., and Robert C. Bordone, eds. 2005. The handbook of dispute resolution. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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    This handbook focuses on “dispute resolution” (with an emphasis on legal disputes), providing a comprehensive overview of the history, research, and theory that inform this field of practice. The chapters are broken into four sections: understanding disputants, understanding dispute contexts, understanding resolution processes, and emerging issues.

  • Oetzel, John G., and Stella Ting-Toomey, eds. 2013. The SAGE handbook of conflict communication: Integrating theory, research, and practice. 2d ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

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    This edited handbook provides a comprehensive literature review of the theory and practice of conflict resolution in the contexts of interpersonal conflict, intercultural conflict, workplace conflict, and international conflict.

  • Roche, W., Paul Teague, and Alexander Colvin, eds. 2014. The Oxford handbook of conflict management in organizations. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    This edited handbook explores workplace conflict, including the use of mediation, ombudsman, and other conflict resolution systems. Includes case studies and materials from various countries, including China, New Zealand, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

  • Sandole, Dennis J. D., Sean Byrne, Ingrid Staroste-Sandole, and Jessica Senehim, eds. 2009. Handbook of conflict analysis and resolution. New York: Routledge.

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    This thirty-six-chapter handbook demonstrates the breadth of conflict literature in terms of understanding the nature of conflict, core approaches, and international perspectives. The strength of this book is its theory, as some chapters are weak on their research bases.

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