Chapter 6
Microcosmic Theories of
Violent Conflict
Su Chen Wen
• Social scientists have turned increasingly
toward motives, reasons, and causal factors
that may be operative both in individual
human beings and in social collective
• Even though people are not immediately
aware of them and do not become consciously
aware of them except as a result of scientific
observation and methodical analysis
• Why do individuals behave aggressively ?
• Why do states and other groups or actors
wage wars ?
– Macrocosmic and Microcosmic
– Psychological
– Multiple explanatory factors
Biological and Psychological theories
• Conflict has an inside and an outside
• It arises out of the internal dimensions of
internal dimensions of acting singly or in
groups, and also out of external conditions
and social structures.
– Sociobiology
– Sociobiologists
Socialization, Displacement, and
• The frustration-aggression school has attempted
to move from the individual to the social level
more by logical inference than by
• Frustration-aggression patterns are culturebound, the socialization of aggression takes place
in all human societies, attenuating hostile action
among members of the in-group by directing
aggressive impulses against out-groups.
Other Psychological Theories
• “Intolerance of ambiguity”
• “Nationalism” certainly contains strong and
unmistakable psychological ingredients.
• “Escape from freedom”
Learned aggression and military
• Bandura has shown that the conversion of
socialized individual into effective military
combatants requires a carefully conceived and
executed training program
• Frustration-Aggression-Displacement
Learning, Images, and International
• Should not discount too much the role of
psychological factors in the onset and conduct
of war.
• Leaders and citizens alike form their attitudefriendly, hostile, or indifferent-about the
world, foreigners, and other nations and
cultures through a complex process of
psychosocial development from youth to old
• Kenneth Bouding, the behavior of complex
political organizations is determined by
decisions that are in turn the functions of the
decision maker’s image.
• The images of decision makers are more
important than the images of the masses.
• According to Boulding , the folk-image is a
mass image, share by rules and ruled alike.
• The notion of mirror images became popular
during the Cold War and was based on the
• the people of two countries involved in a
prolonged hostile confrontation develop fixed,
distorted attitude that are really quite similar.
Instinct theories of aggression
• The key microcosmic concept developed by
biologists and psychologist for the explanation
of conflict is aggression.
– Hostile aggression
– Instrumental aggression
• “Social labeling process”, that is , on social
judgment that determine which injurious or
destructive acts are to called “aggressive”.
LORENZ : Intraspecific aggression
• Konrad Lorenz, aggression is an instinct, which
under natural conditions helps to ensure the
survival of the individual and the species.
• The typical aggressive instinct, he says , occurs
among members of the same species, not
between members of different species.
• It is intraspecific rather than interspecific, and it is
best illustrated by the tenacity with which a fish,
mammal, or bird will defend its territory against
others of its own species.
Frustration-Aggression Theory
• Most psychologists today trace individual
aggression to some form of frustration.
• “Aggression is always a consequence of
frustration” and that frustration always leads to
some form of aggression.
• “Frustration-Aggression Theory” appeals to the
common sense of most people, who know from
personal experience that they have at time felt
aggressive urges after being frustrated.
Aggression diversion and reduction
• Social psychologist often point out the
expression of aggression within a society may
be either covert or overt.
• Scientists may develop culturally acceptable
ways of either reducing or working off
aggressive impulses.
Conclusion: Microcosmic theories in
• This chapter has shown how complex are the
biological and psychosocial foundations of
• However important first-image causes of war
may be –and no one denies their importantwe may never completely understand the
factors that operate, consciously or
unconsciously , and personal level.

Chapter 6 Microcosmic Theories of Violent Conflict