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Coleman-Power+and+Conflict - The Handbook of Conflict...

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The Handbook of Conflict Resolution Theory and Practice Morton Deutsch Peter T . Coleman, Editors Jossey-Bass Publishers San Francisco 18
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108 CHAPTER FIVE GOo Power and Conflict Peter T . Coleman n the Sonagachi red-light district in Calcutta, India, prostitutes have orga- nized to mobilize against AIDS, altering the power structure by challenging any pimp or madam who would insist on a customer's right to sex without a •c ondom . At a company in the United States, in an attempt to avoid layoffs, the great majority of employees agreed to cut their own salaries by 20 percent ; the offer was rejected by the CEO, who chose instead to fire 20 percent of the workforce, stating that "it was very important that management's prerogative to manage as it saw fit not be compromised by sentimental human considerations" (Harvey, 1989, p . 275) . In the wilds of Wyoming, groups of ranchers and environmentalists, who his- torically were bitter adversaries, have teamed up to fight a proposal by the fed- eral Department of the Interior to reintroduce wolves into their national parks . All of these conflicts have one basic element in common : power . Power to challenge, power to resist, and power through cooperating together . Most con- flicts directly or indirectly concern power, either as leverage for achieving one's goals, as a means of seeking or maintaining the balance or imbalance of power in a relationship, or as a symbolic expression of one's identity . Scholars propose that the "deep structure" of most conflicts is dictated by preexisting power re- lations . This structure, established through the history of relations between the parties, their differential access to resources, or the existing social norms and roles, drives the issues in their conflicts and largely influences what is consid- 19
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POWER AND CONFLICT 109 ered to be important, feasible, and fair in these situations . Of course, there are also many overt conflicts about power, as for example between the haves and have-nots or between competing power seekers . Because of its ubiquity, it is paramount that when we address conflict, we consider power . This chapter enhances our understanding of the relationship between power and conflict by drawing on useful ideas from the diverse social science litera- ture related to power . I have organized it in three sections, beginning with a dis- cussion of those aspects of power that are important to considering conflict and its constructive resolution . In this section, I describe some of the conceptual- izations, discuss some typologies, and offer a working definition of power . I then briefly summarize some of the personal and situational factors that affect peo- ple's preferences for and responses to power in social relations . In the second section, I discuss the relevance of these ideas to conflict resolution, outlining some of the tendencies of and strategies used by members of both high-power and low-power groups when in conflict . I conclude the chapter by discussing
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