Dynamics of emotions in protracted intergroup conflict as microfoundations for violent action : insights for conflict transformation from the Palestinian territories

Fink, Oliver. Dynamics of emotions in protracted intergroup conflict as microfoundations for violent action : insights for conflict transformation from the Palestinian territories. 2022, Doctoral Thesis, University of Basel, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.


Official URL: https://edoc.unibas.ch/92997/

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Living within prolonged intergroup conflict has detrimental psychosocial and societal
consequences, especially for members of low-power groups. Experiencing repression creates intense
emotions and raises serious dilemmas about handling resistance to achieve social change. In recent
years, novel approaches that focus on microlevel factors, particularly emotions, have been suggested
as useful predictors to understand how and why violent conflicts persist. Details of the exact
dynamics between emotions and collective action, such as how emotional mechanisms predict
violent action under different types of conflict escalation, remain an open question. Despite the
theoretical and practical importance of the subject, limited data is available from a low-power group
perspective. In this dissertation research, I investigate how emotional mechanisms predict how –
mainly violent – collective action is moderated by different types of conflict escalation. These
insights inform and support conflict transformation from a psychological perspective.
The research is based on extensive longitudinal mixed methods fieldwork in Israel and the
Palestinian Territories over three years. To contextually comprehend the complex issues, I first
‘mapped the space' between emotions and action, using explorative participatory-observation. Then,
to investigate the exact mechanisms of these interrelations, particularly how emotions predict violent
action under different conflict escalation settings, I surveyed two samples of West Bank Palestinians
(N = 200, 450) before and during different escalations using a longitudinal design. Escalation
contexts included the US embassy's highly publicized move to Jerusalem which led to widespread
unrest in Palestine, the so-called 'Gaza Marches of Return', and a full lockdown of Ramallah by the
Israeli army. Particular focus was placed on negative high-agency emotions such as anger,
humiliation, and hate, as well as on the distinction between individual- versus group emotions.
Finally, using activist narratives, I outlined how – in the light of these escalatory interrelations –
constructive social change from violence to nonviolent action is possible.
Results confirmed an oppressive conflict reality for low-power group members, in which
years of standstill alternate with acute phases of conflict escalation. The participatory data showed
how people employ agentic coping patterns similar to established interpersonal conflict styles.
Situational context such as conflict escalation substantially affects how and which specific emotional
dynamics predict violent responses. For example, in conditions of low conflict salience, anger was
associated with citizens' support for violent action while after conflict aggravation feelings of
humiliation elicited support for violent resistance. Furthermore, distinctive profiles of individual- versus group emotions shape an agentic response. For mainly indirectly experienced conflict
escalations, group emotions predicted violent collective action, while for closely experienced conflict
events, individual emotions were associated with violent engagement. The qualitative narratives of
formerly violent activists showed change pathways including emotional, cognitive, and behavioral
aspects. For most participants, the change sequence was triggered by an unforeseen respectful
intergroup encounter. This encounter elicited empathy towards the outgroup and reduced negative
emotions, resulting in the cognitive reappraisal of their situation concerning the conflict context.
Despite experiencing difficult conflict events and against the mechanisms outlined above, emotional
and behavioral change from radical violent to nonviolent activism was possible.
The data collected during different surges of conflict escalation in the Occupied Palestinian
Territories shows how emotional mechanisms contribute to violence. Understanding psychological
microfoundations, namely emotional dynamics, provides novel inroads for individual conflict
transformation. The research contributes to current approaches of integrating political science with
social psychology and adds more profound insights into the causes of violence, which is notoriously
difficult to study. The gained insights hold the potential to positively influence detrimental
intergroup behaviour in the Middle East and beyond.
Advisors:Goetschel, Laurent
Committee Members:Halperin, Eran
Faculties and Departments:04 Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > Departement Gesellschaftswissenschaften > Fachbereich Politikwissenschaft > Politikwissenschaft (Goetschel)
UniBasel Contributors:Goetschel, Laurent
Item Type:Thesis
Thesis Subtype:Doctoral Thesis
Thesis no:14919
Thesis status:Complete
Number of Pages:206
Identification Number:
  • urn: urn:nbn:ch:bel-bau-diss149195
edoc DOI:
Last Modified:24 Jan 2023 05:30
Deposited On:23 Jan 2023 13:39

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