Conflict Management: A Literature Review and Study
- PMID: 30514033
"Management of conflict is extremely important for the effective functioning of organizations and for the personal, cultural, and social development of individuals. The manner in which the conflict is managed can cause more tension in the situation rather than the conflict itself. " This literature review analyzes five modes to dealing with conflict along two dimensions of behavior: compet- ing (assertive and uncooperative), accommodating (unassertive and cooperative), avoiding (unassertive and uncooperative), compromising (falls into the middle), and collaborat- ing (assertive and cooperative). " In a study, technologists preferred a cooperating conflict management style when feelings have not yet esca- lated, and a compromising conflict management style after the conflict has become heated. The study also showed education.level did not have any effect on their preferred conflict management styles.
- Avoidance Learning
- Competitive Behavior
- Conflict, Psychological*
- Interprofessional Relations*
- Personnel Management / methods*
- Technology, Radiologic*
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What is Conflict in Literature? || Oregon State Guide to Literary Terms
"what is conflict in literature": a literary guide for english students and teachers.
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What is Conflict in Literature? Transcript (English and Spanish Subtitles Available in Video, Click HERE for Spanish Transcript)
By J.T. Bushnell , Novelist and Oregon State University Senior Instructor of Literature
“Tension is the mother of fiction,” says the writer and writing teacher Jerome Stern. I think he’s right. Tension is that tingle of anticipation you feel when you’re reading something great, the interest and excitement that keeps you turning pages. But where does tension come from?
Let’s do a little mental experiment. Let’s say you’re talking to your favorite fifteen-year-old girl. What would your reaction be if she said, Oh my gosh, you have to hear this story! So, the other day I stayed home while my parents and sister went to a picnic, right? So I washed my hair and then laid in the sun to let it dry, and I dozed off for a while. Then I got hot and went inside and listened to some music.
Now, if you’re like most of us, your reaction would probably be, Uh, I thought you said you had a story. Did you hear something disturbing in the music? Did something happen to your hair? Did you get locked out, or caught in a rainstorm, or maybe attacked by a swarm of murder hornets? Where’s the story?
In a story we want something to happen, usually something bad. Until it does, we’re not very interested. Tension might be the mother of fiction, but problems are the mother of tension.
In fiction, those problems are called conflict. More precisely, conflict means thwarted, endangered, or opposing desire . It’s basically when a character wants something but something else gets in the way. Maybe the character wants a thing but can’t get it. Maybe the character has something but is in danger of losing it. Maybe the character wants two things that are incompatible. Whatever its form, though, it gets our attention.
Remember our favorite fifteen-year-old girl, for example? Well let’s modify her story a little. Let’s say that while she’s listening to music, a car she doesn’t recognize comes down her driveway. Let’s say the driver is a boy she noticed the night before at the local teen hangout, the one who fingered an X into the air and said, “Gonna get you, baby.” Let’s say he flirts with her and tries to coax her into the car, and she starts to realize he’s actually a grown man dressed up like a teenager. So is the guy in the passenger seat, who eventually asks if he should go yank out the phone cable. The first guy tells him to shut up, then very sweetly threatens to set her house on fire and hurt her family if she doesn’t come get in his car. Still boring?
That’s the summary of a story called “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates, and it’s bristling with tension. Why? Because of all the conflict! The girl wants the men to leave, but that desire is thwarted. She wants to stay inside her house, but that desire is endangered. She wants to protect herself, but she also wants to protect her family, and if she believes the man in the car (which she shouldn’t), she can’t have both. She also wants other things that are thwarted, endangered, or opposed, and this is the web of conflict that produces both the action of the story and, ultimately, its deeper meaning. It creates the tension, it launches the plot, and it evokes the themes . Quite simply, without the conflicts, there is no story.
To understand what’s interesting about a story, then, you only have to keep an eye out for what the characters want, and then what gets in the way of it. Those questions will lead you through the story’s branches and into its beating heart.
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Disclosure of conflict of interest in scientific publications
Consultant, Medical Writing and Drug Safety, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
Impartiality and transparency are the important hallmarks of ethical research. Taking appropriate measures to avoid bias and maintain transparency in the execution, reporting, and publication process improves scientific objectivity, integrity, and credibility of research findings. This is especially important in biomedical research wherein the results of research influence clinical decision-making, and have a direct impact on the life and health of individuals.
In research, the primary interest of any researcher should be to investigate claims/possibilities, and find truthful answers to scientific inquiries. However, sometimes, this might be overshadowed by secondary interests such as financial or nonfinancial considerations. The impartiality of research may be compromised when the researcher stands to gain in some way from the conclusions drawn. Such conflict of interest (COI) may involve receiving research or educational grants, payments for services such as speakership, stock options, board membership, consultancy, employment, travel/accommodation/meeting expenses, etc. Nonfinancial considerations may include advancement of professional career or personal relationships. Many instances of bias in medical research associated with financial COIs have been documented, particularly in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries. One of the landmark studies on financial COIs in randomized clinical trials reported in the BMJ from 1997 to 2001 (159 papers from 12 specialties) revealed that the authors' conclusions were statistically significantly more positive toward pharmacological or nonpharmacological interventions in trials funded by for-profit organizations than in those without any such conflict ( P = 0.014).[ 1 ]
Bearing in mind that research may be associated with bias brought in by COI, many ethical guidelines have been laid down by international scientific bodies to maintain transparency in research process. COI on the part of research investigators, institutions, as well as ethics committees during approval and conduct of research studies has been well recognized and addressed in various good clinical practice guidelines. Appropriate disclosure policies have to be laid down and strictly followed by research institutions to ensure transparency and ethical conduct of research.[ 2 , 3 , 4 ]
That such COI could exist during the publication process has only been recognized and addressed in the last decade or so. Among the most common measures to ensure transparency in research-based publications is the requirement of “disclosure,” wherein the researchers/authors have to disclose any financial or nonfinancial COI in publications. Such disclosure is intended to help readers critically evaluate whether any conflicting interests exist, and are unduly influencing conclusions drawn and recommendations made. A full disclosure of COI on the part of authors is required by most of the high-quality bio-medical journals as per the guidelines of standard-setting organizations such as the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), the World Association of Medical Editors, and the Committee on Publication Ethics. ICMJE guidelines cover not only authors but also peer reviewers, editors, and editorial board members of journals involved in the process of article review and publication, who must disclose all relationships that could be viewed as potential COI.[ 5 ] The Indian Council of Medical Research Ethical Guidelines for Biomedical and Health Research involving Human Participants (2017) mentions COI in research and publication.[ 6 ]
In addition to authors, the other important stakeholders in the publication process are the reviewers and journal editors. COI may apply to reviewers of research papers and editors of the journals, though most of the discussions in literature on COI and “disclosure” have been focused on the impact of authors' COI on research integrity. Reviewers of research papers may have competing affiliations, conflicting academic interests, or financial relationships with sponsors of research, which may compromise their judgment and objectivity of their review. Having personal relationships with authors/researchers may result in mutually favorable reviews. Similarly, publishers and editors, in order to improve the rank, prestige, and citation profile of their journal may push publication of potentially “citable” papers involving industry-funded studies reporting largely positive findings or clinical opinions favoring specific “intervention/s,” circumventing the normal peer-review process. Similarly, editors having decision-making positions in publications may push for publication of “friendly” articles.[ 7 ]
Hence, it is important that scientific journals adopt a strict “disclosure” policy for all stakeholders in the publication process to maintain scientific integrity of research publications. Internationally, most scientific journals (over 90%) have adopted policies that mandate “disclosure of COI for authors,” though relatively fewer journals (30%–40%) have adopted similar policies for reviewers and editors.[ 8 ] Looking at the paucity and quality of scientific publishing in India, these figures are likely to be much lower. A study in the current issue of PICR evaluating COI policies among Indian biomedical journals reports that while most Indian journals (87.7%) had COI policies for authors, very few (<10%) had COI policies for reviewers and editors. The observation on policies for reviewers and editors is limited by the fact that only home pages and author instructions of the journals were reviewed for disclosure policies and not their internal policies and systems. The study also found that journals indexed in PubMed were more likely to have COI policies. Nearly a fifth of the journals published from India did not follow any guideline for disclosing COI, and that most journals surveyed did not provide adequate explanation of COI, which could impact understanding what needs to be disclosed.[ 9 ]
In conclusion, COI can occur at any stage in research – its conduct, while reporting or during the publication process. Hence, in order to preserve research integrity and credibility of its findings, it is necessary to follow appropriate guidelines for disclosure, and maintain adequate transparency by declaring COI for all parties involved in the process –researchers/authors, reviewers, and editors. Moreover, all stakeholders should be aware and familiar with the disclosure requirements and relevant ethical guidelines for reporting and publication. Information on funding, sources of drug supply, and involvement of sponsors should be routinely checked and displayed by all scientific publications. Journals as well as research institutions, and professional associations for researchers, should make all efforts to increase the awareness of this aspect of publishing, and make researchers, reviewers, and editors familiar with COI and disclosure requirements.
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7 Types of Conflict in Literature: A Writer's Guide
In literature, conflict is any struggle that characters must overcome to achieve their goal. It can be a ‘real world’ obstacle or antagonist (external conflict) or some inner turmoil that our heroes must confront before getting what they want or need (internal conflict).
As we mentioned in the previous section, all good stories are driven by conflict. By understanding what stands between characters and their goals, we can begin to grasp what their stories are about. The seven most common types of conflict in literature are:
1. Character vs. Character(s)
2. character vs. society, 3. character vs. nature, 4. character vs. technology, 5. character vs. supernatural, 6. character vs. fate, 7. character vs. self.
In this post, we will analyze these types of conflict and provide examples from the world of popular fiction.
Before we get into some of the more abstract types, let’s first look at what most readers think about when they imagine ‘conflict’.
Pesky people: they cause trouble wherever they go! That’s the crux of this type of external conflict, which you’ll find in many, if not most, stories. "Character versus character" can mean both black-and-white struggles (cops vs. robber, hero vs. villain, etc.), but it can also cover subtler kinds of personal confrontations: romantic entanglements and familial disputes, for example.
Character vs. character conflict is commonly rendered as the traditional “ protagonist vs. antagonist ” setup, where these two central characters will usually have diametrically opposing goals. For example, the protagonist might be a cat burglar looking to steal a priceless painting, while the antagonist – a corrupt gallery owner — wants nothing more than to stop them.
Examples of character vs. character conflict
Les Misérables: Former convict Jean Valjean restarts his life with a new identity, seeking to create a more just society for the underclasses. He is discovered and pursued by Inspector Javert, whose fanatical devotion to the law has blinded him to the actual injustices being perpetrated by the system.
The Great Gatsby: Self-made millionaire Jay Gatsby wants nothing more than to win over his childhood crush, Daisy Buchanan. Standing in the way of Gatsby’s goal is Daisy’s husband, Tom Buchanan, an old-money cad with a mile-wide mean streak.
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Particularly prevalent in fiction these days, this type of external struggle pits the individual against the collective. In this case, “the collective” might take the form of something like:
- an oppressive government,
- adults (as seen from a teenager’s perspective), or
- systemic corruption.
In this type of conflict, society will put pressure on our character to change and fall neatly into order. On the other hand, our protagonist will resist this change and, in extreme cases, will try to bend society to fit their vision. Like the story of David and Goliath, our hero faces an uphill battle, but the reader holds out hope that ‘the little guy’ can overcome a seemingly impossible challenge.
Examples of character vs. society conflict
The Hate U Give: When her friend is shot dead by a cop, African American teenager Starr seeks justice, but finds herself up against a system of structural racism that stretches from the police and media, all the way to her private school and internalized racism.
The Devil Wears Prada : Idealistic university graduate Andrea “Andy” Sachs moves to New York and soon lands a highly coveted position as the junior assistant to Miranda Priestly, the tyrannical editor of a fashion magazine. A fish out of water, Andy enters into a world that directly conflicts with her principles but finds herself compelled to conform to the cut-throat world of fashion journalism in order to fast-track her career.
How do you fancy your chances in a fight against Mother Earth? In this type of conflict, that is exactly what our protagonists are facing. Whether it’s wildlife ( Jaws ), natural disasters ( The Day After Tomorrow ), the weather ( The Perfect Storm ), or a post-apocalyptic landscape ( The Road ), the antagonists in this type of conflict cannot be reasoned with.
Stories that feature a “character vs. nature” conflict will usually center on a character’s survival. In the absence of a human antagonist, our heroes will often discover that “character vs. self” conflict (something we will touch on later) is at the heart of their narrative arc .
Examples of character vs. nature conflict
The Martian: Stranded on the Red Planet, astronaut Mark Watney must overcome its unforgiving environment and survive long enough to be rescued. Using his resourcefulness, he must overcome the obstacles that Mars presents by growing food and find a way to communicate with Earth.
Moby Dick: Ahab, the captain of the Pequod, launches a voyage in search of a white whale that previously took his leg. The crew faces many natural challenges on this ill-fated journey, including storms, harsh waters, and the titular whale Moby Dick.
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Since the dawn of the industrial age, humanity has had a turbulent relationship with technology. Some see scientific progress as a defiance of God and the natural, while others have used it to question the limits of our morality, patience, and greed. While the idea of ‘character vs. technology’ might summon up the image of a Terminator-like robot apocalypse, this type of conflict could also be as modest as someone struggling to teach their Grandma Millie how to use emojis!
Examples of character vs. technology
Frankenstein : A scientist brings to life a creature made out of spare human parts. This ‘monster’ quickly becomes sentient and exceeds his creator’s wildest expectations, leading to Dr. Frankenstein’s demise on the tundra. Subtitling her book “The Modern Prometheus,” Mary Shelly likened her hero to the mythic Greek figure who stole fire from Zeus, putting a fine point on the idea of humans daring to play God.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: In the distant future of 1999, bounty hunter Rick Deckard is given the task of retiring (read: killing) a group of androids recently escaped from a Mars colony. The only problem? These synthetic creatures are practically indistinguishable from real people. When Deckard falls for one of these androids, he begins to question the very nature of humanity.
When your hero finds themselves up against something that cannot be explained by logic or science, they are probably in conflict with supernatural forces! While some writers employ this type of conflict to tell rip-roaring tales, supernatural stories can also explore human fears and inexplicable everyday events.
In practice, character vs supernatural conflicts will often see the protagonist face off against the forces of fate, religion, ghosts, gods, demons or aliens.
Examples of character vs supernatural
Ghostbusters: Three disgraced scientists (and a guy they find on Craigslist) set up shop as supernatural pest controllers, ridding New York of hungry ghosts and spectral librarians. But when a Sumerian god arrives looking to enslave the world, our four heroes must answer the age-old question: does bustin’ make them feel good ?
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: A doctor in Victorian London creates a serum that causes him to become his evil alter-ego, Edward Hyde. Inspired by the real-life case of Deacon Brodie, an upstanding Edinburgh citizen by day and burglar by night, author Robert Louis Stevenson uses this supernatural tale to depict one man’s struggle against his inner demons.
A fight against the supernatural might require detailed worldbuilding, which you can learn all about it in our ultimate guide below.
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Similar to “character vs. supernatural,” this conflict deserves its own entry — if only for its historical significance. “Character vs. fate” can include dealings with God or the gods and their prophecies — where our protagonists desperately try to assert their free will. This is a common trope in Greek tragedies, where the characters can do nothing but endure the destinies befallen to them.
Examples of character vs. supernatural
Macbeth: In Shakespeare’s “Scottish play,” the Thane of Glamis receives a prophecy from three witches that foretells his rise to the throne of Scotland. However, the witches also reveal that his buddy Banquo will father a line of kings — which gets Macbeth more than a little worried. In his fight against this fate, Macbeth takes extreme measures that prove to be his undoing.
Oedipus Rex: Boy meets oracle. Oracle tells boy he will marry his mother and kill his father. In an effort to defy the prophecy, boy kills a stranger (who turns out to be his birth father) and marries a woman (who turns out to be his birth mother). Boy plucks his eyes out in a fit of frustration. It’s a tale as old as time.
If these stories teach us anything, it’s that tragedies are almost always self-inflicted!
Until now, these types of conflicts have seen our heroes deal with external forces. For our final entry on this list, let’s look at what is perhaps the most important conflict of all.
Writer Maxwell Anderson once said that “the story must be a conflict, and specifically, a conflict between the forces of good and evil within a single person”. Though that might be an oversimplification, every interesting story will indeed, at some point, involve a character’s inner dilemma. That’s because, as James N. Frey points out in How To Write A Damn Good Novel , a reader experiences the most empathy for a character when that character is in the middle of some intense inner strife.
Internal strife will stem from a debate that occurs within a character. It might originate from any combination of the character’s expectations, desires, duties, and fears. To get what they want, they must make a choice that threatens to change the very fabric of who they are.
Examples of character vs. self
The Hunger Games : Kind-hearted teen Katniss Everdeen is drafted as a contestant in a deadly reality show staged by a totalitarian government. As per the rules of the game, in the end, there can be only one — to survive, it seems that Katniss must overcome her reluctance to kill. Will she stick by her principles, even if it ultimately results in her death?
Great Expectation : Pip, a poor Blacksmith’s boy, is plucked from obscurity by a mysterious benefactor and allowed to become a London gentleman. Seeing this as his only chance to ‘better himself’ and win the heart of his childhood crush, Pip finds himself torn between getting everything he ever wanted and protecting his ideals. Will he devote himself to becoming a callous member of the upper-middle crust or remain loyal to his family and authentic self?
Now that you’ve seen the many faces of conflict in a story, it leaves only one question: how does a writer use this knowledge to benefit their own writing? In the final section of this guide, we’ll answer that very question as we show you how to identify and accentuate conflict in a story.
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7 Types of Conflict in Literature: How to Use Them (with Examples)
“Nothing moves forward in a story except through conflict.”
This is what Robert McKee, the author of Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting , calls the Law of Conflict, and storytelling is governed by it.
The finer details like story setting, character, and plot events all give the reader context and understanding, but conflict , according to McKee, is the “soul” of story. Every kind of story, every genre – novel, short story, science fiction , romance, mystery, historical , young adult , etc. – requires it.
In her book Writing Fiction , Janet Burroway says that, in literature, “only trouble is interesting.” It’s a bit ironic that in real life, we resist trouble; we shy away from conflict. Yet readers crave it in fiction.
First-time authors often find the idea of putting their characters into conflict an upsetting one. Just as they want to avoid conflict in their own lives, they don’t want to place their characters into uncomfortable, confrontational situations. They’ll focus on eloquent setting description or complex character development but then give the main character no conflict to resolve. Don’t make that mistake.
Why Conflict Is Key
7 types of conflict in fiction, how to create conflict in your novel, layered conflict makes compelling fiction.
Quite simply, conflict keeps your story interesting. Conflict is opposition – either internal or external (more on that below). Conflict is what comes from the challenges your protagonist must solve or resolve on the way to achieving his/her/their goal. It offers a teasing carrot of uncertainty about whether your protagonist will achieve that goal, keeping your readers engaged and turning pages to discover whether (or not) the conflict is resolved.
And that’s what every author wants, right? To carry the reader all the way to THE END?
Without conflict, your main character is simply experiencing a series of largely uninteresting slice-of-life moments. Without conflict, there is no story.
There are two basic kinds of conflict: external and internal, which have been further categorized and codified in many different ways over time. Here are seven different types to consider.
External conflict pits the character against some exterior force or world-view and happens outside the character’s body. Five of the seven types of conflicts are of the external kind.
1. Person vs. Person
Also called man vs. man and protagonist vs. antagonist , this is the most common type of external conflict. It is clear and universally understood as a good vs. evil story in which an unambiguous challenger opposes the main character.
The heart of this type of story involves two characters with opposing outlooks, opinions, or goals. The story will become richer when both characters believe themselves to be right or when there is no clear right or wrong between their differences.
- In The Hunger Games , Katniss Everdeen must go up against other contestants in order to survive – her vs. them
- In The Wizard of Oz , Dorothy faces off against the Wicked Witch
- Murder mysteries with the investigator vs. murderer also are person vs. person stories
2. Person vs. Nature
This type of conflict counters a character against some force of nature, such as an animal or the weather.
- A classic example is Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea
- In Life of Pi , the protagonist must face a tiger trapped in the boat with him
- The drought is a formidable opposition in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath , as is the setting in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (read more about the use of setting here )
3. Person vs. Society
When a novel sets a character against a tradition, an institution, a law, or some other societal construct, it is a Person vs. Society story.
- Atticus Finch opposed his racist community in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird
- Wilbur fights for his survival against a society that eats pigs in Charlotte’s Web
- In Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale , the society treats women as property of the state; Atwood makes the story even more interesting by layering in environmental disasters (Person vs. Nature) to intensify the conflict
4. Person vs. Technology
When science moves beyond human control, conflicts of Person vs. Technology develop. Stories in this conflict type include:
- 2001: A Space Odyssey
- Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
5. Person vs. Supernatural
Vampires, werewolves, aliens, and ghosts – any typically unbelievable, supernatural, or inexplicable phenomena – provide Person vs. Supernatural conflicts. Examples of such stories include:
- The Shining , by Stephen King
- The Haunting of Hill House , by Shirley Jackson
- The War of the Worlds , by H.G. Wells
- The Exorcist
- Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach series
- Almost anything by Edgar Allan Poe
The two remaining types of conflicts are internal – ones that happen inside the character’s mind or heart. When your main character has an inner turmoil that’s causing some emotional pain, it increases the tension of the story.
6. Person vs. Self
A character battling inner demons, one who has an inner moral conflict (think Hamlet ), or is simply striving to become a better person is in a Person vs. Self conflict.
- Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games (again!) must reconcile her need to survive in the battle arena with her desire not to kill another human being
- Daniel Scott Keyes's short story Flowers for Algernon has a main character struggling with losing his intelligence to a congenital mental disability, with the focus on the character’s feelings about his circumstances: the conflict between his intellect and emotion are central
7. Person vs. Destiny (Fate/Luck/God)
This is an ambiguous conflict type. Sometimes aspects of it get split up and parsed out among the other categories. For example, since accepting fate can be seen as an inner personal struggle, some define it as Person vs. Self instead. Or some might reframe Person vs. God as being person against religion and, therefore, would put it in the external conflict type of Person vs. Society. The categories don’t really matter as long as you understand the concept.
Examples of this conflict type include Star Wars , The Odyssey , and Lord of the Rings .
- Although Star Wars contains plenty of external conflicts, a major part of the storyline is Luke’s destiny to become a Jedi Master
- In The Odyssey , Odysseus encounters all sorts of mystical creatures
- Fate has made Frodo the ring-bearer in Lord of the Rings
When a character has a want or a goal and encounters some obstacle, the result is a conflict. The obstacle must be faced by a character readers care about. Additionally, the obstacle must oppose a want or a goal that’s meaningful to that character. The result? Conflict.
Conflict can vary in degree or intensity, but every conflict must have several key characteristics.
- The conflict must be clear, specific, and relevant to the character; it should not be an abstract or trivial problem – either to the character or to the reader
- It must exist within the character’s realm, not separate or remote from their world
- The conflict must not be overcome too easily
- Finally, the conflict must happen to a character(s) the reader cares about (not necessarily “likes,” but has some compassion for)
In summary, conflict results when a compassion-worthy character who wants something intensely encounters a significant obstacle. Add in relevant action and you’ll have a story.
Every novel needs a major conflict. More complex stories have multiple conflicts, as noted above for Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale , which has both Person vs. Society and Person vs. Nature conflicts. Furthermore, a story that contains external conflict can be made more complex, layered, and interesting by including characters who also have inner conflict (see The Hunger Games in the examples above).
James Scott Bell, in The Art of War for Writers , makes this distinction between inner conflict and inner struggle:
An inner conflict is plot-centric; it is an internal obstacle either triggered by or somehow directly connected to the story – the plot. Whereas inner struggle is something that plays against the character’s strengths; it’s something the character brings to the plot, usually from her past, either long ago or recent past (but before the first page). The plot will put the protagonist in situations where she has to deal with this inner struggle, and she’ll carry that struggle with her throughout the story. If the character is in a series, it will run throughout the book series.
To illustrate, let’s say you want your female main character to be assertive . Two qualities that might battle against assertiveness are shyness and indecision . Then consider what in the protagonist’s background could be a reason for her struggle between assertiveness and yet being shy or indecisive . Maybe someone important in her life told her she’d never amount to anything. Maybe she had a hard-scrabble, poor childhood she desperately wanted to get out of, but as a child she saw too many adults around her fail in every attempt to do so themselves. You get the idea?
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler says inner conflict is a defining mark of a literary work. A book might also possess characteristics of a particular genre, but inner conflict can give a novel a sense of being the literary kind.
Whether or not you’re striving for a literary work, if you use two or more of the seven types of conflict identified above, making sure at least one is internal, your writing will be compelling.
How do you feel about using conflict in your writing? Let us know in the comments!
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Conflict in virtual teams: a bibliometric analysis, systematic review, and research agenda
International Journal of Conflict Management
ISSN : 1044-4068
Article publication date: 6 June 2022
Issue publication date: 6 January 2023
The purpose of this study is to map the intellectual structure of the research concerning conflict and conflict management in virtual teams (VT), to contribute to the further integration of knowledge among different streams of research and to develop an interpretative framework to stimulate future research.
A data set of 107 relevant papers on the topic was retrieved using the Web of Science Core Collection database covering a period ranging from 2001 to 2019. A comparative bibliometric analysis consisting of the integration of results from the citation, co-citation and bibliographic coupling was performed to identify the most influential papers. The systematic literature review complemented the bibliometric results by clustering the most influential papers.
The results revealed different intellectual structures across several types of analyses. Despite such differences, 41 papers resulted as the most impactful and provided evidence of the emergence of five thematic clusters: trust, performance, cultural diversity, knowledge management and team management.
Based on the bibliometric analyses an interpretative research agenda has been developed that unveils the main future research avenues. The paper also offers important theoretical contributions by systematizing knowledge on conflict in identifying VTs. Managerial contributions in the form of the identification of best practices are also developed to guide conflict management in VTs.
The uniqueness of this paper is related to its effort in studying, mapping and systematizing the knowledge concerning the topic of handling conflicts in VTs. Considering the current contingencies, this research is particularly timely.
- Virtual teams
- Conflict management
- Bibliometric analysis
- Remote working
Caputo, A. , Kargina, M. and Pellegrini, M.M. (2023), "Conflict in virtual teams: a bibliometric analysis, systematic review, and research agenda", International Journal of Conflict Management , Vol. 34 No. 1, pp. 1-31. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJCMA-07-2021-0117
Emerald Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2022, Andrea Caputo, Mariya Kargina and Massimiliano Matteo Pellegrini.
Published by Emerald Publishing Limited. This is published under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) licence. Anyone may reproduce, distribute, translate and create derivative works of this article (for both commercial and non-commercial purposes), subject to full attribution to the original publication and authors. The full terms of this licence may be seen at http://creativecommons.org/licences/by/4.0/legalcode
Handling conflicts properly in teams is crucial for possible success ( Caputo et al. , 2019 ). Due to the specific contingencies experienced by virtual teams (VTs), this aspect becomes even more prominent ( Gilson et al. , 2015 ). The Covid-19 pandemic forced many organizations to implement remote working, often in an abrupt and fast way, indicating a particularly favorable historic momentum to systematize previous knowledge on the topic and to offer ways forward. With such a purpose in mind, this paper aims to provide an overview of the evolution of the literature regarding conflict and conflict management in the context of VTs over the past two decades. For this study, we broadly define conflict as the situation where parties within a VT perceive that their goals or interests are incompatible or in opposition ( Ayoko and Konrad, 2012 ); whereas we consider conflict management to refer to the understanding of conflict as a whole, its antecedents, the process, the styles and strategies of handling conflicts and associated behaviors in the context of VT ( Caputo et al. , 2018a ). Even in the context and dynamics of the virtuality of VTs, we concur with Caputo et al. (2018a , 2018b , p. 11) that:
The main objective of conflict management is not to eliminate conflict, but to find different ways to manage it properly by controlling the dysfunctional elements of the conflict while facilitating its productive aspects.
The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the already rapid development of technologies in information and communication, further reducing the distances and increasing remote work interactions ( Garro-Abarca et al. , 2021 ). The hyper-globalization processes of the past decades have led, already before the pandemic, to the growing importance of VTs in today’s organizations ( Gibson et al. , 2014 ). VTs can be considered as groups of geographically dispersed co-workers who work interdependently, share common objectives, practices and procedures using technology to communicate and collaborate across time and space ( DeSanctis and Monge, 1999 ). These teams may come from different cultures, yet they operate in the same organizational cultural framework, can bring together a variety of knowledge and experience and deal with a high degree of technologically mediated interactions ( Batarseh et al. , 2017 ). These factors contribute to making today’s organizations more diverse and possibly more conflictual.
Previous reviews and conceptual work have touched on the issues related to conflict and conflict management in the context of VTs. In particular, Schiller and Mandviwalla (2007) highlighted the issues related to conflict management in VT in an early theoretical piece that looked at the use of theories in VT research. More recently, Gilson et al. (2015) presented a seminal overview of the research in VTs that unveiled 10 themes and 10 opportunities for future research. According to the authors, conflict management was mostly studied as a mediator in a unidimensional relation, resulting in the suggestion that conflict is more likely to happen in VTs and it negatively affects team dynamics, processes and outcomes. A similar suggestion is made by Jimenez et al. (2017) , in reviewing the works about global VTs, and Raghuram et al. (2019) , reviewing studies about virtual work, who highlighted how conflicts emerge mostly from cultural and language differences affecting team dynamics. The fragmentation of empirical literature about conflict in VTs and the limited conceptual attention given to the topic calls for an investigation and systematization of the literature about conflict and conflict management in VTs as timely and necessary to support both research and practice to navigate the uncertainties of today’s world.
Shedding light on the evolution of the study of conflicts and their associated management in VTs, a bibliometric analysis of 107 relevant articles published in peer-reviewed scientific journals has been performed to first identify the most influential studies and second, to systematize the academic knowledge by unveiling the existence of five thematic clusters: trust, performance, cultural diversity, knowledge management and team management. In particular, an innovative approach has been adopted by comparing results from alternative, complementary bibliometric tools, i.e. citations, normalized citations and bibliographic coupling, to identify the most influential articles in the field ( Caputo et al. , 2021 ).
This study provides several contributions theoretically, methodologically and practically. First, it contributes to strengthening the integration and systematization of the two bodies of literature in conflict management and VTs. Second, it provides a rigorous and systematic identification of the most influential papers in these fields and identifies thematic areas to bring forward the research. Third, it contributes to bibliometric and reviews studies by advancing the use of comparative bibliometric approaches. Finally, the paper interprets in an integrative framework the current knowledge on the field comprising nonlinear and recursive loops between its elements and, thanks to that, elaborates future research avenues.
The paper is organized into five sections, including this introduction, as follows. Section 2 describes the protocol adopted for selecting the paper and the analyses performed. Section 3 presents the results of the analyses and determines the most impactful papers. Section 4 uses the most impactful papers to propose a framework aimed at suggesting an agenda for future research. Section 5 summarizes the contributions of the paper and its limitations.
This paper aims to provide a comprehensive yet succinct and timely knowledge map of the studies investigating conflict management in VTs. Such a knowledge map is purposed to provide both scholars and practitioners with an overview of what we know i.e. best practices and main findings, and what we still do not know i.e. future research directions about managing conflict in virtual workplaces. The Covid-19 pandemic that resulted in large part of the office workforce working remotely is disrupting social relationships in the workplace. A review of conflict management in VTs is therefore necessary and needs to be carried out in a timely fashion to serve its purpose.
To achieve these objectives, we have built upon best practices in systematic literature review and bibliometric studies and complemented the two methodologies to fulfill simultaneously the breadth and depth of the analysis. The simultaneous use of these two complementary methods, albeit recent, is not entirely new as it has been validated in several studies ( Caputo et al. , 2021 ; Caputo et al. , 2018b ; Dabić et al. , 2020 ). It allows researchers to investigate a topic in depth through the systematic review while maintaining a wider picture of the evolution of knowledge through bibliometric analysis. In this study, we have also included a methodological innovation in the complementary use of alternative bibliometric analyses to identify the most influential papers in the field.
2.1 Sampling protocol
Consistent with the systematic review method ( Thorpe et al. , 2005 ; Tranfield et al. , 2003 ), a panel of experts was formed to define the field of research, choose the keywords, the database and the set of inclusion and exclusion criteria. The panel of experts consisted of two professors, one an expert in strategy, negotiation and conflict management and the other in organizational studies and team working, together with a PhD student specifically focused on the organizational dynamics of dispersed teams. A step-by-step process was followed as outlined in this section.
Step 1 . The database Web of Science (WoS) Core Collection® (research areas “Business Economics” and “Psychology”) was chosen after several alternative searches in Scopus and EBSCO because it retrieved a sample of high-quality articles representative of the best conflict in VTs research published to date. The choice of WoS Core Collection® is also supported and validated as appropriate for the field of inquiry by recent bibliometric studies in conflict management ( Caputo et al. , 2019 ).
Step 2 . A wide search string based on multiple levels of keywords was used ( Caputo, 2013 ) to ensure the capture of the most relevant papers on the topic. The first level included the keyword “Conflict”. The second level included the keywords about the remote/virtual nature of the investigated relationships: “smart OR virtual OR distributed OR distant OR remote”. The third level included keywords related to the organizational aspect of the teams, including “team OR group OR workplace OR workspace”. The search was run with Boolean operators (AND and OR) via the TS command, which searches among Title, Abstract, Author Keywords and Keywords Plus®. Consistent with best practices in bibliometric research and to ensure the comparability among the indicators, the year 2020 was excluded ( Caputo et al. , 2019 ). The search was carried out among peer-reviewed articles written in the English language and resulted in the first sample of 397 papers.
Step 3 . Due to the wideness of the search string, we proceeded to the manual “cleaning” of the data set by reading all the titles and abstracts of the selected papers to eliminate those that were not relevant to our search. When it was not possible to assess the relevance of the abstract, we obtained a digital copy of the full text of the paper. Excluded papers fall into two main categories: a large number of papers do not investigate conflict at all ( Ebrahim, 2015 ; Presbitero and Toledano, 2018 ), although the word “conflict” is presented in the search items. This situation mainly occurs because many papers had a declaration of conflict of interest that was caught by the search; others were eliminated because they simply mentioned “conflicting results” in the abstract or where conflict was just mentioned incidentally; a smaller portion of papers investigated conflict but not in a virtual environment ( Sheehan et al. , 2016 ). Following these criteria, two-hundred-ninety-three papers were eliminated because they were not relevant.
The final data set of 107 papers was used as a basis for both the bibliometric analysis and a qualitative systematic literature review to develop a comprehensive map of the knowledge of the field.
Bibliometrics is a subset of scientometrics and applies statistical methods to the study of scientific activity in a scientific community ( Zupic and Čater, 2015 ). For our research, we followed the perspective known as positive bibliometrics ( Todeschini and Baccini, 2016 ). This is because we aim to describe and explain phenomena in science via the analysis of its scientific communication. In this view, bibliometric indicators represent phenomena or proxies of phenomena. For example, the citations received by an article that expresses a concept are a proxy of the diffusion and impact of said concept in the scientific community. Examples of positive bibliometrics are citation analysis, co-citation analysis, citation networks and productivity analysis.
Complementary bibliometric analyses were instrumental to identify the sample of the most influential papers to review. Prior studies argue for the use of more than one indicator ( Caputo et al. , 2019 ; Dabić et al. , 2020 ) as an effective way to limit the intrinsic bias that every indicator has.
First, we undertook a performance analysis based on indicators of activity. These indicators provide data about the volume and impact of research during a given timeframe via word frequency analysis, citation analysis and counting publications by the unit of analysis (e.g. authorship, country, affiliation, etc.).
Second, we built a science map based on indicators that provide spatial representations of how different scientific elements are related to one another to picture the structural and dynamic organization of knowledge about conflict management in VTs. We combined results from co-citation analysis and bibliographic coupling to identify the most influential papers, authors and journals and the co-occurrence of keywords analysis to identify the thematic structure of the field. Co-citation analysis “constructs measures of similarity between articles, authors or journals by using the frequency with which two units are cited together, i.e. co-citation counts” ( Caputo et al. , 2019 ). Therefore, co-citation analysis is powerful in showing a picture from the past, and it is biased by the time-dependency i.e. an older paper has the probability of obtaining more citations than a newer one. Bibliographic coupling is often used to aggregate papers by similarity, and it “measures the similarity between papers through their common cited references” ( Todeschini and Baccini, 2016 ). The advantage of a bibliographic coupling is to compare recent papers even if not been cited yet. The analysis of the co-occurrence of keywords uses the article’s keywords to investigate the conceptual structure of a field. According to Caputo et al. ( Caputo et al. , 2019 ):
This is the only bibliometric method that uses the content of the articles to directly measure similarity in which others use indirect measures such as citations and authorships, co-word analysis is particularly powerful and appropriate to develop a semantic map that helps in understanding the conceptual structure of a field.
By comparing and contrasting the results from activity indicators, co-citation analysis, bibliographic coupling and co-occurrence of keywords, it is possible to provide a systematic overview of the field ( Caputo et al. , 2021 ). The activity indicators will show the evolution of the field and its impact. Co-citation and bibliographic coupling will show an unbiased view of the most influential articles, authors and journals, whereas the co-occurrence of keywords will show the thematic map of the topics investigated.
The software VOSViewer ( van Eck and Waltman, 2010 ) was used to calculate the bibliometric indicators and provide the graphic representation of the networks. For a detailed explanation of the scripts and mathematical algorithms adopted in VOSViewer, please see van Eck and Waltman (2007 , 2010 ).
Combining the results of co-citation analysis and bibliographic coupling allowed us to identify a list of the most influential papers that were then considered for the qualitative systematic literature review. We have combined the top 20 papers resulting from three indicators: absolute citations, normalized citations and bibliographic coupling strength. Absolute citations are represented by the total number of citations received by a paper. Normalized citations are represented by the number of citations of the paper divided by the average number of citations of all papers published in the same year and included in our data set ( van Eck and Waltman, 2016 ). The bibliographic coupling strength is measured by the bibliographic coupling total link strength algorithm in VOSViewer, indicating the level of similarity and interconnectedness of a paper in the field regardless of the received citations ( van Eck and Waltman, 2016 ). Integrating these three measures allows us to reduce the age bias of papers and include in the evaluation the influence of a paper, not only the number of citations received but also how the content of the paper relates to other papers in the same scientific community.
The resulting data set of unique papers in the top 20 list from each indicator is composed of 41 papers, which constituted the data set for the literature review.
Having selected the most influential articles to review, we proceeded to the literature review based on the content analysis of selected papers ( Duriau et al. , 2007 ). Following best practices, each article was read in full and analyzed qualitatively ( Barclay et al. , 2011 ; Pittaway and Cope, 2007 ). Articles were coded, tagged and later grouped into clusters based on their content; the articles were allowed to be part of more than one cluster ( Caputo et al. , 2016b ). The process was dynamic, allowing new tags to be included during the process of reading articles to allow flexibility in categorizing information and reducing biases that may arise from a rigidly pre-set system ( Caputo et al. , 2016b ; Dabić et al. , 2020 ). Short and Palmer (2008 , p. 279) categorize content analysis into three methods: “human-scored systems, individual word-count systems, and computerized systems that use artificial intelligence”. We combined computer-aided techniques with human-scored techniques, integrating rigor and insights from the bibliometric analyses with the interpretation of researchers.
3. Results of the bibliometric analyses
3.1 activity bibliometric indicators.
Our bibliometric analysis confirms a constant growth of attention to the handling problems in VTs over time with an increasing number of journal outlets.
Figure 1 shows how the field started in 2001 and is in a growing directory, although the number of papers published is still limited, making the study of conflict in VTs a niche.
In terms of journals, 58 unique outlets have published 107 papers in the data set. Table 1 shows the 20 most cited journals and indicates also the number of published papers and average citations received by them. In terms of total citations, Organ Sci., Acad. Manage. J., J. Manage. Inform. Syst., J. Int. Bus. Stud. and Inf. Manage., are the most influential outlets. However, if we consider the number of papers published, which is a proxy of the interest of a journal on the topic, Small Group Res., J. Manage. Inform. Syst., Organ Sci., Inf. Manage. and J. Manag. are the five most interested journals. Instead, looking at the impact of the individual articles, the situation changes again with J. Int. Bus. Stud., Acad. Manage. J., Organ Sci., Int. J. Confl. Manage. and Inf. Manage. It can be noted how Organization Science and Information Management are the journals appearing in the top five in all three measures.
Looking at the authors, 290 scholars have authored the 107 papers in the data set. Out of these, only three, Ahuja, Staples and Zornoza, have authored at least three papers and can, therefore, be considered the most prolific in the field. Table 2 lists the most prolific authors who have authored at least two papers. Interestingly, if we look at the most cited authors, only three of them (Hinds, Majchrzak and Staples) appear in the top 10 of most cited ( Table 3 ).
The studies in the data set were authored by affiliates of 186 research institutions from 28 different countries. The research in the field of conflict in VTs appears to be predominantly made in the USA (65 papers) and other western countries.
3.2 Co-citation analysis: the foundations of the field
The co-citation analysis is a powerful tool to investigate the foundations of the research about conflict in VTs through the analysis of the references cited by the papers in our data set. The analysis reveals those that are the most cited references, authors and journals. Table 4 shows the statistics and criteria used for the co-citation analysis.
By performing a co-citation analysis, we were able to identify the 10 most cited papers, authors and journals that constitute the theoretical pillars of the research on the conflict in VTs. The results show how such research is grounded in the literature about VTs and remote working ( Cramton, 2001a ; Jarvenpaa and Leidner, 1999 ) pillar studies in conflict management ( Jehn, 1995 ) and the early studies integrating the two ( Hinds and Bailey, 2003 ; Mortensen and Hinds, 2001 ).
A combined reading of the most influential cited references and the network of similarities ( Figure 2 ) show that the research about conflict in VTs relies on a coherent and homogeneous network grounded in the scientific community of the fields of management and organization studies ( Table 5 ).
3.3 Bibliographic coupling: the structure of the field
Bibliographic coupling analysis is used to evaluate the current structure of a field based on a clustering technique that allows us to compare recent papers even if not yet cited; therefore, not being biased by time. However, the method has severe limitations in cases like ours that analyze smaller research fields ( Jarneving, 2007 ); hence, the technique was adopted to complement citation and co-citation analysis and was not used to create clusters but rather to identify the network relevance of papers, authors and journals. All papers (107), authors (290) and journals (58) from the data set were included in the analysis ( Figure 3 ) ( Table 6 ).
By performing a bibliographic coupling analysis, we were able to identify the 10 most connected papers, authors and journals that constitute the current structure of the research in the conflict in VTs. Via the visualization of networks technique, is it also possible to show how the field is well interconnected across the three levels of analysis, confirming the finding that the research about conflict in VTs relies on a coherent and homogeneous scientific community.
3.4 Co-occurrence of keywords
The analysis based on the co-occurrence of keywords allows us to show the intellectual structure of the field by identifying and grouping the main topics that have been subject to investigation. This method is particularly useful to complement the previous analysis as it offers a direct measure of similarity of topics by analyzing the actual content of the papers via the keywords.
The keyword analysis was performed by adopting the Keyword Plus tool from WoS. Even though the Keyword Plus is usually chosen to ensure consistency across the classification of articles’ keywords, it was necessary to perform a manual harmonization of the spelling of those keywords.
Previous studies have considered Keyword Plus to be effective as the keywords provided by the authors in terms of bibliometric analysis, investigating the knowledge structure of scientific fields ( Zhang et al. , 2016 ). The adoption of Keyword Plus allows the researcher to limit biases and risks associated with the manual tagging of content. Only keywords that occurred at least five times were kept; this resulted in having only 39 keywords to constitute the largest usable set of connected terms ( Table 7 ).
The network diagram and overlay visualization of the keywords ( Figure 4 ) show that the intellectual structure of the topics is quite homogeneous and has evolved. In particular, the research on conflict in VTs started with the investigation of technological topics and issues related to cultural diversity, personality and leadership.
3.5 Synthesis of results
Having shown the individual results of activity indicators, co-citation, bibliographic coupling and co-occurrence of keywords, we moved our attention to a synthesis that allowed us to identify the most influential papers to be included in the systematic literature review.
Table 8 shows the top 20 articles according to three complementary metrics: the normalized citations, the total citations and the link strength. The total citations are computed by counting all citations received by a paper in the WoS Core Collection at the time of the study. The normalized number of citations in a paper equals the number of citations in the paper divided by the average number of citations of all papers published in the same year and included in the data set ( van Eck and Waltman, 2016 ). The total link strength indicates the total strength of the links of an article with the other articles in the data set calculated via the bibliographic coupling analysis ( van Eck and Waltman, 2016 ). By comparing these three measures, we can countereffect the biases of each of them in terms of age of the article, relative impact and connectedness in the field. As a result, 41 unique articles were discovered to be included in at least one of the metrics and formed the basis for our systematic literature review.
4. Systematic literature review
This section presents the results of the systematic literature review that has been based on the most influential articles belonging to each cluster and the classification obtained by analyzing the content of each article. We have identified five thematic clusters: trust, performance, cultural diversity, knowledge management and team management.
4.1 Trust cluster
The issue of trust is among the key topics in conflict and conflict management studies ( Caputo et al. , 2019 ). Trust is an extremely important variable for successful collaboration ( Donovan, 1993 ) and increased relational capital ( Connelly and Turel, 2016 ). Nevertheless, trust is also regularly perceived as a challenging issue for team effectiveness ( Breuer et al. , 2016 ), particularly under virtuality, due to the lack of clarity on interaction mechanisms ( Bierly et al. , 2009 ; DeRosa et al. , 2004 ). Being a crucial construct for any variation of teams, trust is proved as more difficult and important to achieve in the circumstances of physical dispersion of team members ( Brahm and Kunze, 2012 ; Breuer et al. , 2016 ; Connelly and Turel, 2016 ; Staples and Webster, 2008 ; Yakovleva et al. , 2010 ). Peñarroja et al. (2013) concluded that the level of virtuality negatively influences team trust, whereas trust is also vital for reducing both interpersonal and task conflicts ( Connelly and Turel, 2016 ; Curseu and Schruijer, 2010 ) as well as for successful conflict management processes ( Bierly et al. , 2009 ). Virtuality is mainly considered to be a moderating variable in the relationship between trust and conflict ( Bierly et al. , 2009 ), where trust may be both an output and an input of the group processes, such as conflict ( Marks et al. , 2001 ). A further explanation is provided by studies that determined that the greater the degree of virtuality, the greater the negative impact on trust by relationship conflict ( Bierly et al. , 2009 ; Peñarroja et al. , 2013 ). In this vein, Breuer et al. (2016) showed that a high degree of virtuality increases internal team risks that in turn increase the necessity for trust, thus forming a loop relationship between a group functioning, conflict and trust ( De Dreu and Weingart, 2003 ). In general, the relationship between team functioning, conflict and trust could be described as a negative association between conflicts and trust exacerbated by the degree of virtuality ( Bierly et al. , 2009 ; Polzer et al. , 2006b ).
4.2 Performance cluster
The next cluster is based on team performance which is considered to be highly influenced by internal team communication in VTs ( Massey et al. , 2014 ; Montoya-Weiss et al. , 2001 ; Sarker et al. , 2011 ). VTs have different characteristics than traditional teams ( Brahm and Kunze, 2012 ), and it was found that people are capable of adapting to the conditions of VTs, such as restricted communication channels, probable instability of internet connection and lacking opportunities for informal communication ( van der Kleij et al. , 2009 ). Moreover, video communication and similar technologies reduce the main differences between teams that are co-located and geographically dispersed teams ( Bradley et al. , 2013 ). A great number of studies have shown that geographical distance between team members may complicate conflict management ( Cramton, 2001b ; Hill and Bartol, 2016 ). However, the extensive usage of mediated communication technologies may exaggerate the negative impacts of conflict in teams ( Kankanhalli et al. , 2006 ) due to complexities such as the unavailability for frequent discussions, information exchange and clarifications regarding personal and task issues, which may result in misunderstandings and further communication closure ( Mortensen and Hinds, 2001 ). In other words, virtuality increases the complexity of the triggers and the dynamics of conflicts as well as their management and resolution ( Friedman and Currall, 2003 ). In turn, such communication complexities among team participants (conflicts) negatively influence team performance ( Connelly and Turel, 2016 ; Turel and Zhang, 2010 ). However, the understanding of the underlying mechanisms of how conflicts work and their influence on team performance in VTs still demands additional research ( Connelly and Turel, 2016 ). There are several debates about the impact of conflict on VT performance. For instance, Hinds and Mortensen (2005) state that the virtuality of teams increases the vulnerability to conflicts due to the lack of casual, unplanned communication between team members, which, in turn, negatively influences the overall team performance. However, in a review of the literature, Ortiz de Guinea et al. (2012) emphasize contrasting findings where virtuality and performance correlate both in positive and negative directions. The recent body of research regarding conflicts and team performance in VTs admits that virtuality should be perceived as a continuous rather than binary variable to avoid clashing results ( Griffith et al. , 2003 ; Malhotra and Majchrzak, 2014 ; Ortiz De Guinea et al. , 2012 ). It was discovered that a level of virtuality should include distance indicators of separation, the configuration of a proportion working virtually and face-to-face and time parameters of virtual collaboration ( Ortiz De Guinea et al. , 2012 ). For studies looking at team performances, it is crucial to consider contextual conditions, degrees of virtuality and mediating technologies as they may significantly alter the relationship ( Malhotra and Majchrzak, 2014 ). For example, research where virtuality is treated as a continuous variable shows less presence of conflicts in more VTs and no impact on the performance ( Ortiz De Guinea et al. , 2012 ). Kankanhalli et al. (2006) propose a theoretical framework where both task conflict and relationship conflict do not have a direct influence on VT performance, contingent upon the conflict resolution approach (for both), task complexity (for task conflict) and task interdependence (relationship conflict). Looking at conflict management, research has indicated that the conflict management style ( Paul et al. , 2004b ) and conflict management behavior ( de Dreu and van de Vliert, 1994 ; Montoya-Weiss et al. , 2001 ) are critical conditions for successful team performance in the dimension of virtual collaboration. Additionally, collaborative conflict management style was indicated as a positive influencing factor on team performance, whereas group heterogeneity was found to be a barrier to successful conflict management and effective group performance ( Paul et al. , 2004b ).
4.3 Cultural diversity cluster
Cultural diversity is one of the most ambiguous concepts regarding communication, teams and organizational studies. A series of meta-analyses validate this point stressing the nature of the complex notion to be both a benefit and a challenge ( Smith et al. , 1994 ; Stahl et al. , 2010 ). In the context of teams and team working, cultural diversity refers to the different cultural backgrounds of the team members ( Harush et al. , 2018 ), including diversity in nationality ( Gibbs et al. , 2017 ) and broader cultural aspects ( Kankanhalli et al. , 2006 ), such as linguistic diversity ( McDonough et al. , 1999 ) and cultural dimensions ( Hofstede, 1991 ). As a concept, cultural diversity is perceived as a key to a greater and innovative performance ( Polley and McGrath, 1984 ) or the contrary, as a reason for ingroup miscommunications ( Brett et al. , 2006 ; Staples and Zhao, 2006 ). Globalization dynamics and technological advancements ( Paul et al. , 2004b ) are increasing virtuality and multiculturality in teams ( Gibson et al. , 2014 ), resulting in the prevalence of geographically dispersed international teams over face-to-face ones ( Stahl et al. , 2010 ). The combination of physical dispersion and cultural diversity ( Shachaf, 2008 ) increases the complexity of VTs due to the more radical differences between team members’ attitudes and perceptions ( Zimmermann, 2011 ). As a result, communication and the gaining of possible benefits associated with diversity may become more problematic ( Gibson and Gibbs, 2006 ). Implementing cultural diversity may result in misunderstandings and conflicts between team members ( Maznevski et al. , 2006 ; Paul et al. , 2004b ; Stahl et al. , 2010 ) due to reasons such as the communication ( Shachaf, 2008 ) and social categorization ( Harush et al. , 2018 ). Hence, conflict management is of significant importance as often team dynamics are complicated not only in the virtual settings but also by the cultural heterogeneity ( Paul et al. , 2004a ; Paul, Seetharaman, et al. , 2004b ). The debate whether cultural diversity increases or decreases conflicts in VTs is continuing ( Kankanhalli et al. , 2006 ; Mortensen and Hinds, 2001 ). Kankanhalli et al. (2006) discovered from their in-depth study that cultural diversity in VT leads to relationship and task conflicts, which they explain by the similarity attraction theory ( Wells and Aicher, 2013 ) and social identity theory ( Ashforth and Mael, 1989 ). Usage of the latter theory is also supported by Mortensen and Hinds (2001) and Harush (2018) , who emphasized the vital role of forming a global identity as a self-categorization process to a shared team ingroup identity to reduce the level of relational conflicts in GVT’s environment, especially in the circumstances of low task interdependence. Paul, Seetharaman, et al. (2004b) support the negative impact of team members’ cultural diversity on conflict resolution processes and group interactions due to the variations in values. Furthermore, Staples and Zhao (2006) concluded that culturally diverse teams indicated lower levels of satisfaction and cohesion and higher levels of conflicts. However, it was also pointed out that culturally diverse VTs showed higher performance rates and fewer conflicts than face-to-face ones. This finding emphasizes the importance of taking under consideration not just every separate characteristic of a team but the combinations of the teams’ settings. Whilst to some, cultural heterogeneity of teams can negatively impact interactions and communication processes, increasing conflicts ( Pelled, 1996 ), to others, diversity can be very beneficial for teams’ dynamics and conflict reduction ( Staples and Zhao, 2006 ). These opposing viewpoints could be explained by several factors. For instance, Paul et al. (2004a) , in contrast to a widespread belief about the negative impact of cultural diversity on group dynamics, found that higher levels of agreement within international groups could be achieved by conflict management ( Paul et al. , 2004a ) and relevant media choices ( Klitmøller and Lauring, 2013 ). Additionally, according to Stahl et al. (2010) , the physical dispersion of team members tends to moderate the impact of cultural diversity on conflicts as the virtual international teams showed lower levels of conflicts and higher social integration compared with multicultural collocated teams. These findings were similarly indicated by Mortensen and Hinds (2001) in their earlier research with the reason that the notion of reduced conflicts could be a result of either stronger ingroup integration or an adverse environment for conflicts to arise.
4.4 Knowledge management cluster
Efficient knowledge management is vital for the success of a company, project or team ( Chiravuri et al. , 2011 ). The process of knowledge transferring, sharing and exchanging provides additional challenges for collocated teams ( Ortiz De Guinea et al. , 2012 ). Due to the globalization dynamics, knowledge sharing between geographically distributed team members and experts has become an integral part of international companies and VTs ( Raab et al. , 2014 ). Consequently, knowledge management in VTs and presumed conflicts came to the scholars’ attention due to the complex settings of geographically distributed teams. The implied challenges are explained as difficulties in sharing comprehensive knowledge with no face-to-face communication potentially creating sub-groups ( Boh et al. , 2007 ) and reducing the attention of team members under virtual circumstances ( Ortiz De Guinea et al. , 2012 ). This, in turn, may lead to misunderstandings ( Hinds and Bailey, 2003 ), failure of information sharing ( Hinds and Mortensen, 2005 ) and other interpersonal difficulties ( Boh et al. , 2007 ). Ortiz De Guinea et al. (2012) argue that the predominantly multicultural composition of geographically dispersed teams issues such as language diversity may jeopardize the knowledge sharing process and boost the frequency of conflicts. Chiravuri et al. (2011) indicated that a combination of a lack of face-to-face cues ( Klitmøller and Lauring, 2013 ) and probable culturally contrasting behavioral models can cause different patterns of information exchange, which in turn leads to misunderstandings ( Cramton, 2001b ; Kayworth and Leidner, 2002 ) and conflicts during the knowledge capture process. At the end of the study, the authors emphasized a repertory grid cognition-based technique (“cognitive mapping technique that attempts to describe how people think about the phenomena in their world” [ Tan and Hunter, 2002 , p. 40]) as a reliable measure for decreasing conflicts in VTs in the knowledge capture process ( Chiravuri et al. , 2011 ). Furthermore, Klitmøller and Lauring (2013) put a value on the multicultural element of VTs and its important role in the process of selecting particular types of media for knowledge exchange (e.g. using a rich media for more ambiguous matters and a lean media in case of canonical knowledge exchange). Raab et al. (2014) researched the mechanisms of knowledge sharing in a globally dispersed context identifying a link between the imbalance of the geographical distribution of group members and the low efficiency of knowledge sharing due to the strong social categorization processes ( Polzer et al. , 2006a ) and potential conflicts between subgroups ( Fiol and O’Connor, 2005 ; Hinds and Mortensen, 2005 ). Indeed, a proper mix of technological and organizational elements is believed to be crucial for proper knowledge exchange, open knowledge sharing and all other issues connected to knowledge management in the conditions of virtual collaboration ( Zammuto et al. , 2007 ). Tools of virtual communication may reduce cultural differences ( Stahl et al. , 2010 ) and positively impact knowledge-sharing processes ( Klitmøller and Lauring, 2013 ).
4.5 Team management cluster
“E-communicational”, i.e. a manager positions himself as a part of a VT and takes under consideration teleworking specificities maintaining informal communication, interpersonal trust, increasing perceived proximity and also exposing a strong shared identity that tends to prevent conflicts ( Mortensen and Hinds, 2001 ); and
“Control mode”, i.e. managers are not co-teleworkers as they manage VTs prevailingly, focusing on work objectives with high levels of institutionalization and formalization.
On the one hand, managerial interference may impede establishing social connections between group representatives ( Gulati, 1995 ). On the other hand, managers should intervene in the virtual setting of a team, stimulating frequent and effective communication. In this way: team members could build better social relationships ( Malhotra et al. , 2007 ; Raab et al. , 2014 ; Saunders and Ahuja, 2006 ) and not experience conflicts due to obstacles in the technological adaptation ( Thomas and Bostrom, 2010 ). The latter claim is also supported by Chiravuri et al. (2011) , who consider that a manager has to be involved in the in-group processes to discern the nature of conflicts. In the case of a cognitive conflict, this should be closely monitored as it is capable of causing either stagnation of the process or improved solutions ( Chiravuri et al. , 2011 ). In the study by Raab et al. (2014) , managerial involvement was found to be a mitigator of cultural boundaries but had no moderating effect on the relationship between trust and satisfaction with knowledge sharing in globally dispersed groups. Thus, managers may be concerned with tracking the essence and type of a conflict in VT’s dynamics and implementing appropriate conflict management techniques to increase the productivity of a project.
5. Setting-up a research agenda
The purpose of this paper is the systematization of the accumulated knowledge of the field and, because of that, paving interesting and promising research avenues ( Caputo et al. , 2018b ; Tranfield et al. , 2003 ), especially about the results of the systematic literature review, the clear focus characterizing research of emerging conflicts and conflict management in VT, and these are interpreted in a framework stressing possible interconnections and relationships among them.
The logic of the framework is consistent with the traditional input-process-output (IPO) approach to studies on VT and has been used in previous systematic literature reviews ( Garro-Abarca et al. , 2021 ; Gilson et al. , 2015 ). Differently from that, however, the linearity of a pure IPO logic did not emerge from the results of that literature. For this reason, our interpretative framework cannot postulate a single or cause-effect directionality between its theoretical blocks, hypothesizing fuzzy and yet to be untangled relationships. The “fuzziness” refers to a nonlinearity, i.e. a block seems to have several impacts on others e.g. direct, indirect, moderated or mediated effects; recursive relationships, i.e. most of the blocks have bi-directional relationships with the others; thus, self-reinforcing loops based on previous interaction either positive and negative may occur; configurational approach, i.e. a single block when considered in isolation seems to hold a limited explanatory power, and better results would be achieved analyzing several factors together. Thus, it would be reasonable to say that it is not so much the presence or the intensity of a single element/block to determines the outcomes but the co-presence or, conversely, the co-absence of a set of elements that is the key interpretation. In Figure 5 , we only adopted the categorization of the IPO framework, specifically the antecedents, dynamics and outcomes, and we also depicted rippled lines among these categories to represent the fuzziness of these relationships. However, any category of the theoretical blocks potentially influences and is influenced by the others; thus, the arrows are present at both ends of the lines.
The first category of antecedents is fixed elements that come from the structural contingencies in which a VT operates its composition. These structural elements refer to the demographic, cultural and individual characteristics of team members, and they can be grouped under the umbrella concept of the heterogeneity existing in a team. This heterogeneity is the root of several latent or actual conflicts and conflict-related dynamics that may affect individual team members or the whole group ( Schaubroeck and Yu, 2017 ). For example, different personalities or intensity of traits, e.g. consciousness and extraversion, may increase or lessen dyadic conflicts among members ( Turel and Zhang, 2010 ). However, these elements do not affect only conflicts but also shape different strategies to manage them, opening the debate to a contingent and contextual approach to conflict management in VTs. As evidenced from the thematic clusters, heterogeneity may pertain to different cultural backgrounds that may hinder the process of cohesion due to the homophily phenomenon, thus preferring individuals with similar characteristics or common shared culture. This stimulates the formation of sub-groups ( Gibson and Gibbs, 2006 ), highlighting the necessity of specific strategies to reduce conflicts and the fault-lines within a team. Heterogeneity, however, is a broader concept than merely culture ( Boh et al. , 2007 ). As the geographical dispersion of team members increases, the higher is the likelihood of having team members with diverse institutional, economic and other contingencies that may stimulate an increment of conflicts, stricter management of them and other problems in the functioning of a team ( Jimenez et al. , 2017 ). This heterogeneity may directly influence a team or individual performance, but its indirect effect via conflicts, conflict management strategies and functioning processes of a team are still yet to be explored (dynamics). Future research avenues could inquire what type of heterogeneity factors can have a different impact in VT from those traditionally stressed for co-located teams. Even more interesting could be a study of whether heterogeneity plays a different role in the strategy to manage those conflicts or affect the team functioning of a VT in different ways. For instance, are these potential tensions more marked in VTs related to the fact that interactions are less frequent and with less embedded exchanges ( Hinds and Bailey, 2003 )? Conversely, as individual differences seem to play a minor role in VTs, can these tensions be lessened when in co-located teams ( Wakefield et al. , 2008 )? Paying attention to the heterogeneity of a VT also holds strong implications for practice; managers and leaders should first carefully design the composition of a VT not only for reasons of technical competencies but also of cultural and soft skill aspects related to the team members. This may reduce potential conflicts at several levels. Second, even if a proper design is not implementable, the heterogeneity of a VT should be fully acknowledged to counterbalance the tendency to disengage.
The second category of this interpretative framework is represented by what has been termed as dynamics, as all these elements pertain to interactions among members and the several processes through which VT functions and performs ( Breuer et al. , 2016 ). In our framework based on identified clusters, we consider these categories: the conflicts, in terms of their nature and level of impact, the conflict management process and other relevant dynamic interactions occurring in a team, called team functioning that specifically includes the process of building trust and that of managing knowledge flows. As premised, the fuzziness of these relationships also reveals that blocks of the same category have internal relationships e.g. conflict management impacts, and is impacted by, the characteristic of conflicts in VTs and by the team functioning elements of VTs. Similarly, we expect conflicts to impact team functioning directly and via the various degrees of conflict management and vice versa.
In terms of conflicts in VTs, discrimination should be made of the nature of the conflict. Virtuality, on the one hand, may stimulate relational conflicts, as misunderstandings in communication and lack of trust occur more readily ( Hinds and Bailey, 2003 ). Caputo et al. (2019) , in a bibliometric overview of conflict management studies, highlighted the important role of culture in the relationship between trust and conflict. It is expected that building trust and managing trust-based conflicts are more complex in virtual settings due to their enhanced multicultural composition and the difficulty for individuals to decodify clues in a virtual environment. However, in task-based conflict, such a clear negative influence does not seem so prominent ( Gibbs et al. , 2017 ). To summarize, can conflicts of different nature be affected by virtuality, and in which ways? Are there interactional effects? Similarly, the specific level at which conflicts are embedded is also relevant. Conflicts may spur at an individual level, for example, a team member that has to juggle between work and personal life ( Clark, 2000 ). The Covid-19 pandemic poses serious questions about the ambivalence of flexible work arrangements and also in VTs, especially concerning team members with care duties ( Hilbrecht et al. , 2008 ). Conflicts can be related to a dyadic sphere from a faction of the team members to the whole group ( Park et al. , 2020 ). These different levels are not well addressed in team literature, and the virtuality adds complexity to the debate. How do individual, dyadic and group-level conflicts influence each other? How does virtuality impact the propagation of a specific level of conflict onto others? Is it stronger or more insulated?
Conflict and conflict management strategies should also be clear prerogatives of the leaders of VT. Leaders should determine the specific nature and level of impact of this conflict to design proper conflict management strategies. Escalating or de-escalating strategies should be in place to keep a high level of engagement and other team dynamics.
There are several dynamic processes, such as communication ( Jarvenpaa and Leidner, 1999 ), leadership ( Hill and Bartol, 2016 ) and temporality ( Saunders and Ahuja, 2006 ), all of which may cause or redeem conflicts in VTs. In turn, when properly (or poorly) executed, these dynamics create sediment (or detriment) for social identification and trust, fueling (or hindering) any further in-group interactions, exchanges and conflicts ( Brahm and Kunze, 2012 ; Harush et al. , 2018 ). Future studies are required to untangle the nexus between such dynamics, especially as moderators and mediators ( Gilson et al. , 2015 ). This is also true about the structural elements: are there joint processes influencing each other to cause conflicts? In addition, as Garro-Abarca et al. (2021) highlighted, the Covid-19 pandemic has quickly changed organizational routines moving traditional co-located teams into the virtual space. Did the changes induced by the pandemic create alternative processes and their related conflict? Does a “new normal” exist in which processes will be managed differently from the past, blending elements of virtuality into traditional teams? All these considerations are research avenues to be considered.
Virtuality, in general, seems to reduce the ability of a VT to manage knowledge ( Raab et al. , 2014 ), but some positive effects have also been depicted ( Klitmøller and Lauring, 2013 ). These contrasting results are probably because knowledge management is a broad concept traditionally articulated in sub-processes: knowledge acquisition, creation, sharing or transferring, accumulation or retrieving and application or usage ( Inkinen, 2016 ). Each of these processes may be influenced differently from virtuality, the heterogeneity of the team and the other team functioning dynamics. For example, knowledge sharing is reinforced by participative leadership styles ( Pellegrini et al. , 2020 ), but participation and engagement may be reduced in VT due to latent conflicts. Conversely, knowledge accumulation in a virtual environment may be enhanced as to properly function; most VTs need a large stock of codified knowledge. Thus, future studies should address the relationships between every single process of knowledge management and their interactional effects with the antecedents of conflicts, the type and level and strategies to manage them, not forgetting to consider the indirect and interactional effects of other team functioning processes. To summarize, how do the different processes of knowledge management relate to conflicts, conflict management strategies and team functioning in a VT context? Future studies may consider the fast-changing technological environment of the past decade, for example, considering the advent of the 4.0 revolution. If more inclusive and far-reaching information and communications technology tools alleviate the differences between co-located and VTs ( Bradley et al. , 2013 ), the sophisticated approaches of the 4.0 such as the Internet of Things ( Caputo et al. , 2016a ), big data ( Rialti et al. , 2020 ) and artificial intelligence algorithms may offer interesting modifications about the impact on knowledge management and team performance in general ( Manesh et al. , 2020 ). How will the 4.0 revolution affect conflicts in VTs?
Considering the practical implications related to several teams’ functioning processes, leaders may consider constructing a managerial grid to keep control of either the individual performance or the overall group-level results. These ongoing evaluations can help to detect conflicts earlier and thus structure a proper conflict management strategy.
Considering the final category of outcomes, conflicts have been generally studied concerning their negative impacts on the performance of VTs. Virtuality tends to exacerbate conflicts and may reduce the consequentially a VT’s performance ( Hinds and Mortensen, 2005 ). However, as already presented in this framework, a relationship of linearity must be excluded. Too many other co-factors may intervene due to the heterogeneity of the composition of the team, the way conflicts are handled, and their impacts on other crucial dynamics. Conflicts cannot be reduced in this univocal direction ( Ortiz De Guinea et al. , 2012 ). Future studies are, thus, invited to clearly define their performance variables and hopefully consider virtuality as a continuum ( Malhotra and Majchrzak, 2014 ) to avoid partial conclusions. Adopting this framework, interesting avenues may be explored about the interactional effects of its several theoretical building blocks. For example, does the different nature of conflicts impact differently on performance? Are these impacts also affected by the specific sources of conflicts (processes of latent elements)?
Further future research avenues may also come from the adoption of newer methodologies in the field of conflict management, such as fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analysis (fsQCA), a methodology we could not find in the analyzed data set but that is receiving growing attention in management research ( Kraus et al. , 2018 ; Pappas et al. , 2021 ). FsQCA is a set-theoretic approach that is used to investigate complex causality, and therefore, allows for the identification of specific combinations of conditions called configurations that are nonexclusive and lead to the same outcome ( De Crescenzo et al. , 2020 ; Ragin, 2008 ). Future studies could use fsQCA to test empirically our proposed framework allowing the complexity of conflict and conflict management in VTs to be investigated.
This paper presents the results of an investigation into the existing literature published over the past two decades about conflict management and VTs. To provide a thorough and systematic analysis in support of the growing needs of managing virtual workforces and projects, innovative bibliometric methods have been deployed, displaying an overall view of the field of research and a systematic review has provided us with the details of the five identified thematic clusters enabling a holistic framework to be developed. Results have shown the importance of the interlinkages between the five clusters such as trust, performance, cultural diversity, knowledge management and team management are well-defined topics that rely on each other’s findings for advancing knowledge and practice.
Although this study adopted a rigorous and systematic methodology of review, some limitations remain. Specifically, a limitation may lie in focusing on management studies that contribute to focusing and positioning the paper in a clear discipline of research and homogeneity of data, but it may result in overlooking contributions from other fields. Moreover, to fulfill the need for homogeneity of bibliographic data, the study focused only on published journal articles omitting books, book chapters, conference papers and nonpeer-reviewed papers. This limitation is balanced by the higher quality and rigor of studies that have been peer-reviewed and future studies, perhaps using a meta-analytic approach, may also consider these outputs. As in previous systematic review studies, our study has been privileged to offer a wider overview and research agenda rather than deepening into fine-grained details. However, as this tradeoff is a natural consequence of review studies, our review and agenda offer a solid ground for future studies to build upon and further advance our knowledge of conflict management in VTs, satisfying the latest needs of organizations and societies linked to the increase in remote working conditions.
Number of papers published per year
Network diagram of co-citation analysis
Network diagram of bibliographic coupling analysis
Network diagram and overlay visualization of keywords
A framework for conflict management in virtual teams
Most cited journals
Most prolific authors
Most cited authors
Criteria of the co-citation analysis
Bibliographic coupling analysis
Main topics from the co-occurrence of keywords analysis
Most influential articles
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About the authors.
Andrea Caputo is an Associate Professor in Management at the University of Trento, Italy, and at the University of Lincoln, UK, where he is part of the UNESCO Chair in Responsible Foresight for Sustainable Development. His main research interests include entrepreneurial decision-making, negotiation, digitalization and sustainability, internationalization and strategic management of SMEs. He is the editor of the book series “Entrepreneurial Behaviour” (Emerald), and Associate Editor of the Journal of Management and Organization. His research was published in over 100 contributions, including articles in highly ranked journals, e.g. HRM Journal , Journal of Business Research, Small Business Economics , International Journal of Conflict Management , Journal of Knowledge Management , Business Strategy and the Environment and IEEE TEM among the others.
Mariya Kargina is a PhD Candidate in Organizational Behavior at the University of Rome “Tor Vergata”. She holds a Master of Science from the University of Lincoln, UK. Her research interests are cross-cultural management, cultural intelligence and global virtual teams. Her research was published in the Journal of Marketing Analytics and presented at several international conferences.
Massimiliano Matteo Pellegrini is an Associate Professor of Organizational studies and Entrepreneurial behaviors at the University of Rome “Tor Vergata”. Previously, he worked at Roehampton University Business School and University of West-London. He is the editor of the book series “Entrepreneurial Behaviour” (EmeraldPublishing), Associate Editor at International Journal of Transition and Innovation System, and past Chair of the Strategic Interest Group of Entrepreneurship (E-ship SIG) at the European Academy of Management (EURAM). He published in highly ranked journals as e.g. Journal of Business Research , Small Business Economics , Journal of Business Ethics , IEEE Transaction on Engineering Management and Journal of Small Business .
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What Is Conflict? Definition, Usage, and Literary Examples
In literature, conflict (KAHN-flikt) entails the opposition of forces or people that creates the dramatic action of a narrative .
The word conflict first appeared in English in the early 15th century and meant “armed encounter, battle.” This was derived from the Old French conflit and, prior to that, from the Late Latin conflictus , meaning “a striking together” or “a fight, conflict.” The additional meaning, which encompasses “discord of action, feeling, or effect, clashing of opposed principle, etc.,” came into usage in 1875. The psychological sense of “incompatible urges in one person” was first used in 1859 and included the sense of “internal mental or spiritual struggle.”
Types of Conflict
An author can employ one or multiple types of conflict within the same narrative, typically categorized as man vs. something— man being a general term for all of humanity, rather than indicating a specific gender. There are two main umbrellas of conflict: internal and external.
Internal conflict, called man vs. self, occurs when a character experiences opposing emotions or desires simultaneously—good and evil or vice and virtue, for instance. These conflicting desires force the character to battle their own mind. Internal conflict frequently occurs when a character struggles with mental illness or regrets actions they committed in the past. Emma by Jane Austen is an example of man vs. self, as the titular Emma struggles with the consequences of her actions and her own feelings.
External conflict is when a character is engaged in a struggle with forces outside themselves. There are five main types of external conflict: man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. society, man vs. technology, and man vs. the supernatural.
Man vs. Man
This type involves a character being in opposition to another character or characters. This conflict generally occurs between a story’s protagonist and antagonist, but sometimes it unfolds between the protagonist and a friend or acquaintance. The antagonistic relationship between Les Misérables ’s Javert and Jean Valjean is a classic example of man vs. man.
Man vs. Nature
This conflict takes place when a character struggles against the forces of nature, such as a storm or an animal attack. Stories that involve natural disasters fall into this category, as do narratives where the protagonist is adrift at sea or lost in the wilderness. This type of conflict often involves internal conflict as well, since the protagonist may experience self-doubt as they struggle against the powerful forces of the natural world. Herman Melville’s Moby Dick may be one of the most famous man vs. nature conflicts in literature.
Man vs. Society
Here, the external conflict comes from the protagonist struggling against social or culture norms or against a ruling body, which could be the protagonist’s family or the government. In Suzanne Collins’s popular young adult novel The Hunger Games —and its sequels—protagonist Katniss Everdeen rebelling against an oppressive regime that forces teenagers to fight to the death.
Man vs. Technology
These conflicts happen when the protagonist faces off against threatening technology, such as machines, or technological failures. These stories can contain elements of man vs. society, as technology is often an extension of and tool for societal or cultural norms. Man vs. technology narratives can also appear in tandem with man vs. man stories, as an antagonist may frequently use superior technology to fight against the protagonist. The tech-filled surveillance state in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 is the primary antagonist for Winston Smith.
Man vs. the Supernatural
In this type of conflict, the protagonist finds themselves struggling against an angry god, spirit or other supernatural force. This is frequently accompanied by man vs. self, as the protagonist is often forced to confront their human limitations while battling the supernatural or divine. Sometimes people break this category into subsets:
- Man vs. fate , such as in Oedipus Rex , where the main character is cursed by a prophecy that causes him to kill his father and marry his mother.
- Man vs. supernatural forces , such as humanity vs. ghosts in the movie Ghostbusters or humanity vs. aliens in Independence Day or War of the Worlds.
- Man vs. God , such as The Odyssey , where Odysseus is cursed by the sea god Poseidon and forced to wander for 10 years after the end of the Trojan War before he can return to his home.
Why Writers Use Conflict
Conflict is a powerful narrative tool. It is particularly important for developing plot and characterization .
In terms of plot, conflict is a crucial element of narrative or dramatic structure. A narrative’s conflict is often the catalyst for any events occurring in the story. Conflict also creates challenges for characters and uncertainty surrounding the outcome, all of which keep readers engaged. Plots may contain multiple conflicts that display a variety of conflict types. If a conflict is resolved by the story’s end, this creates a sense of closure and fulfillment for the reader.
Regarding characterization, the types of conflict a character struggles with, and the choices they make, show who they are as a person. Conflict also acts as an element of character motivation and explains why characters make certain decisions.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Internal vs. External Conflict
There are many reasons why writers will choose to use or avoid certain types of conflict in their narratives.
Internal conflicts work well for literary works that focus on character study. While the protagonist will likely encounter external obstacles as the plot progresses, the bulk of the drama comes from the protagonist’s inner journey. The main drawback of internal conflict is that man vs. self stories can lack an external narrative structure—basically, not very much happens outside of the character’s own mind. Thus, this type of narrative can be boring for readers who prefer more action.
External conflicts give readers tangible obstacles and negative forces to root against. Rather than being wholly introspective, external conflicts have more explicit consequences. On the other hand, plots that rely too heavily on external conflicts may lack depth of characterization. If a narrative’s conflict only involves the protagonist struggling against an external force, readers may not gain understanding or insight into the character’s inner thoughts and strife. This can make a less nuanced story.
Therefore, the strongest plots tend to use a variety of conflicts, often combining the internal with one or more types of external conflict.
Common Conflicts Based on Genre
Different types of narrative genres rely on different types of conflict.
Superhero stories, such as those created by Marvel and DC Comics, typically involve man vs. man conflicts. Many superhero protagonists face off against their antagonist archenemies in every issue (e.g., Batman vs. the Joker, Superman vs. Lex Luther, Iron Man vs. Justin Hammer, Spiderman vs. Green Goblin, etc.).
Less frequently, superhero stories explore conflicts like man vs. society (e.g., the X-Men vs. the mutant-hating society in which they live). They can also explore man vs. self, such as when mild-mannered Dr. Banner must confront his rage, which physically manifests as The Incredible Hulk (courtesy of some misplaced gamma rays).
Mystery stories almost always portray man vs. man stories. A detective, such as Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple, tries to solve another person’s dastardly crimes of and bring them to justice. Sometimes, detective stories involve man vs. the supernatural conflicts. The television shows The X-Files and Twin Peaks both follow erstwhile FBI agents attempting to unravel mysteries caused by a variety of supernatural forces.
Thrillers like John Le Carre’s spy novels or Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl almost exclusively involve man vs. man plots. Science fiction, like the Terminator films, generally includes man vs. technology stories . Adventure stories, such as the work of Jack London, are examples of man vs. nature. Dramas often combine internal conflict with external conflicts like man vs. man or man vs. society.
The Use of Conflict Outside of Literature
Conflict is a core component of advertising campaigns for the same reasons as literary works: to heighten tension and capture the audience’s interest. Dove’s Real Beauty campaign plays with the conflicts of man vs. self and man vs. society by highlighting how women, due to low self-esteem and societal conditioning, find it difficult to understand or recognize their own beauty. The caffeinated drink Red Bull creates campaigns based on man vs. nature as it shows extreme athletes pushing their limits through space jumps and ice climbing.
Because songs—both instrumental and lyrical—often tell a story, conflict is prevalent in music. In opera, for example, conflicts such as man vs. man ( Carmen ) or man vs. society ( La Boheme) are core parts of the plot.
In other musical genres, conflict may manifest in themes. For instance:
- Punk music frequently explores the man vs. society type of conflict. Folk music like Bob Dylan’s anti-war protest songs also involve this type.
- Hip hop often explores man vs. self, man vs. society, and man vs. man. Sometimes the man vs. man conflict theme is based out of real-life conflict, such as the long-running feuds between rappers Jay-Z and Nas or Biggie and Tupac.
- Many introspective indie musicians explore man vs. self, such as Elliot Smith in his ballads about depression and drug dependency.
Examples of Conflict in Literature
1. William Shakespeare, Hamlet
William Shakespeare’s Prince Hamlet is a good example of someone experiencing an internal conflict that becomes the engine of the story’s plot. Throughout Hamlet , the prince is at war with himself. He wants to kill his uncle to avenge his father’s murder, but he struggles to act. His internal conflict inadvertently leads to his love interest Ophelia’s suicide and ruins his relationship with his mother.
2. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee’s novel explores the conflict between man and society . The lawyer Atticus Finch confronts a racist society as he defends an innocent black man, Tom Robinson, who has falsely been accused of rape. He is harshly criticized for doing his duty and actually trying to convince the jury of Tom’s innocence. Despite Finch’s best efforts, the racism of southern America prevails, which is a common ending in man vs. society stories.
3. Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep
In this Philip K. Dick novel—the inspiration for the Blade Runner movie series—protagonist Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter who kills escaped androids. This is an example of a man vs. technology conflict; however, the novel eventually explores ideas of man vs. society and man vs. self when Deckard develops affection for certain androids, subverting the constraints of his job.
4. Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea
This novella explores the conflict of man vs. nature. Santiago, an old Cuban fisherman, catches a huge marlin on his fishing line. The fish is so strong, it pulls him toward open water and Santiago holds onto the line for two days as he tries to exhaust the fish. He faces additional dangers from the powerful forces of nature, including shark attacks and the vast expanse of the ocean itself.
5. Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House
In this classic novel, Shirley Jackson explores a man vs. the supernatural conflict. Eleanor Vance is a young woman who joins two other guests in a haunted house for three months as part of a research project. The house has eerie, mysterious characteristics, and the three inhabitants struggle against its supernatural powers.
6. Tobias Wolff, This Boy’s Life
In his 1989 memoir, Wolff recounts his childhood and dysfunctional adolescence. His life is often examined through the lens of the man vs. man conflict he had with Dwight, his abusive stepfather. Dwight was openly cruel to Wolff, stole his money, and physically abused him.
Further Resources on Conflict
Jen Bannan wrote a great piece for The Millions that explores how conflicts in classic literature appear when viewed through the lens of diagnosing mental illness.
N. D. Storlid discusses the philosophy of conflict in literature for the online magazine The Artifice.
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- Knowledge Base
- How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates
How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates
Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes . Revised on September 11, 2023.
What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .
There are five key steps to writing a literature review:
- Search for relevant literature
- Evaluate sources
- Identify themes, debates, and gaps
- Outline the structure
- Write your literature review
A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.
Table of contents
What is the purpose of a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1 – search for relevant literature, step 2 – evaluate and select sources, step 3 – identify themes, debates, and gaps, step 4 – outline your literature review’s structure, step 5 – write your literature review, free lecture slides, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions, introduction.
- Quick Run-through
- Step 1 & 2
When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:
- Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and its scholarly context
- Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
- Position your work in relation to other researchers and theorists
- Show how your research addresses a gap or contributes to a debate
- Evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarly debates around your topic.
Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.
Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.
Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.
- Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
- Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
- Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
- Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)
You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.
Download Word doc Download Google doc
Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .
If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research problem and questions .
Make a list of keywords
Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list as you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.
- Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
- Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
- Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth
Search for relevant sources
Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:
- Your university’s library catalogue
- Google Scholar
- Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
- Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
- EconLit (economics)
- Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)
You can also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.
Make sure to read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.
You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.
For each publication, ask yourself:
- What question or problem is the author addressing?
- What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
- What are the key theories, models, and methods?
- Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
- What are the results and conclusions of the study?
- How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?
Make sure the sources you use are credible , and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.
You can use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.
Take notes and cite your sources
As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.
It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.
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To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:
- Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
- Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
- Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
- Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
- Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?
This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.
- Most research has focused on young women.
- There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
- But there is still a lack of robust research on highly visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat—this is a gap that you could address in your own research.
There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).
The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.
Try to analyze patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.
If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.
For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.
If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:
- Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
- Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
- Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources
A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.
You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.
Like any other academic text , your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.
The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.
Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.
As you write, you can follow these tips:
- Summarize and synthesize: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
- Analyze and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers — add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
- Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
- Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transition words and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts
In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance.
When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !
This article has been adapted into lecture slides that you can use to teach your students about writing a literature review.
Scribbr slides are free to use, customize, and distribute for educational purposes.
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If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.
- Sampling methods
- Simple random sampling
- Stratified sampling
- Cluster sampling
- Likert scales
- Null hypothesis
- Statistical power
- Probability distribution
- Effect size
- Poisson distribution
- Optimism bias
- Cognitive bias
- Implicit bias
- Hawthorne effect
- Anchoring bias
- Explicit bias
A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .
It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.
There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:
- To familiarize yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
- To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
- To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
- To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
- To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic
Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.
The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your thesis or dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .
A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .
An annotated bibliography is a list of source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a paper .
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Conflict in Literature
- M.Ed., Education Administration, University of Georgia
- B.A., History, Armstrong State University
What makes a book or movie exciting? What makes you want to keep reading to find out what happens or stay until the end of the movie? Conflict. Yes, conflict. It is a necessary element of any story, driving the narrative forward and compelling the reader to stay up all night reading in hopes of some sort of closure. Most stories are written to have characters, a setting and a plot, but what sets apart a truly great story from the one that might not finish reading is conflict.
Basically we can define conflict as a struggle between opposing forces - two characters, a character and nature, or even an internal struggle - conflict provides a level of angst into a story that engages the reader and makes him or her invested in finding out what happens. So how do you best create conflict?
First, you need to understand the different types of conflict, which can essentially be broken down into two categories: internal and external conflict. An internal conflict tends to be one in which the main character struggles with himself, such as a decision he needs to make or a weakness he has to overcome. An external conflict is one in which the character faces a challenge with an external force, like another character, an act of nature, or even society.
From there, we can break down conflict into seven different examples (though some say there are only four at most). Most stories focus on one particular conflict, but it's also possible that a story can contain more than one.
The most common kinds of conflict are:
- Man versus Self (internal)
- Man versus Nature (external)
- Man versus Man (external)
- Man versus Society (external)
A further breakdown would include:
- Man versus Technology (external)
- Man versus God or Fate (external)
- Man versus Supernatural (external)
Man versus Self
This type of conflict occurs when a character struggles with an internal issue. The conflict can be an identity crisis, mental disorder, moral dilemma, or simply choosing a path in life. Examples of man versus self can be found in the novel, "Requiem for a Dream," which discusses the internal struggles with addiction.
Man versus Man
When you have both a protagonist (good guy) and antagonist (bad guy) at odds, you have the man versus man conflict. Which character is which may not always be evident, but in this version of the conflict, there are two people, or groups of people, that have goals or intentions that conflict with each other. The resolution comes when one overcomes the obstacle created by the other. In the book "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," written by Lewis Carroll , our protagonist, Alice, is faced with numerous other characters that she must face off with as part of her journey.
Man versus Nature
Natural disasters, weather, animals, and even just the earth itself can create this type of conflict for a character. "The Revenant" is a good example of this conflict. Although revenge, a more man versus man type of conflict, is a driving force, the majority of the narrative centers around Hugh Glass’s journey across hundreds of miles after being attack by a bear and enduring extreme conditions.
Man versus Society
This is the sort of conflict you see in books that have a character at odds against the culture or government in which they live. Books like "The Hunger Games" demonstrate the way a character is presented with the problem of accepting or enduring what is considered a norm of that society but in conflict with the protagonist’s moral values.
Man versus Technology
When a character is confronted with the consequences of the machines and/or artificial intelligence created by man, you have the man versus technology conflict. This is a common element used in science fiction writing. Isaac Asimov’s "I, Robot" is a classic example of this, with robots and artificial intelligence surpassing the control of man.
Man versus God or Fate
This type of conflict can be a bit more difficult to differentiate from man versus society or man, but it is usually dependent upon an outside force directing the path of a character. In the Harry Potter series, Harry’s destiny has been foretold by a prophecy. He spends his adolescence struggling to come to terms with the responsibility thrust upon him from infancy.
Man versus Supernatural
One can describe this as the conflict between a character and some unnatural force or being. "The Last Days of Jack Sparks" demonstrates not only the struggle with an actual supernatural being, but the struggle man has with knowing what to believe about it.
Combinations of Conflict
Some stories will combine several types of conflict to create an even more intriguing journey. We see examples of woman versus self, woman versus nature, and woman versus other people in the book, "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed. After dealing with tragedy in her life, including the death of her mother and a failed marriage, she embarks on a solo journey to hike more than a thousand miles along the Pacific Crest Trail. Cheryl must deal with her own internal struggles but is also faced with a number of external struggles throughout her journey, ranging from weather, wild animals, and even people she encounters along the way.
Article edited by Stacy Jagodowski
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The Harvard Gazette
Hope for progress survives terror and war, new study finds wide gap in sat/act test scores between wealthy, lower-income kids.
National & World Affairs
Panelists Tarek Masoud (from left), Amaney Jamal, David Makovsky, Khalil Shikaki, and Shai Feldman at Klarman Hall.
Photos by Niles Singer/Harvard Staff Photographer
Can the Israelis and Palestinians find peace? Scholars discuss — and debate — long history of conflict, prospects for a durable accord
By Christina Pazzanese Harvard Staff Writer
Date November 22, 2023 November 22, 2023
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Scholars revisited the long history of Israel-Palestine conflict leading up to the Oct. 7 terror attack by Hamas and weighed potential steps toward peace before hundreds of Harvard community members at Klarman Hall on Monday.
“We’re here because of dead civilians, Jewish and Arab,” said moderator Tarek Masoud, faculty chair of the Middle East Initiative and Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Governance at Harvard Kennedy School , which co-hosted the event with Harvard Business School .
The third such gathering convened by the Middle East Initiative in recent weeks, the event, which unfolded as Israel and Hamas negotiated a cease fire and hostage deal, was an attempt to share scholarly expertise with students so they can make better sense of the crisis and perhaps contribute to a solution, Masoud said. Srikant Datar, dean of the Business School, urged attendees to approach the talk “with open-mindedness and a commitment to empathy and learning.”
"If violence were going to solve this conflict, it would have already," said Amaney Jamal (center), dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.
It’s important to separate the terror unleashed by Hamas from the plight of Palestinians in Gaza, said David Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who served as senior adviser to the State Department’s Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations from 2013 to 2014.
“This was a deliberate decision by the Hamas leadership to do [these] atrocities,” he said. “The people of Gaza did not commit these atrocities.”
Hamas chose to attack at a moment when its leadership believed Israel had been weakened by internal strife over the overhaul of Israel’s judiciary by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Makovsky. Another key factor was the worry that a normalization pact between Saudi Arabia and Israel would be “game over” for the terror group, leaving Hamas isolated from the other Arab nations that had struck accords with Israel.
Panelists agreed that Hamas members are terrorists, not freedom fighters. They also agreed that Netanyahu has used Hamas in the past to help thwart peace efforts.
“The current Israeli government, led by Netanyahu, is the same government that has been trying for most of the last 16 years to create conditions, or to support conditions, that have essentially prevented any progress in that direction,” said Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah. “Hamas was very instrumental in providing that kind of environment.”
At times, Masoud politely refereed passionate disagreements among the scholars over who did what during the decades that precipitated this crisis, further underscoring the enormous challenge facing those who wish to engage in reasoned debate on the subject.
On what the way forward looks like, the panelists were uncertain.
For Netanyahu, success in the short term would be to eliminate Hamas’ fighting and governing capacity and to free the hostages held in Gaza, said Shai Feldman, a professor of Israeli politics and society at Brandeis University. But eventually, the Israeli people will force a “major reckoning” internally about the policies and strategies the prime minister and his allies adopted.
Asked what role the international community can play to facilitate peace, Feldman said that if Hamas is defeated, perhaps a regional coalition made up Egypt, Jordan, and/or Saudi Arabia could temporarily take control in Gaza and make an effort to rejuvenate the Palestinian Authority, which was pursuing a two-state solution with Israel before Hamas rose to power in 2006.
“If violence were going to solve this conflict, it would have already,” said Amaney Jamal, dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs and a daughter of Palestinian immigrants. “I would rather see our policies and efforts and the Palestinian Authority … make the message of peace and reconciliation far more attractive than any other message.”
She added: “This starts with people seeing tangible changes on the ground, but also political leaders to step up and sanction their leaders when they’re espousing violence and vitriol and hatred and the dehumanization of the other. We have been victims of this conflict since we were born. We would love to turn the page and be able to live with peace and dignity as Israelis, as Palestinians.”
Before Altman’s Ouster, OpenAI’s Board Was Divided and Feuding
Sam Altman confronted a member over a research paper that discussed the company, while directors disagreed for months about who should fill board vacancies.
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By Cade Metz , Tripp Mickle and Mike Isaac
Reporting from San Francisco
Before Sam Altman was ousted from OpenAI last week, he and the company’s board of directors had been bickering for more than a year. The tension got worse as OpenAI became a mainstream name thanks to its popular ChatGPT chatbot.
At one point, Mr. Altman, the chief executive, made a move to push out one of the board’s members because he thought a research paper she had co-written was critical of the company.
Another member, Ilya Sutskever, thought Mr. Altman was not always being honest when talking with the board. And some board members worried that Mr. Altman was too focused on expansion while they wanted to balance that growth with A.I. safety.
The news that he was being pushed out came in a videoconference on Friday afternoon, when Mr. Sutskever, who had worked closely with Mr. Altman at OpenAI for eight years, read him a statement. The decision stunned OpenAI’s employees and exposed board members to tough questions about their qualifications to manage such a high-profile company.
Those tensions seemingly came to an end late Tuesday when Mr. Altman was reinstated as chief executive. Mr. Sutskever and others critical of Mr. Altman were jettisoned from the board, whose members now include Bret Taylor, an early Facebook officer and former co-chief executive of Salesforce, and Larry Summers, the former Treasury Department secretary. The only holdover is Adam D’Angelo, chief executive of the question-and-answer site, Quora.
The OpenAI debacle has illustrated how building A.I. systems is testing whether businesspeople who want to make money from artificial intelligence can work in sync with researchers who worry that what they are building could eventually eliminate jobs or become a threat if technologies like autonomous weapons grow out of control.
OpenAI was started in 2015 with an ambitious plan to one day create a superintelligent automated system that can do everything a human brain can do. But friction plagued the company’s board, which hadn’t even been able to agree on replacements for members who had stepped down.
Before Mr. Altman’s return, the company’s continued existence was in doubt. Nearly all of OpenAI’s 800 employees had threatened to follow Mr. Altman to Microsoft, which asked him to lead an A.I. lab with Greg Brockman, who quit his roles as OpenAI’s president and board chairman in solidarity with Mr. Altman.
The board had told Mr. Brockman that he would no longer be OpenAI’s chairman but invited him to stay on at the company — though he was not invited to the meeting where the decision was made to push him off the board and Mr. Altman out of the company.
OpenAI’s board troubles can be traced to the start-up’s nonprofit beginnings. In 2015, Mr. Altman teamed with Elon Musk and others, including Mr. Sutskever, to create a nonprofit to build A.I. that was safe and beneficial to humanity. They planned to raise money from private donors for their mission. But within a few years, they realized that their computing needs required much more funding than they could raise from individuals.
After Mr. Musk left in 2018, they created a for-profit subsidiary that began raising billions of dollars from investors, including $1 billion from Microsoft. They said that the subsidiary would be controlled by the nonprofit board and that each director’s fiduciary duty would be to “humanity, not OpenAI investors,” the company said on its website.
Among the tensions leading up to Mr. Altman’s ouster and quick return involved his conflict with Helen Toner, a board member and a director of strategy at Georgetown University’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology. A few weeks before Mr. Altman’s firing, he met with Ms. Toner to discuss a paper she had co-written for the Georgetown center.
Mr. Altman complained that the research paper seemed to criticize OpenAI’s efforts to keep its A.I. technologies safe while praising the approach taken by Anthropic, a company that has become OpenAI’s biggest rival, according to an email that Mr. Altman wrote to colleagues and that was viewed by The New York Times.
In the email, Mr. Altman said that he had reprimanded Ms. Toner for the paper and that it was dangerous to the company, particularly at a time, he added, when the Federal Trade Commission was investigating OpenAI over the data used to build its technology.
Ms. Toner defended it as an academic paper that analyzed the challenges that the public faces when trying to understand the intentions of the countries and companies developing A.I. But Mr. Altman disagreed.
“I did not feel we’re on the same page on the damage of all this,” he wrote in the email. “Any amount of criticism from a board member carries a lot of weight.”
Senior OpenAI leaders, including Mr. Sutskever, who is deeply concerned that A.I. could one day destroy humanity , later discussed whether Ms. Toner should be removed, a person involved in the conversations said.
But shortly after those discussions, Mr. Sutskever did the unexpected: He sided with board members to oust Mr. Altman, according to two people familiar with the board’s deliberations. The statement he read to Mr. Altman said that Mr. Altman was being fired because he wasn’t “ consistently candid in his communications with the board .”
Mr. Sutskever’s frustration with Mr. Altman echoed what had happened in 2021 when another senior A.I. scientist left OpenAI to form Anthropic. That scientist and other researchers went to the board to try to push Mr. Altman out. After they failed, they gave up and departed, according to three people familiar with the attempt to push Mr. Altman out.
“After a series of reasonably amicable negotiations, the co-founders of Anthropic were able to negotiate their exit on mutually agreeable terms,” an Anthropic spokeswoman, Sally Aldous, said. In a second statement, Anthropic added that there was “no attempt to ‘oust’ Sam Altman at the time the founders of Anthropic left OpenAI.”
Vacancies exacerbated the board’s issues. This year, it disagreed over how to replace three departing directors: Reid Hoffman, the LinkedIn founder and a Microsoft board member; Shivon Zilis, director of operations at Neuralink, a company started by Mr. Musk to implant computer chips in people’s brains; and Will Hurd, a former Republican congressman from Texas.
After vetting four candidates for one position, the remaining directors couldn’t agree on who should fill it, said the two people familiar with the board’s deliberations. The stalemate hardened the divide between Mr. Altman and Mr. Brockman and other board members.
Hours after Mr. Altman was ousted, OpenAI executives confronted the remaining board members during a video call, according to three people who were on the call.
During the call, Jason Kwon, OpenAI’s chief strategy officer, said the board was endangering the future of the company by pushing out Mr. Altman. This, he said, violated the members’ responsibilities.
Ms. Toner disagreed. The board’s mission was to ensure that the company creates artificial intelligence that “benefits all of humanity,” and if the company was destroyed, she said, that could be consistent with its mission. In the board’s view, OpenAI would be stronger without Mr. Altman.
On Sunday, Mr. Sutskever was urged at OpenAI’s office to reverse course by Mr. Brockman’s wife, Anna, according to two people familiar with the exchange. Hours later, he signed a letter with other employees that demanded the independent directors resign. The confrontation between Mr. Sutskever and Ms. Brockman was reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal .
At 5:15 a.m. on Monday, he posted on X , formerly Twitter, that “I deeply regret my participation in the board’s actions.”
Cade Metz is a technology reporter and the author of “Genius Makers: The Mavericks Who Brought A.I. to Google, Facebook, and The World.” He covers artificial intelligence, driverless cars, robotics, virtual reality and other emerging areas. More about Cade Metz
Tripp Mickle reports on Apple and Silicon Valley for The Times and is based in San Francisco. His focus on Apple includes product launches, manufacturing issues and political challenges. He also writes about trends across the tech industry, including layoffs, generative A.I. and robot taxis. More about Tripp Mickle
Mike Isaac is a technology correspondent for The Times based in San Francisco. He regularly covers Facebook and Silicon Valley. More about Mike Isaac