Escalation and Related Processes

Heidi Burgess

September 2003

Perhaps the most destructive conflict dynamic, (but one with some constructive attributes), escalation is the cycle of provocation and counter-provocation that can quickly transform constructive conflicts into destructive ones; tractable conflicts into intractable ones. This set of essays examines the process of destructive and constructive escalation in detail. The first essay, on destructive escalation  examines its causes and its effects. It also looks at models of how and why escalation occurs, and briefly, how it can be stopped or reversed. (An entire section of the knowledge base, however, is devoted to de-escalatory interventions and processes, so remedies are mentioned only briefly in the introductory escalation essay.)

The second essay in this section discusses how escalation can be used constructively. Although often destructive, escalation is at times necessary to raise people's awareness of a conflict. As Mai're Dugan discusses in her essay on Peaceful Change Strategies, sometimes one of the parties (most often the more powerful party) is unaware that there is a problem at all. It takes what Lou Kriesberg calls Constructive Escalation to raise the parties' awareness enough to get the problem addressed.

A third essay in this section is on polarization, a dynamic that is closely intertwined with escalation.

Use the following to cite this article:
Burgess, Heidi. "Escalation and Related Processes." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: September 2003 <>.

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