Communication and Conflict
by Jonathan Marshall[
A slightly modified version of an article which appeared in Danny Butt, Chris Chesher, Gillian Fuller, Lisa Gye, Geert Lovink, Molly Hankwitz, Estehr Milne, Ned Rossiter and David Teh (eds),
Networks of Excellence
(Waikato Institute of Technology and Power Institute of Sydney, 2002): page 15.
]Communication is usually held to be an unalloyed good. The greater the volume, range and speed of communication the better it is for everyone. However this may not be accurate. With our current burst of increased communication we are not necessarily heading towards greater union, peace andhappiness or, as some assert, towards a ‘global brain’. In fact we may be heading towards greater conflict - especially if people do not realize some basic problems in communication.To take an extreme example: if two groups of people and the systems within which they live do notinteract, then they are unlikely to come into conflict. If they are brought together to communicate,then they can also come into conflict - they may discover their worlds are mutually incompatibleand coexistence impossible. They may not, but as they have different cultures, interests andimperatives, some conflict or misunderstanding is probable.It might be argued that they could learn to communicate peacefully and cooperate eventually, butthere is no guarantee of that. Throughout human history when groups who were previously unawareof each other are brought into contact there is usually conflict, often ending in the restoration of peace by genocide or conquest. We can also imagine that two groups, through increasedcommunication, come to find that their worlds are completely incompatible and there is no possibility of further coexistence. Communication involving groups, or group identity, increases the possibility that at least one person in one of the groups will take offence, and shift the situation intoconflict for everyone.Even between people who are intimate, the expression of one person’s views, or the way theycommunicate something, may appear to lead to a ‘discovery’ which produces conflict. Is it, for example, always good for your spouse to tell you they have had a casual affair? Even if you think itmight be good beforehand, the telling might change everything between you. Sometimes it can be