Galtung and the Conflict Triangle

The first thing I remember about day one of my Introduction to Peace Studies course is getting acquainted with Johan Galtung, the “father of Peace Studies” himself. My professor expressed to the class just how important he is in the field of Peace Studies and Peace Research.  He does, indeed, look fatherly and peaceful.

Image result for johan galtung

The second thing I remember is learning the difference between positive and negative peace, according to Galtung.

In my head, I had never associated peace with negativity, so the idea of negative peace sounded like an oxymoron. However, these two terms were the beginning of my Peace Studies journey and put into words my desire to have circumstances change from what people deem “good enough” to truly better. Negative peace is lacking in that the absence of violence or the fear of violence does not exactly guarantee gender equality, race equality, access to opportunity, or even basic human rights and liberties. Positive peace, in contrast, explains that although technically a people may not be at war, there is something to fight for.

Finally, the third thing I remember is learning about Galtung’s ABC triangle. This triangle illustrates a conflict theory where when conflicting contradictions, behaviors, and attitudes exist, there lies conflict. The attitudes and contradictions among the sides of a conflict exist on the latent level and are not immediately visible to the eye, while behaviors are more visible evidence of the conflict. This triangle applies to both symmetric conflicts (where the parties are somewhat equals) and asymmetric conflicts (where there are clearly the “topdogs” and “underdogs”). Galtung first introduced the conflict theory triangle in his article Violence, Peace, and Peace Research.


Ionuț Stalenoi, in their article The People’s War'”and Johan Galtung’s Conflict Models, applies this theory to the Civil War in Nepal, which they identify as an asymmetric conflict. Stalenoi successfully argues that the government, controlled by the king, was the topdog and had the upper hand, while the Communist Party of Nepal (the Maoists) were the weaker side.

Concerning the government’s attitudes, the king saw himself as a “supporter of patriotism” and the alliance of political parties felt that they were the “apostle of democracy,” while they viewed the Maoists as insurgents and the cause of social disorder. On the other hand, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal viewed themselves as “liberators of oppression.” In terms of contradictions, the communists wanted the monarchy to be abolished and a new constitution, a result of ethnic discrimination and a lack of access to basic human needs, among other factors. The behavior of the government was marked by police action, counterinsurgency operations, and violations of human rights that led to thousands of deaths, while the behavior of the Communist Party included guerrilla warfare tactics. This is an extremely synthesized description of the conflict, but it reflects how the triangle explains the different parts of the conflict on a manifest and latent level.


3 thoughts on “Galtung and the Conflict Triangle

  1. This is so insightful and knowledge enriched. I am a student of Philosophy and also a tutor in leadership studies

  2. Pingback: The Civil War in Mozambique & Conflict Transformation - Paradigm Shift

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