Context, Causes and Consequences of Conflict

31 August - 4 September 2009

Venue: Lorentz Center@Oort

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Conflict in Context: The human capacity for violence inflicts an awesome burden on society. It changes offender, victim and witnesses. Moreover, it has a powerful capacity to disrupt the stability of social structures, even if only a few deranged individuals engage in actual violence. In susceptible individuals, violence often precipitates behavioral disorders, such as post traumatic stress disorder, lack of impulse control, depression or borderline personality. Affected individuals contribute to the very social conditions that promote violence, potentially creating a truly vicious circle. However, society is not defenseless against such disruptions. Humans, and other social species, have a vested interest in creating and preserving social structure. Human survival in particular requires elaborate social cooperation. Mechanisms to maintain or restore social structure in the face conflict comprise our capacity for empathy, reconciliation, attachment and our need to belong to a group. By contrast, lack of attachment and empathy, or social exclusion and reprisal are conducive to aggression and violence. Both our socially destructive and constructive capacities are subject to environmental influences that affect development,  behavior and our modifiable brain.

Interdisciplinary Viewpoints: Conflict, aggression and violence can only be understood as the outcome of such opposing social capacities in the face of environmental and social challenges. The workshop will address conflict and violence in the wider evolutionary and developmental perspectives of the human capacity to destroy as well as to create, defend and repair social structure. Converging concepts in the many different disciplines addressing these issues, as well as new technologies, now, more than ever, justify a multidisciplinary approach. The workshop will convene representatives from the social and developmental sciences, neuroscience, behavioral endocrinology, psychiatry, criminology and genetics, to discuss current developments.  Questions crossing the arbitrary boundaries between disciplines will explicitly be encouraged and discussed.

Format for Questions: The format of the 4C-workshop is derived from earlier successful Lorentz Center workshops in which scientists convene and define outstanding questions reaching over the boundaries of their different approaches and disciplines. The workshop will last a full week (5 days) and have 30-45 participants, who will be required to stay for the entire meeting. Speakers will provide an 2 page abstract before the meeting. The mornings two experts will introduce topics in the fields of attachment, development, empathy, aggression, anti-social and pro-social behavior. A few shorter contributions on a recent development will follow. In the morning there will be no time for lengthy discussions. In the early afternoon all participants will work in small groups in to submit questions raised by the morning talks in digital format. Later in the afternoon, these questions will be discussed in one long plenary. At the end of the day another advanced topic will be introduced.

Final Document:  Abstracts, questions and  discussion will be summarized in a final document.  An edited document will be made available to participants, shortly after the meeting. It eventually may be published on the internet or alternatively be the basis of a grant application. The workshop could also serve as an opportunity to get an international network on this topic started.

Low Cost & Topic Oriented: This meeting is particularly intended to encourage scientists at the earlier part of their career. The open discussion-directed atmosphere of Lorentz Center meetings allows direct interactions with leading experts in a small, topic-oriented, low cost, interdisciplinary meeting.  There is no registration fee, and social events are free and open to all participants.

Lorentz Fellowship: The meeting is jointly sponsored by the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies (NIAS) and the Lorentz Center. NIAS also sponsors "Lorentz Fellowships" to individual scientists interested in a longer stay at the charming, hospitable NIAS premises in Wassenaar near the Hague. A fellowship provides an excellent opportunity to further explore the topic of the workshop or one of its themes.

Summary Aims:

Convening established senior specialists from different disciplines with talented younger scientists: PhDs, post-docs, interested in the challenges of this difficult topic. Discussing aggression and human conflict in the wider context of factors such as attachment, belonging, ostracism, culture, reconciliation, stress and fear that cause, prevent, and modify, or mitigate its consequences. Mapping of interdisciplinary challenges, by a focus on the meaning and limitations of findings and concepts that arise by contrasting results from different disciplines. Documenting the discussion and the emerging questions for participants and – possibly - a wider public as a means to generate interest and support for this field.

Committed Speakers (as is on 16-12-2008) 

Jay Belsky, Sietse de Boer, Douglas Fry, Stephanie van Goozen, Marinus van IJzendoorn, Menno Kruk, Steve Maxson, Michael Potegal, Juliette Schaafsma, Maaike Kempes, Kipling Williams.


Menno R. Kruk

Provisional Schedule


    Kipling Williams, Purdue University  

    Marinus van IJzendoorn, Soc.l and Educ. Sci, Leiden  

    Juliette Schaafsma, Tilburg University  

    Michael Potegal, University of Minnesota  

    Steve Maxson, Storrs University  

    Maaike Kempes, Utrecht University  

    Stephanie van Goozen, University Cardiff & Leiden  

    Douglas Fry, Abo Academy University Vasa  

    Sietse de Boer, University of Groningen  

    Jay Belsky, Birkbeck University  

    Menno R. Kruk (Convener), Leiden University  

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