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Psychol opposition between two simultaneous but incompatible wishes or drives, sometimes leading to a state of emotional tension and thought to be responsible for neuroses


the overt struggle between individuals or groups within a society, or between nation states. In any society conflict may occur between (for example) two or more people, social movements, interest groupings, classes, genders, organizations, political parties, and ethnic, racial or religious collectivities. Conflict often arises because of competition over access to, or control over, scarce resources or opportunities.

Conflict may be institutionalized: regulated by sets of rules to which all participants agree, such as procedures of industrial arbitration, or the electoral process of democratic societies; or unregulated, such as the violence deployed by and against terrorist organizations or revolutionary movements. Institutionalized conflict is often taken as evidence of a healthy democratic process. The PLURALIST view of power regards society as a complex of competing interests, to the extent that democratic rules and institutions allow the articulation and resolution of conflict and prevent any one ‘interest’ group from always prevailing on every issue. See also CONFLICT THEORY.



artistic (artistic collision), a struggle or contradiction between the moving forces in a work—for instance, between the character and the circumstances, between several characters, or between various facets of one character. In the structure of an artistic work, conflict is an ideologically significant opposition of corresponding images. Traditionally, the term “conflict” (or “collision”) has been applied to temporal, representational-dynamic types and genres of art, such as literature (drama, many epic genres, and sometimes, lyric genres), theater, and films.

As the foundation and “source of energy” for the developing action of a work, the conflict changes continuously, moving in the direction of a culmination and denouement and thereby giving the work inner dialectical unity and integrity. The conflict is revealed directly through the plot, which is often called the moving conflict, as well as through the realistic details, structures, and language of the work. In epics, drama, novels, short stories, and motion-picture scripts the conflict is usually the core of the plot and of the problems treated in the work, and the description of how it is resolved is the decisive point in the artistic idea. The aesthetic characteristics of an artistic conflict may fall within such categories as tragic, comic, and idyllic (lack of conflict), which generalize its typological, or universal, qualities.

The spiritual and sociohistorical contradictions in the real world are the most common source of the content of an artistic conflict. However, unlike the social sciences and journalism, art does not directly assimilate social conflict but acts as a mediator. It reflects the many contradictions generated by the conflict in human relations taken in their entirety and considering their spiritual, psychic, intellectual, and physical aspects. For example, in A. S. Pushkin’s novel Eugene Onegin, the discord between the advanced intelligentsia drawn from the nobility and the autocratic regime based on serfdom and the Russian “world” as a whole is apparent in the personal drama of the hero, who suffers failure in friendship and love. His story elucidates the dichotomy between his social upbringing and genuine humanity—a contradiction that generates a conflict within himself.

Obviously, the unraveling of the objective social conflict that nourishes the artistic conflict falls short of the comprehensive analysis of the inexhaustible ideological depth of a work, which is new for each successive generation. Indeed, the objective conflict depicted in Eugene Onegin was also reflected in many other works of the period (M. lu. Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time, A. I. Herzen’s Who Is to Blame?, and I. S. Turgenev’s Rudin, for example). However, the content of these works differed radically from that of Pushkin’s. An artistic conflict is evaluated in terms of its own unique sense. However, works dealing with a particular historic period have certain things in common, inasmuch as they reflect the same historical stage of development in social interrelationships and in the individual’s self-consciousness.

In the art of classical antiquity one of the central conflicts was that of the man who was limited in his foresight and who was, therefore, at the mercy of fate. For the late Renaissance the central conflict was between the heroically self-sustaining personality and egotistical individualism and antihumanistic circumstances. Beauty versus ugliness in man’s character and sensual nature versus spiritual asceticism were the principal conflicts in baroque literature. Classicism often focused on the collision of personal passions with civic duty. In romantic works the genius of the individual is in conflict with his prosaic milieu.

Realism brought artistic conflict to its social and historical foundation—that is, the contradiction between man’s essence and potential and his actual social being and the impossibility of giving the individual’s inner life a social and historical form. (According to M. M. Bakhtin, in novels man is either superior to his fate or inferior to his own humanity.) Unprecedented variations in conflict were developed by realism. In modernistic literature the prevailing conflicts are between the individual and a reality from which he feels alienated, between the conscious and the subconscious, and between man’s biological and social character.

Accepting the rich legacy of classical conflicts, socialist realism has shown artistic conflicts to be socially determined. From the socialist realist viewpoint the chief conflicts are the opposition and the meeting of man and history, the social-class antagonisms and their revolutionary resolution, and the awakening of the new collectivist consciousness through a struggle with individualistic morality.

The first detailed theory of conflict was worked out by G. Hegel. According to him, “the opposition contained within a situation” forms the possibility and the necessity for action, which consists in struggle—in the “actions and reactions” of the acting forces, which are, necessarily, “substantial,” universal positive forces. The polarities merge in a harmonious ideal once their mutual demands have been exhausted.

Marxist aesthetics stresses the objective, sociohistorical quality of conflict and determines the resolution of the conflict in accordance with the sense of historical progress. In principle, it also allows artistic conflicts to remain unresolved in some works. F. Engels emphasized that “the writer is not obliged to hand on a plate to his reader the historical outcome of the social conflicts which he describes” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 36, p. 333). The problem of artistic conflict continues to be an important one in Soviet aesthetics.


Marx, K., and F. Engels. Ob iskusstve, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1967.
Hegel, G. W. F. Estetika (4 vols.), vols. 1–3. Moscow, 1968–71.
Kozhinov, V. V. “Siuzhet, fabula, kompozitsiia.” In Teoriia literatury: Osnovyne problemy v istoricheskom osveshchenii, book 2. Moscow, 1964.
Bocharov, S. G. “Kharaktery i obstoiatel’stva.” In Teoriia literatury: Osnovnye problemy v istoricheskom osveshchenii, book 1. Moscow, 1962.




(physiology), a clash between basic nerve processes —excitation and inhibition—in the cerebral cortex; the interaction of excitation and inhibition, whereby the cerebral cortex may pass from a normal to a pathological state. Conflict can serve as a means of inducing prolonged functional disturbances of the higher centers of the central nervous system (neuroses) and functional disorders of the internal organs in animals with a well-developed cerebral cortex.

The term “conflict” was first applied to physiology by I. P. Pavlov in 1933 in connection with his ideas on the work efficiency threshold of the cortical cell and on above-threshold inhibition. He regarded conflict as an effective means of inducing a breakdown in higher nervous activity, neurosis, and profound pathological changes in organs and tissues. The collision of inhibition with excitation in the cerebral cortex—the so-called classical conflict—was first elicited experimentally by I. P. Razenkov in Pavlov’s laboratory in 1924. A. D. Speranskii was the author of some works on the subject. According to Pavlov, “the morbid nervous states” experimentally induced in animals “correspond in man to a significant degree to the so-called psychogenic illnesses. The same overstraining, the same conflicts between excitation and inhibition are found to occur in our lives as well” (Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 3, book 2,1951, p. 303).

Modern electrophysiological, ultramicroscopic, and biochemical research methods make it possible to describe in detail everything that makes up the concept of overstrain and of force and mobility of excitation and inhibition, thus creating the conditions needed to understand and theoretically interpret the complex mechanisms by which excitation and inhibition interact. The term “conflict,” which is semantically close to the concept of stress, is used not only in physiology but in psychology, medicine, and philosophy as well.


Iakovleva, E. A. Eksperimental’nye nevrozy. Moscow, 1967.
Kurtsin, I. T. Teoreticheskie osnovy psikhosomaticheskoi medilsiny. Leningrad, 1973.



A mental struggle that arises from the simultaneous operation of opposing impulses, drives, and external or internal demand.


The predicted converging of aircraft in space and time that constitutes a violation of a given set of separation minimums.
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