Guggenheim Award Recognizes Intergroup Conflict Research
This summer the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation awarded a dissertation fellowship to Rezarta Bilali, a PhD candidate in the Psychology of Peace and Violence Concentration. These awards, after a competitive review process, go to individuals in their final year of PhD work in any of the natural and social sciences or the humanities. Highest priority is given to research that can increase understanding and amelioration of urgent problems of violence, aggression and dominance in the modern world.
Bilali, who is from Albania, came to UMass Amherst after finishing her master’s degree in conflict resolution at Sabanci University in Istanbul. “My interests include the social psychological dimensions of intergroup conflict and violence,” she says. “The Psychology of Peace and Violence Concentration is the only doctoral program in the U.S. and Europe that explicitly uses social psychology research, theory and methods to understand and study issues of intergroup conflicts and violence around the world. Our program has a very diverse and excellent group of students and professors. The concentration is contributing to research and practice in understanding and improving intergroup conflicts."
Since she joined the program, Bilali has conducted studies on relevant issues related to conflict in Albania, Turkey, Burundi and the U.S. She has also been working as a consultant in a reconciliation radio project in Rwanda.
Bilali is doing her dissertation research with Linda Tropp, director of the Psychology of Peace and Violence Concentration, and Nilanjana Dasgupta, associate professor of social psychology. “The way people interpret their group’s conflictual past plays an important role in maintaining conflict and perpetuating violence,” she says. “Such interpretations pose obstacles for conflict resolution. Indeed, look at the Israeli-Palestine conflict, discord in the Balkans, and the Northern Ireland clashes, for example. One obvious commonality of these and other violent conflicts is their link to a violent and conflicted past. Understanding the conditions that lead to differential interpretations of the violent past has important implications for resolving conflicts.”
By examining a variety of contexts, Bilali is addressing several questions. Under what conditions do individuals and groups remember and construe their group’s conflictual past differently? What factors account for biases in interpretations and memories of the past? Do different accounts of the past lead to differences in current attitudes toward conflict or to different policy choices?
Bilali’s research includes survey and experimental studies in different conflict contexts including Turks’ construal of Armenian massacres between 1880 and 1920; Turks' and Kurds' construal of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict; Americans construal of violent events in which the U.S. has been either the victim or the perpetrator of an attack.
Says Bilali, “I’m seeing that the more individuals identify with their group, the more inclined they are to justify their group’s actions, to place blame on the other group, and to perceive harm inflicted on their group as more severe—and to perceive the harm they inflict on the opposing group as less severe. I am also examining whether differences in ways individuals relate to their groups lead to different biases in construal and memories of past violence. I hope my findings will contribute both to theory and practice. Research in this area could be used to design policies that prevent violence as well as intervention strategies for individuals and groups who confront their violent past.
For more about the Psychology of Peace and Violence Concentration, click here.
July 26, 2008