Conflict is inherent in all societies and arises when two or more groups believe their interests are incompatible. ‘Conflict’ is not, however, interchangeable with ‘violence’. Non-violent resolution is possible when individuals and groups have trust in their governing structures, society and institutions to manage incompatible interests. Conflict becomes a problem when this trust and respective conflict management capacities are absent and conflicting parties choose instead to resort to the use of force to secure their goals.

Violent conflict is the subject of this topic guide. The guide provides an overview of key topics ranging from the causes, dynamics and impacts of conflict to options for interventions to prevent, manage and respond to conflict. It is divided into five main parts:

Chapter 1: Understanding violent conflict
Chapter 2: Living in conflict affected areas: focus on children and youth
Chapter 3: Preventing and managing violent conflict
Chapter 4: Recovering from violent conflict
Chapter 5: Intervening in conflict-affected areas

About this Topic Guide

The guide highlights key issues and debates for each topic covered and identifies relevant references. Clicking on the link in a document title will take the reader to a more extensive summary in the GSDRC document library, which includes a direct link to the original document.

This topic guide was written by Huma Haider (GSDRC, University of Birmingham) in 2009 and updated in 2014 by Brigitte Rohwerder (GSDRC, Institute of Development Studies). The GSDRC appreciates the contributions of Thania Paffenholz (Graduate Institute of International Relations and Development); Wafula Okumu (Institute for Security Studies); Lyndsay McLean Hilker (Social Development Direct); Marcus Lenzen (DFID) and Juliet Wattebot O'Brien (DFID). Comments, questions or documents can be sent to Huma Haider:

Suggested citation

Suggested citation: Haider, H. (2014). Conflict: Topic Guide. Revised edition with B. Rohwerder. Birmingham: GSDRC, University of Birmingham