Morton Deutsch, eminent psychologist, Columbia University professor, mentor extraordinaire, and one of the founders of the field of conflict resolution, died last March at age 97. Deutsch spent his illustrious career creatively and systematically studying ways to make the world more just and peaceful. He was a tough-minded and tenderhearted scientist with an intense commitment to developing psychological knowledge that would be relevant to important human concerns. In other words, he was deeply theoretical and genuinely practical. He believed in the power of big ideas to improve the world, and in the vital role of science to refine them.
In honor of his passing, I have selected a series of ten major scientific contributions that Deutsch made in his efforts to promote a more just, peaceful and sustainable world. These are by no means his only contributions – there are indeed many more. However these are those I have found as most consequential to my own research and practice, and that I feel are most likely to have the biggest impact on our future. Brief snapshots of each contribution will be presented here in a series of 10 weekly blog posts in approximate chronological order of the questions he studied over his lifetime.
8. Getting Woke: How do we Awaken a Sense of Injustice?
Once awakened, Deutsch & Steil identified a sequence of tactics that low-power groups could employ for waking members of the elite and thereby creating new allies. These included persuasion tactics, like appealing to their moral values, self-interest and self-realization potential, and power tactics such as enhancing one’s own or one’s group’s power, identifying allies among the elite, using Saul Alinsky’s (1971) jujitsu tactics of leveraging the powerful’s influence against them, and when necessary reducing the power of the oppressor through the use of divide-and-conquer, violent and non-violence strategies.
This work eventually informed and culminated in Deutsch’s more comprehensive framework for overcoming oppression described in next week’s blog post.
Mort Deutsch was an intellectual giant with a true moral compass, on whose shoulders many in the fields of peace, conflict and social justice stand today. The foundation he has provided for our work is sound, lasting and ultimately promising and optimistic. His insight, passion and commitment today live on in all of us.
Alinsky, S. (1971). Rules for radicals: A practical primer for realistic radicals. New York: Vintage.
Deutsch, M., & Steil, J. M. (1988). Awakening the sense of injustice. Social Justice Research, 2(1), 3-23.