The Importance of Reputation – James Hall

Many CM readers will have seen the media coverage of a recent incident in China, in which MMA fighter Xu Xiaodong soundly defeated “Thunder style” Tai Chi master Wei Lei in a challenge match arranged by Xu to show that “traditional” Chinese martial arts styles are ineffective. The New York Times’ article covering the match can be seen here: [1].

The fight itself has already been the subject of much analysis and comment. What I would like to talk about is the aftermath of the fight, particularly its reported consequences for Xu Xiaodong, and the lessons which can be learned from Xu’s experience which are relevant to self-protection.

As the NY Times reports, Xu may have proved his point by winning the fight, but he has faced a powerful backlash from the Chinese media, public and martial arts community, including a statement from the Chinese Wushu Association saying that the fight “violates the morals of martial arts”. The backlash has been so severe that Xu has been forced into hiding, and has reportedly posted statements online saying that his career is in ruins and he has “lost everything”, seemingly baffled as to how things could have worked out so badly for him.

The moral outrage surrounding Xu’s actions can be understood by reference to the “Moral Foundations Theory” put forward by Jonathan Haidt and Craig Joseph. This theory is explored in detail in Haidt’s book “The Righteous Mind” [2], and a summary can be found at In brief, Moral Foundations Theory proposes that there are five “foundations” to our instinctive sense of what is morally right or wrong:

and Sanctity/Degradation.

A sixth foundation, Liberty/Oppression, was added to the model later. Caring actions are likely to be viewed as moral, harmful actions as immoral, and so on. Haidt also proposes that in society, there are two distinct groups of people: those whose moral sense is dominated by the Care/Harm and Fairness/Cheating foundations, and those for whom all six foundations count more equally.

It seems clear that Xu is in the former category. He has publicly stated that the purpose of his challenge to the traditional martial arts community was to “fight fraudulence”, or to expose the ineffectiveness of traditional systems. This shows clear Care and Fairness motivations – in his mind, the traditional schools are cheating people by taking their money but teaching them ineffective systems, so by exposing their ineffectiveness he is protecting the public from being harmed in this way, which is a good and righteous thing to do. It also seems plausible to suggest that Xu may have been motivated by concerns of Liberty, perhaps in “freeing” would-be martial artists from a perceived oppression by the traditional schools. However, Xu has failed to realise how his actions would be perceived by people in the latter category. The depth with which the traditional martial arts are ingrained in Chinese culture means that his challenge appears disloyal to his heritage, subversive of the authority of the traditional schools in society, and degrading of traditions which are viewed by many as sacred. It is this interpretation of his actions which triggered the outrage that has made him a virtual outcast.

The relevance of this to conflict management and self-protection can be understood by assessing Xu’s actions against another model, this time the model of “winning” put forward by Martin Cooper [3]. In Cooper’s model, to achieve complete victory a person must “win” on four levels:

overcome adrenaline and fear to be able to perform;
overcome your opponent;
overcome criminal charges to preserve your liberty;
and overcome civil charges to preserve your resources.

Marc MacYoung has proposed a fifth level: survive retribution from the person you defeated [4]. If we examine Xu’s actions against this model, we can see that he won at the first level, since he was clearly able to perform in the fight; he won at the second level, easily overcoming his opponent; since the fight was consensual, criminal and civil legal consequences were not an issue, so the third and fourth levels are irrelevant; and as far as we know, the repercussions that Xu has experienced have not come directly from his defeated opponent. Therefore Cooper’s model, with MacYoung’s extension, can’t explain why Xu “lost everything” in the way that he did.

To explain the repercussions, we need to add a sixth level to the model: Protect your reputation and good name. Xu “lost” by failing to appreciate the effects that his actions would have on his reputation.

Reputation is key to all our social relationships. Our professional reputation affects our ability to find work. Our personal reputation affects our ability to form and maintain friendships and relationships. Reputation can constitute upwards of 40% of the value of corporations, who invest billions in developing and protecting it [5]. A person with a bad reputation can quickly find themselves isolated and penniless, which even if you’ve prevailed in a confrontation, been exonerated of criminal charges, escaped civil litigation and protected yourself against direct repercussions, is not a good place to be. Xu’s example illustrates that preserving our reputation and good name must form part of a comprehensive self-protection strategy.

The first step in developing a reputational protection strategy is to consider how our actions could give rise to a moral backlash. We can do this using the framework offered by Moral Foundations Theory: how might our actions be considered harmful, unfair, disloyal, subversive of authority, degrading of something sacred, or oppressive? The second step is to consider from whom the moral backlash may come. In Xu’s case, this should have been obvious – he openly challenged a highly respected institution of society, so of course the institution in question and its many supporters would rally to its defence. In self-protection, or protection of others, it will depend very much on the individual’s particular situation. For a law enforcement or security professional, the backlash may come from community groups, for example, and may have a political as well as moral motivation. For a private individual not employed in a profession where the use of force is routine, the backlash is more likely to come from friends and colleagues who can’t cope with the reality of an act of violence, however lawful, by someone they know. Thirdly, we need to consider the form that the backlash may take, and what its adverse effects might be on a social, professional and personal level. For law enforcement & security professionals, a backlash may be overt and very public, possibly in the media; for individuals, it may be more subtle, perhaps a quiet withdrawal of social contact as people seek to distance themselves. Particular consideration should be given to our online reputation via the internet and social media. A good introductory guide to online reputation management can be found at [6] – it’s aimed at corporate executives but its principles apply equally to individuals. Finally, we need to consider how we can take pre-emptive action to strengthen our reputation and good name within our professional and social circles so as to be more resilient to any future risk to our reputation, and what reactive actions we could take to repair any damage which our reputation may suffer.

Everyone’s individual situation is different, so the purpose of this article is not to prescribe solutions, but rather to raise the issue and get the thought process started. Including reputation management in our planning and strategies should help to ensure that if the worst happens, we can come out of it still able to function in society – not ostracised, baffled and broke with no idea of how we got there.


[1] Tatlow, Didi Kirsten (2017, May 10). MMA fighter’s pummelling of Tai Chi master rattles China. The New York Times. Retrieved from

[2] Haidt, Jonathan (2013). The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion. Penguin Books, London.

[3] Cooper, Martin. Quoted in MacYoung, Marc “Animal” & MacYoung, Dianna Gordon. Training goals, assumptions and screwups. No Nonsense Self Defense. Retrieved from

[4] MacYoung, Marc “Animal” & MacYoung, Dianna Gordon. The cost of winning. No Nonsense Self Defense. Retrieved from

[5] Brigham, Alexander F. & Linssen, Stefan (2010, Feb 01). Your brand reputational value is irreplaceable. Protect it! Forbes. Retrieved from

[6] Protecting company & executive reputation (2016, March 23). Ignyte. Retrieved from



Moral Perspectives on Violence – James Hall

“You weren’t there man, you don’t know!”

A key consideration in reality-based self-protection is ensuring that any action we may take in protecting ourselves or others is both lawful and ethical. Others have written extensively on these points, so I won’t discuss them in detail here. A further factor which is less well covered by the existing literature is the moral aspect of the use of force, encompassing not only how other people may perceive our actions as being morally justifiable, but also how people may judge and come to terms with their own force decisions and their consequences.

As martial artists and self-protection practitioners, we have all made the decision (consciously or unconsciously) that there are circumstances in which the use of violence is legitimate, both legally and ethically. Wider society, however, often takes a different view. Politics and the media consistently put forward the message that violence is never acceptable, even that it is evil. We may come up against this clash of moral perspectives, particularly after an incident in which we may have harmed another person in self-defence. For example, we may believe that our actions were perfectly justified in the circumstances but find that family and friends are not supportive, or we may look back on our own actions and wonder whether we actually did the right thing at the time. People who have never had any self-protection training yet successfully use violence to protect themselves may have trouble coming to terms with their own actions, and we may become involved (professionally or informally) in helping someone resolve conflicting feelings about the morality of their own actions.

How an action is judged as “right” or “wrong” – morally acceptable or unacceptable – is shaped by many different influences, including cultural norms, religious teachings, philosophies and so on. This article explores some basic psychological perspectives on morality, and offers some suggestions on how an understanding of moral psychology can help in situations such as those described above.

One of the most influential researchers in moral psychology is Laurence Kohlberg. While teaching and researching at the University of Chicago in the 1960s, and later in the 1970s and ‘80s at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), Kohlberg investigated how moral sensibilities develop in people from childhood through to adulthood. He identified six stages of moral development, which occur in order as a person matures:

  1. Obedience & punishment: The rules of right and wrong are set by other people who are in a position of power (usually the child’s parents); behaviour is “wrong” if it leads to punishment. This stage occurs in early childhood when the child is only aware of his/her own immediate needs.
  2. Individualism & exchange: There is more than one view of what is right and wrong; what’s “right” is what satisfies the needs of the self and of others. This stage occurs in later childhood as the child develops a sense of empathy and begins to test boundaries.
  3. Interpersonal conformity: The person’s social group determines what is “right” and “wrong”. “Right” behaviour is rewarded with social approval, “wrong” behaviour is punished by losing status, being ostracised by the group, or by other forms of social punishment. This stage occurs around the early teenage years, when children are particularly vulnerable to peer pressure.
  4. Law and order: The person understands and accepts that a common set of rules binds society and ensures social order, and has an appreciation for the importance of upholding the law. This stage occurs in later teenage years as the individual matures into an independent adult.
  5. Social contract and individual rights: The person questions the law, realising that laws are not always just and can sometimes work against the interests of individuals. The person develops a sense that the right to life is superior to any law created by society.
  6. Universal ethical principles: The person develops their own, fully formed, individual view of what is right and wrong, based on their own beliefs and values. This view may or may not be shared by others, and may or may not overlap with the law. An example of a person operating at this level would be an activist who breaks the law in pursuit of their view of social justice.

A crucial finding of Kohlberg’s work is that only about 10-15% of the adult population reach levels 5 or 6 of this model, because these levels require an uncommon degree of abstract thinking. The obvious implication for self-protection is that if we need to explain our actions after a violent encounter, there is an 85-90% chance that the person to whom we are talking will be bound up in judgements of the social acceptability and lawfulness of our actions, and is therefore likely to judge any actions on our part which go against social norms and/or the normal standards of lawful conduct as being morally wrong (or at least morally questionable), even if such actions were necessary to preserve life or safety. This suggests that we are more likely to gain the moral support of the person to whom we are explaining our actions if our explanation appeals to their sense of social acceptability and lawfulness, rather than any over-riding considerations of protecting life and safety.

A second influential perspective on morality was put forward by Carol Gilligan, also of UCLA, in the 1970s after Kohlberg’s work was first published. Gilligan felt that Kohlberg’s work was biased towards a male view of morality, and that women’s moral reasoning was different. Gilligan developed a different model describing three levels of moral reasoning. As in Kohlberg’s model, the levels reflect increasing capability for abstract thinking.

  1. Survival: Whatever I need to do to survive is morally right.
  2. Self-sacrifice: Whatever minimises harm to others is morally right, even if that means I am harmed in the process
  3. Universal harm reduction: Whatever minimises harm to others and to myself is morally right (i.e. I don’t want others to be harmed, but I have a right to not be harmed too).

In contrast to Kohlberg’s model, which emphasises how a person develops a sense of the “rules” of moral conduct, Gilligan’s model focusses much more on how individuals make personal judgements of what is right and wrong based on assessments of harm. Gilligan believed that men’s moral reasoning is bound by adherence to rules, whereas women’s is more flexible and personal according to the demands of the situation.

Both Kohlberg’s and Gilligan’s models have attracted extensive criticism and controversy, which is too extensive to discuss here. However, there is another important point to be drawn from them which is highly relevant to self-protection.

Kohlberg and Gilligan used very different methodologies in developing their models. Kohlberg presented the participants in his studies with short descriptions of fictional scenarios (“vignettes”) in which a character is presented with a moral dilemma and takes a particular course of action. The participants were then asked to judge whether the character’s actions were morally right or not, and explain the reasoning behind their decision. Gilligan interviewed pregnant women who were facing the decision whether or not to terminate their pregnancy. Kohlberg’s participants were making reflective judgements about a fictional person’s actions, with plenty of time to think about it, and with no personal stake in the consequences for themselves.

Gilligan’s participants were making real judgements about their own actions, under time pressure, with potentially deep and life-long consequences for themselves. This suggests that the differences between the models of moral reasoning may be due to the differences in the circumstances in which the judgement is being made, rather than differences in gender. Like Gilligan’s participants, a person who has used force in self-defence will have made a judgement under pressure, probably acting on instinct or unconscious thought, in a situation with possibly life-threatening or life-altering consequences, and acted on that judgement, whereas the person assessing their actions after the fact will be making a judgement more like those of Kohlberg’s participants – with the benefit of conscious analysis, hindsight and time to reflect, and with no personal stake in the outcome.

This crucial difference between the moral perspectives of a person who has taken action and a person assessing that action after the fact has implications for articulation strategy, and for resolving moral conflicts following the use of force. The person who has acted may judge their own actions in a way which reflects Gilligan’s model – based on survival and minimisation of harm – whereas the person assessing the actions after the fact may make their judgements more according to Kohlberg’s model, likely to be bound up in social convention and the letter of the law.

Kohlberg’s and Gilligan’s models attempt to describe how people make moral judgements in the general sense. Other research has focussed on how people make moral judgements specifically about the use of violence. Again, in the early 1970s, Seymour Feshbach, also of UCLA, found that although people generally consider violence to be morally wrong, the strength of that belief varies according to the purpose for which violence is used. Participants in Feshbach’s studies felt that violence was more morally acceptable if it was used for a legitimate purpose – for example, police shooting dead an armed offender who presents an immediate danger to the public was felt to be more morally acceptable than a parent slapping a child to correct their behaviour. Several studies have explored this further, including a study by Craig Anderson and colleagues of Iowa State University in the mid-2000s.

Anderson’s study used a questionnaire to measure participants’ moral approval or disapproval of four types of violence, namely warfare, penal code violence (i.e. violence used in the course of apprehending, managing and punishing criminals), corporal punishment of children, and domestic violence. The study found that all four types of violence were judged to be morally unacceptable, but there was a large difference in the degree of unacceptability between the types of violence. Corporal punishment of children and intimate partner violence were judged to be extremely morally unacceptable, attitudes towards warfare were disapproving but to a much lesser extent, and attitudes towards penal code violence were only just disapproving – almost neutral. This suggests that, although many people will say that they disapprove of all kinds of violence, people have an underlying sense that violence is more morally acceptable (or less morally unacceptable) if it is used against people who “deserve it” – e.g. the enemy in war, or people who have already committed criminal acts – and much less morally acceptable if it is used against the innocent, or people who can’t defend themselves.

The relevance of this to self-protection is that, when explaining our actions after an encounter, the person listening is likely to hold a disapproving moral view of violence in the general sense, but is likely to disapprove of our actions less if we can give them evidence of the criminal nature of the actions or intentions of the person who created the threat. Similarly, a person attempting to come to terms with their own actions following a violent encounter may be struggling with their own moral disapproval of violence in the general sense, so directing their attention to the criminal nature of the actions or intentions of the person who created the threat may help them to feel less moral disapproval of their own actions.

In summary, the implications of the research described above suggest that, when practising articulation after the event (e.g. in scenario training) with the intention of obtaining the support of the person listening at a moral level, we need to consider the following points:

  • Our perspective on the morality of our actions will be shaped by the demands of the situation and the necessity of taking action in order to prevent harm to ourselves and others; the perspective of the person listening will be shaped by reflective judgements, with the benefit of hindsight, and with no personal stake in the consequences of the decision.
  • The moral reasoning of the person listening is likely to be bound up in social convention and lawfulness, therefore demonstrating the lawfulness of our actions is important from a moral as well as legal perspective.
  • The person listening is likely to morally disapprove of violence in general, but may disapprove of our actions less if we can demonstrate the criminality of the actions or intentions of the person against whom we have used violence.

This is a lot to remember under the pressure of a real-life situation, so it is of course important to emphasise articulation / debriefing in scenario training in order to develop the necessary experience.

Understanding the difference between moral perspectives from within the situation at the time and outside the situation after the event can also be helpful to anyone involved in counselling (professionally or informally) survivors of violence, or resolving the psychological aftermath of an encounter in which they themselves have been involved. In these situations, it is important to emphasise that:

  • how a situation appears in hindsight is very different from how it was at the time;
  • the criminal actions or intentions of the person who created the situation mean that violence is more morally justified (or less morally unjustified);
  • the right to life and protection from harm over-ride perspectives on morality which are bound up in lawfulness and social convention.

In a liberal society in which many perspectives on what is right and wrong co-exist, talking about morality can often be awkward. It is much easier to focus on whether any actions we may take in defence of ourselves or others are lawful, since the law is unambiguous. Ensuring our actions are lawful might keep us out of jail, but whether we can rest with a clear conscience and retain the support of loved ones and our wider community depends on how we and others perceive the morality of our actions. Developing an understanding of the psychological basis of moral sense in ourselves and others, the difference in moral perspectives from within and outside a situation, and the dynamics of moral views of violence should help to give us the best possible chance of doing that.


Anderson, C. A., Benjamin, A. J., Wood, P. K., & Bonacci, A. M. (2006). Development and testing of the Velicer Attitudes Toward Violence Scale: Evidence for a Four-Factor Model. Aggressive Behaviour, 32(2), 122–136. doi:10.1002/ab.20112

Feshbach, S. (1971). Dynamics and morality of violence and aggression: some psychological considerations. The American Psychologist, 26(3), 281–292. doi:10.1037/h0031219

Gilligan, C. (1982). In a different voice. Harvard University Press.

Kohlberg, L. (1964). Development of moral character and moral ideology. Review of child development research, 1, pp.381-431

About the Author

James Hall is an instructor in applied Karate with Genjitsu Karate Kai (, is ranked 4th Dan (Karate) with the British Combat Association and holds Foundation level certification in Iain Abernethy Bunkai-Jutsu. James also holds a Graduate Diploma in Psychology from Aston University, UK. James can be contacted via e-mail at or via Facebook:

Copyright notice

This article is copyright James Hall, 2016. This article may be shared and re-printed without explicit permission for non-commercial use only. Please contact the author for any enquiries regarding commercial publication.


From the streets to the Ivory Towers and back – the other side of conflict research, Part 2 – James Hall

Last month, the first part of this article offered an introduction to the research into conflict and violence undertaken by Universities and other institutions. This month, we will look at how this extensive body of institutional research can be accessed.

The main channel by which academic and other institutional research is exposed to the rest of the world is academic journals. Tens of thousands of different journal titles are published worldwide, containing articles written by researchers and reviewed by peers, i.e. other researchers in the same field as the author. Journals may be published in print, electronic or both forms. Unfortunately for the lay reader, academic journals are nowhere near as accessible, and often nowhere near as readable, as the books and blogs and websites which many of us are more used to. Most academic journals provide access on a subscription basis only, which for individuals can be expensive – over £100 / US$150 per journal per year in some cases. Some ‘open access’ journals can be accessed free of charge, usually online, but the journals with the strongest reputations for high quality research often charge the highest subscription fees, and vice-versa. Identifying relevant journals from the vast number of published titles can also be challenging, particularly in an inter-disciplinary field such as conflict and violence. Some journals exist which are specific to the field, and relevant research is also published in journals specific to each of the many disciplines which conduct research into the various dimensions of conflict and violence.

Lastly, research in academic journals is presented in a format and style which is intended for an academic audience, not the lay reader. Academic readers will be interested in not only the outcome of the research and its implications, but also in its design, the quality of its statistical analysis, and so on. Sections of some academic articles will be meaningless to any reader who doesn’t have at least some education in statistics beyond High School level. All of these challenges can, however, be overcome, with a little effort.

The most accessible starting point when exploring academic research is Google Scholar ( Entering search terms (e.g. ‘teen dating violence’) into Google Scholar will return a list of academic resources matching the search terms. Often, only a summary of each article will be available, but in some cases the full article may be accessible as a PDF or via a web link. However, this is a comparatively unstructured approach which may not be the best if you are looking for high-quality research on a specific topic, in which case your nearest University is probably the best resource.

Most Universities have institutional subscriptions to numerous journals, which are made available for students, faculty and staff via their Library service. Some Universities also offer access to members of the public, although practice varies widely. For example, in the UK: Bristol University offers no public access at all; Oxford University’s Bodleian Library provides public access to its printed and electronic resources for £38 (c. US$60) per year; Birmingham University offers access free of charge to its printed resources for up to ten visits per year, or unlimited access to printed resources and limited access to electronic resources at a cost of £50 (c. US$80) per year; and Nottingham University provides unlimited public access to printed resources and its pubic e-resource suite completely free of charge. In all cases though, resources can only be accessed at the physical location of each University’s library – printed resources cannot be borrowed, and electronic resources cannot be accessed remotely. A good starting point would be to contact the Library service at your nearest University and ask about their public access policy.

Identifying relevant and credible journals is just as much of a challenge for students as for members of the public. Consequently all University libraries have expert staff who will be happy to offer help in this regard. Demand for this service from students tends to be greatest as deadlines approach, which tend to be towards the end of terms / semesters, so the Librarian service (or equivalent) may be more available in the middle of term / semester when student demand is lower.

Examples of relevant journals include:


  • Psychology of Violence (
  • Journal of Interpersonal Violence (
  • Violence and Victims (

Open access:

  • Journal of Aggression and Violent Behaviour (
  • Journal of Injury and Violence Research (

Some subscription-based journals offer open access to selected articles, e.g. the International Journal of Conflict and Violence (

The credibility of journals and individual articles can often be gauged by the number of times a specific article, or articles published in a specific journal, are referenced by other researchers. The databases to which University libraries often provide this information, and again the Librarian service should be able to show you how to access this information. This is only one indicator, however – newer research will obviously have been referenced by other researchers less frequently than older research.

Gathering the important information from journal articles is largely a matter of understanding how they are written. Articles presenting different types of research will be presented in different formats, but most will follow a structure resembling the following:

Abstract: All articles will begin with an abstract, which is a short summary (usually no more than 200 words) of the article. A well-written abstract will state why the research was done, how it was done, the main outcome of the research and the main implications, in a style which is easy to read. The purpose of the abstract is to enable the reader to decide whether to invest time in reading the full article, which is important for the academic audience, but for the lay reader the abstract will often provide enough information by itself. Subscription-based journals which are published online often make the abstracts of their articles available free of charge, charging only for access to the full article.

Introduction: The main body of the article will normally start with an Introduction, which sets out the background to the specific piece of research and why it was done. It should clearly state the ‘research question’, i.e. the specific question which the research aims to answer. This section usually contains references to earlier relevant research, so it is always worth reading the Introduction as it can point you in the direction of other articles which may be of interest.

Method: The next section normally describes the method by which the research was carried out, which could be anything from an online questionnaire to a complex lab experiment to a thirty-year longitudinal study. This section is vitally important for the academic audience, as it enables other academics to attempt to replicate the research in order to confirm or challenge its findings. Where the article is based on studies of real people (as opposed to published statistics or analysis of other research), for example psychology experiments, this section should include a description of the Participants, i.e. who took part in the study. This description should consist of the number of participants, the range and average of their ages and the proportion of males and females. In some cases, particularly in large or long-term studies, researchers will select their participants very carefully in order to try and make their sample as representative as possible of the population in general. In other cases, researchers will use ‘opportunistic sampling’, i.e. whoever is available. Understanding the profile of the participants is important in deciding the extent to which the findings of the research apply to the population as a whole. If the sample is strongly weighted in favour of one gender, or drawn from only a narrow range of ages etc., the less generally applicable the findings may be.

Results: In a well-written article, the Results section should set out the results of the research in plain English (or whatever the language of publication happens to be) and provide the statistics to back it up. The plain English part should suffice for those of us not expert in statistical analysis.

Discussion: The Discussion section usually links the findings of the study back to the earlier research identified in the Introduction – e.g. whether the study supports or contradicts earlier findings. It should also set out the implications of the research, for example whether it challenges the accepted understanding of a phenomenon or current social policy. In a well-written article it should also identify areas for further research and the authors’ reflections upon their own research, e.g. with hindsight, whether the method could have been improved.

In summary, while the language in which academic articles are written may not always be easy for the non-expert reader to follow completely, by understanding the typical structure of an article it is possible to find and absorb the most important pieces of information.

Following the work of specific researchers is another way to keep up with developments in relevant research areas. All journal articles will give the name of their author(s) and their institution(s). Institutions normally provide a ‘People search’ and/or ‘Contact search’ function on their website, which will enable you to find the web pages and contact details of the author. Many researchers are happy to be contacted by people interested in their research, and of course some will be active bloggers and users of social media.

Currently, it seems that there is little crossover between the worlds of experience-based and academic research into conflict and violence. I hope that this article will be a starting point in developing links between these two worlds, and that you will start to explore the immense body of institutional research into conflict and violence for yourself. I personally am about to return to study with the intention of getting into research into the psychological aspects of conflict and violence. It’ll take a while to get there, but along the way I hope to develop more and stronger links between the worlds of practical self protection and institutional conflict and violence research. If you would like to stay in touch with my progress, or discuss any matter covered by this article, please find me on Facebook (/james.hall.902819) or e-mail me at


From the streets to the Ivory Towers and back – the other side of conflict research – James Hall

Part 1

The Conflict Research Group International describes itself on its homepage as “an alliance of individuals”. Through this publication and their own books, blogs etc., these individuals share many lifetimes’ worth of first-hand experience of all aspects of conflict and violence, usually gained the hard way. This collective individual experience is not the only mode of research in this subject area, however. Many Universities and other institutions actively conduct research which seeks to identify and reveal truths about conflict and violence not through direct experience, but through detailed social studies, experimentation and other means. The purpose of this article is to raise awareness of this academic research activity, suggest some ways in which it is relevant to the world of practical self-protection and offer guidance on how the output of this research can be accessed.

Institutional research into conflict and violence crosses the boundaries of many traditional academic disciplines, including criminology, psychology, sociology, politics, history, geography and medicine. While some research is conducted within these traditional disciplines, a number of inter-disciplinary research centres have also been formed, drawing together researchers from diverse academic backgrounds to focus specifically on the subject of conflict and violence. A very small selection of these institutions includes:


UK: Violence Research Centre, University of Cambridge

USA: Interdisciplinary Center for Research on Violence, University of Illinois at Chicago

Canada: Center for the Study of Social and Legal Responses to Violence, University of Guelph

New Zealand: Te Awatea Violence Research Centre, University of Canterbury

Germany: Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and Violence, Bielefeld University

Some of these research units have an interesting history. For example, the Violence Research Group at the University of Cardiff (UK) originated in that University’s School of Dentistry, when a professor of reconstructive dental surgery noticed that many of his patients who had suffered dental trauma as a result of violence had very similar injuries, and set out to explore how these common patterns arose. The research interests of this group have now diversified far beyond dentistry, some examples of which will be presented later in this article.

Research by Universities and other institutions looks at conflict and violence on a number of different levels:


  • Interpersonal violence: As individuals with an interest in self-protection, whether as instructors, students, both or other, we are primarily interested in interpersonal violence, which as the name suggests is violence inflicted by one person upon another. This is also a highly active area of research for Universities, focussing on specific types of interpersonal violence such as intimate partner violence (a.k.a. domestic violence), violence in teen dating relationships, child abuse, bullying etc.


  • Inter-group conflict: How groups in conflict perceive and behave towards one another, ranging from the different ways in which group members refer to ‘in-group’ and ‘out-group’ individuals to extremes such as acts of terrorism, or the Rwandan inter-tribal conflict which culminated in the genocide of 1994


  • Intra-state violence: For example, how oppressive regimes use violence as a means to control the population and quell opposition within their borders


  • Inter-state conflict: How conflict occurs between nations and how such conflict can be managed or can escalate, ranging from diplomatic strategies to the conduct and management of military operations

Some institutions or research centres specialise in one of the categories above, or in even more precise areas within those categories, e.g. in the UK, the Centre for Gender and Violence Research at the University of Bristol focusses on gender-based violence, and the Handa Centre at the University of St. Andrews on terrorism and political violence.

The direct and indirect benefits to society resulting from this research can be roughly categorised as follows:

Raise awareness

Research has exposed ‘hidden’ forms of violence which were previously believed not to exist. For example, researchers at the University of Rhode Island published a study in 1982 which identified the problem of child-on-parent violence (CPV), or parental abuse (PA), finding that 9% of parents of adolescents had experienced violence at the hands of their children at least once in the preceding year. A summary of the article can be viewed at  This research attracted little attention however, until Barbara Cottrell’s book ‘When Teens Abuse Their Parents’ was published in 2004 ( CPV is now a highly active area of research, one example being the Adolescent to Parent Violence Project at the University of Oxford (, a three-year Government-funded study which is the first large-scale investigation of CPV in the UK.

Elder abuse, female on male domestic violence and violence within teen dating relationships are all further examples of ‘hidden’ violence which have been exposed through research, with numerous institutions now working to understand these patterns of violence in greater depth.

Training and education

University research into violence and abuse has formed the basis of numerous education and training initiatives, from short films to graduate level courses. For example, the Institute for Applied Social Research at the University of Bedfordshire recently produced a series of short films on  gang-associated sexual exploitation and violence, based on an extensive and detailed study of the issue, which have been used to raise awareness of the issue in schools and colleges as well as among professionals and policy makers ( Numerous other such initiatives are in operation around the world. Masters-level courses in violence prevention, aimed primarily at professionals in the field of social work, are starting to become available, such as London Metropolitan University’s MSc in Crime, Violence and Prevention (

Prediction and prevention

In the field of interpersonal violence, much research activity is devoted to predictors of violence, i.e. behavioural, emotional, environmental and other characteristics which may help to predict the risk of an individual exhibiting violent behaviour. This knowledge can then be used to design interventions aimed at reducing the risk of and individual becoming violent, or the severity of their violence when it occurs. Other research seeks to predict and prevent violence in the wider, social sense. For example, researchers at Cardiff University have developed computer software which can analyse the patterns of movements in crowds, and identify patterns which have been found to precede violent incidents. The system can be used to alert authorities to a potential incident before it occurs, enabling police and other resources to be pre-emptively deployed to maintain order rather than reactively after an incident has occurred. BBC News reported on this software in February 2015 – the report can be viewed at

Research has also enabled authorities and other bodies to take a more effective strategic approach to violence prevention. A further product of research by Cardiff University is the ‘Cardiff model’, a protocol for information sharing between hospitals, police and local authorities in the city of Cardiff regarding victims and patterns of violent crime. By using this information to support joined-up violence prevention strategies, authorities have been able to reduce hospitalisations resulting from violent crime by half between 2002 and 2013, saving an estimated £5 million per year in policing, medical and court costs. The Cardiff Model is now being rolled out across the whole of the UK, and to date has been adopted by two-thirds of hospital emergency units and community safety partnerships. The Cardiff Model specification can be freely downloaded at

Violence prevention strategies extent all the way to global level. The World Health Organisation (WHO) operates the Global Campaign for Violence Prevention, which treats violence as a public health issue. This campaign has produced ”The World Report on Violence and Health’, the first comprehensive review of violence on a global scale, which can be used as a common point of reference for any country developing its own violence prevention strategy. The full report can be freely downloaded from

Next month, we will look at how this extensive body of academic and other institutional research can be accessed. If you would like to discuss any of the matters covered in this article please find me on Facebook (/james.hall.902819) or e-mail me at