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Conflict Is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair
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Conflict Is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  1,533 ratings  ·  323 reviews
From intimate relationships to global politics, Sarah Schulman observes a continuum: that inflated accusations of harm are used to avoid accountability. Illuminating the difference between Conflict and Abuse, Schulman directly addresses our contemporary culture of scapegoating. This deep, brave, and bold work reveals how punishment replaces personal and collective self-cri ...more
Paperback, 299 pages
Published October 4th 2016 by Arsenal Pulp Press
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Average rating 3.92  · 
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Merritt K.
The response to this book was determined in part before it was even released, and I suspect many potential readers will dismiss it on hearsay about the author, which is both a shame and deeply ironic considering the book's topic. Or, people may encounter the audacious title and believe this is an apologia for violence, which it isn't. In fact, many of the book's claims seem pretty uncontroversial to me, and I expect would to many of these potential readers: the state has become the arbiter of va ...more
Oct 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
Sarah Schulman says this in the introduction, but in order to get anything out of this book I feel I must stress it: This is not a book that is to be treated as "right" or "wrong."

I say this mostly because I'm afraid many will read some of the more disagreeable notions and dismiss the whole project. I, personally, found many ideas within the book "wrong" and others spot-on "right" and a lot more that I would have worded differently to accommodate readers' feminist code of ethics and/or political
Aug 09, 2017 rated it it was ok


Figure shit out in a way that doesn't involve questioning a potential survivor's narrative to their face, thnx

Okay, so the next thing about this book: FuuuUUUUUUUUUUUUUuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck

I originally found this book through the Autostraddle interview and was c
Morgan M. Page
Oct 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Sarah Schulman's remarkable Conflict is Not Abuse offers a nuanced look at conflict, group behaviour, and the consequences of overstating harm. Her book - which examines conflict and overstatement of harm on the local, national, and international scale - couldn't be more well-timed in an era of increasingly hostile responses to difference across culture. Whether it is the ceaseless flamewars of the Tumblr generation, the national scapegoating of people living with HIV through HIV criminalization ...more
Feb 21, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020
Alternately insightful and irritating.
Apr 07, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2017
I wish I had checked the author, considering how much I hated Gentrification of the Mind. The premise of this book is solid: individuals and groups often overreact to perceived or minimal danger and claim abuse and/or accuse others of abuse when the situation is more nuanced and reciprocal than that.

The problem with the way that the argument is presented is that it gives a very broad overview, invoking governmental power and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict while relying on personal examples fro
C.E. G
Feb 15, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: fun-nonfiction
I started out being really into this book, feeling personally challenged by it and writing down some quotes like, "Refusing to be self-critical in order to solve conflicts enhances the power of the state." I found it valuable to look at how both Supremacy and Trauma can lead to unhealthy responses to conflict.

However, the more I read, the more I felt like this book was Sarah Schulman intellectualizing her obsession with past rejections. Like, the title of the book includes "the duty of repair"
Jan 23, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: queer, theory
* some gorgeous writing and really helpful correctives on the politics of victimhood. as someone who has been thru trauma it was so helpful to read about the narrative that when u face trauma ur expected to become a "virgin" who has done nothing wrong. that narrative also hurts people who have faced harm as they feel they can never live up to it.
* this is supposed to be a pragmatic book on how to communicate across difference within activist circles. but it's discussion on trigger warnings, like
May 16, 2017 rated it liked it
I have so much to say about this book. It was frustrating, radical, oversimplified, deeply complicated, powerful, provocative, brilliant, problematic, insightful and self important. I really do believe it should be widely read mostly because I want to talk about it with everyone.

Highlights for me include resisting the idea that people are disposable, emphasis on reparation, the importance of taking DEEP accountability, and the linkage between community shunning and privilege/White supremacy.

May 13, 2017 rated it it was ok
Made me think, don't agree with all of it. "Snowflakes." Liberal college campuses are denying speakers freedom of speech. Oh, don't like what I said? Do you need a safe space? Are you triggered? Are you upset over the election?
While this book is not specifically about any of the above, I definitely thought of some of the ongoing discussions/arguments (depending on how you put it) and the conflicts that arise. Author Schulman takes the reader on why and how things like texting and emails are har
Maggie Gordon
Apr 01, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Conflict is Not Abuse is a book I suspect many people will hate. However, it says some important and astute things about how society deals with conflict and abuse. Specifically, Schulman is writing a call to action for people to sort out problems with communication rather than label them as unworkable too quickly. She differentiates situations where one person abuses their power over another from situations where parties are mutually encountering difficulties with one another. She argues that co ...more
Jun 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Oof, I don't know how to rate this book.

The highlights of Schulman's Conflict Is Not Abuse are as follows: (1) Chapter 4, which deals with the criminalization of HIV-positive individuals in Canada, because it teases out what seems to be an inevitable dynamic of state control even within something as glorified by progressives as nationalized health care, as well as underscoring a serious point about an insatiable appetite for punitive response that creates a cascading clusterfuck of error and mis
Bryn (Plus Others)
Jan 31, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: not-finishing
I am going to do exactly what Schulman says humans being should never do; I am going to decide that Schulman's beliefs about how to treat other human beings are so pernicious and unpleasant that rather than remaining in relationship to her book, I am going to quit reading it and do something else with my time. She may have excellent points about community responsibility, but I will never know, because I am going to withdraw, withhold myself from the book, and in doing so profoundly harm this tex ...more
Aug 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book was so thought-provoking. I can see how it would be controversial to many because she wades into every controversial topic that ever existed in the book, but it's a refreshing and fascinating take. ...more
Jan 03, 2017 rated it did not like it
The overall focus of the book is interpersonal relationships which is not what I expected going in. Schulman was right to preface the book by saying it isn't a book to be agreed with or disagreed with because there is a hell of a lot to disagree with, or at least seriously wonder about. ...more
Oct 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I flew through this book, which resonated strongly and speaks to the possibilities of restorative justice on personal, interpersonal, and global levels. It illustrates how a supremacist society that so intensely polices who deserves compassion (and why) can lead to traumatized behavior mirroring (& perpetuating) supremacy behavior - though for different reasons. It lays bare everyone's responsibility to self-reflect and engage in conversation and listen without hiding behind technology or misuse ...more
Esther Espeland
There was a lot I didn’t agree with but I value the questions it asked. Didn’t love her terminology, esp in her descriptions of “triggered events” but she brings an interesting perspective to discussions of community accountability and restorative justice. Def spent most of therapy talking abt it lmao
holy fuck, this was a trip.

so, general premise:

we need to differentiate conflict from abuse. conflict is a situation that generates discomfort, anxiety, anger or fear. abuse is a situation where one's body or being is under threat.

too often we conflate conflict with abuse. this is bad, because once the other is marked as an abuser, they are often cut off from their social circles, harassed, arrested or, at extremes, killed. Our culture of believing victims of abuse, without hearing the other si
Sep 12, 2020 rated it liked it
The general gist of Conflict Is Not Abuse is a concept that is basically described by the title, and I believe that this is an important distinction that Schulman thoroughly explores throughout the book. In particular, I enjoyed her reading of the Canadian state and HIV criminalization and the ceding of intervention to the police as a consequence of shunning behaviours.

At times the argument felt a bit like, well if we just talked face to face and didn’t hide behind our computers we could all ge
Nov 06, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: activist
I did not care for this steaming pile of victim-blaming garbage. It's like everything you ever hated about. I would definitely recommend not taking this book's advice to interrogate your peers if they disclose having been abused to play detective about whether they were "really abused." There's a whole lot of WTF throughout, but the section where the author makes excuses for a woman punching her in the head (?!) If someone punched me- first of all I would file a police report (and I might get fl ...more
Nov 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Surely to be a textbook for activists and engaged citizens for at least the next four years. Erudite and intricate. Wide-ranging, but well-focused. A true achievement that is built upon yet fuller than her previous non-fiction. If we can survive the dark days ahead, it will be because of thinkers and writers and truth tellers and idea explorers like Schulman.
Mar 13, 2020 rated it liked it
For the political book club we decided March's read would be Sarah Schulman's Conflict Is Not Abuse, a book I had heard recommended before. I had mixed feelings going into it because, while I'd had it recommended to me by a variety of people, many of whom are perfectly lovely, I had also had it recommended by a non-zero number of people whose understanding of conflict not being abuse was transparently "When I do it it's conflict and when you do it it's abuse," so, yeah, that's awkward.

The boo
Nov 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Wow. What a wild ride. I listened to this book a couple months ago and it's around 10 hours and read by the author. Schulman is a fine reader, if monotone, but the book doesn't really require more than that. It is kind of in the middle of memoir and academic (sociology or history) nonfiction genres. I think the assertion of the book "conflict is not abuse" is definitely interesting, something to think and talk about. I'm not sure I can say if it is true or not yet, but I keep thinking about it, ...more
Vincent Silk
Dec 22, 2016 rated it liked it

This book has been received with a lot of controversy. There are people who accused the author of violence/abuse apologism, and there are moments in the writing where I can see why people would say this. But I like the way that Schulman treats her readers as though they are capable of holding complex truths. These moments of confusion are mostly during the "personal anecdote" sections, where it is difficult for any writer to put a political point across without losing some nuance. These sections
Nick Melloan-ruiz
Dec 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Modern classic!
Mar 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: non-fiction
IF YOU READ ONE BOOK THIS YEAR. IF YOU HAVE EVER EXPERIENCED CONFLICT. IF YOU WANT TO RELATE TO YOUR INTIMATES WITH MORE COMPASSION. IF YOU ARE INVOLVED IN SOCIAL JUSTICE. IF YOU CARE ABOUT TRANSFORMATIVE JUSTICE. Sarah Schulman discusses how we problematically deal with conflict, starting with the personal/familial and tracing a through-line all the way to state abuse of the individual (criminalization of those with HIV in Canada) and geo-political conflict (Israel/Palestine).

Her main thesis is
May 24, 2019 rated it it was ok
Ugh. There are great writings on the need for more nuance in discussions of sexual assault and abuse, on the need to move away from mass incarceration, and the need for transformative justice that positively transforms survivors, perpetrators, and the whole community. This book is not that. To Schulman any effort by a survivor to avoid or block communication with a harassing and abusive individual is a “Supremacist” act comparable to the oppressions of fascism, white supremacy, or Israeli aparth ...more
Amani Ariel
Nov 16, 2019 rated it liked it
I struggled immensely with this book. I was hooked after the introduction — Schulman presents some incredibly important ideas around the overstating of harm on interpersonal, structural and nation state levels. She presents ideas about abuse, conflict and the overstatement of harm in a way I’ve never read on the page and leaves me thinking deeply about my relationships to others and the world, and where there is a lack thereof. As I considered reading, however, I found Schulman to walk a fine li ...more
Sean Estelle
Jul 25, 2017 rated it liked it
I am glad I read this as part of a reading group - forced me to read it slowly and consider it carefully. While I appreciate Schulman's thesis, and the time/resources moved to open this conversation, I do think that some of the examples she utilizes undermine her argument (especially when considering this from the vantage point of those who endure more serious forms of Abuse at a daily level). Worth reading, imo, but don't expect to be nodding your head the whole time. ...more
M- S__
May 25, 2019 rated it did not like it
To the extent there is a point here, it's not very groundbreaking. And the way this is applied to the interpersonal (especially her own life examples) is super troubling. ...more
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Sarah Schulman is a longtime AIDS and queer activist, and a cofounder of the MIX Festival and the ACT UP Oral History Project. She is a playwright and the author of seventeen books, including the novels The Mere Future, Shimmer, Rat Bohemia, After Delores, and People in Trouble, as well as nonfiction works such as The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination, My American History: ...more

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41 likes · 12 comments
“My thesis is that at many levels of human interaction there is the opportunity to conflate discomfort with threat, to mistake internal anxiety for exterior danger, and in turn to escalate rather than resolve.” 8 likes
“If a person cannot solve a conflict with a friend, how can they possibly contribute to larger efforts for peace? If we refuse to speak to a friend because we project our anxieties onto an email they wrote, how are we going to welcome refugees, immigrants, and the homeless into our communities? The values required for social repair are the same values required for personal repair.” 8 likes
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