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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

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  575 Ratings  ·  126 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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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
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
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"
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
Wendy Ortiz
Mar 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Fully intending to start a book club just for/about this book. I want everyone I know to read it & discuss.
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
Jan 23, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: theory, queer
* 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
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
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
Oct 27, 2016 marked it as to-read
A brilliant/problematic/frustrating/inspiring look at human interaction in the modern age. This book is so important as technology continues to alter our ways of communicating with one another. Schulman moves us collectively toward compassion and empathy by way of her rigorous thinking and lucid prose.
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
Scott Moore
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 mi ...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.
Feb 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
"As a novelist, in order to create characters that have integrity, I apply the principle that people do things for reasons, even if they are not aware of those reasons or even if they can't accept that their actions are motivated instead of neutral and objective."

It's interesting what happens in life and the things we accept as normal. It's interesting and tragic.

I shared this quote with a friend of mine and he said, “No that's not true. I do things for no reason all the time. I eat too much, w
Nov 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: lit-non-fiction
Oh man, we're going to have so much to talk about at book club.
Cheryl Klein
Mar 24, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I think I agree with the "repair" and "community responsibility" components of this subtitle and less so with the presumption that overstating harm is rampant and, well, harmful. Sometimes people want to stop communicating, and that's frustrating (I've been on the receiving end, so I promise I get it), but I don't quite buy that it's an injustice-with-a-capital-I.

The connections Schulman makes between conflicts at the interpersonal, community and international levels are interesting but poorly
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 supremacy.

For me it was also
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.
Jan 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
An important and nuanced book.
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
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
I think this is a book best read in conversation; with other people, with other books, with other theories.
The underlying themes and ideas of CONFLICT IS NOT ABUSE are pretty straightforward, but at times it feels like Schulman isn't going deep enough or problematizing her own work enough to reach the true conclusion of what she's suggesting. Some of the theory around community responsibility and the duty of repair, for example, didn't examine the role of hierarchies of power or power dynamics w
Nov 20, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This book definitely left a lot to be desired and is far from perfect, but I think this is the kind of book that more people need to read just for the sake of starting more discussion on this subject. Instead of criticizing, I'm just going to mention some of the important points that are made.

Radical feminists used to question the family unit and its role in society more and we need a return to that. Family dynamics play a role in reinforcing and reproducing oppressive systems and harmful behavi
John Antoniello
Mar 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
A fascinating, timely, and deeply empathetic examination of the mechanics that underpin human conflict. Schulman argues that our societal urge to outsource the management of our interpersonal conflicts has lead to a bleak reality where state institutions force everyone into a victim/perpetrator binary. Living within this system disempowers us by insinuating that no one is worthy of sympathy unless they are the ‘victim,’ thereby encouraging us to use language and behavior that escalates conflict, ...more
May 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: priority-to-read
I was interested in reading this book after running across a video on youTube of Sarah schulman, the author, reading selections from the book about conflict and abuse in intimate relationships. Schulman's scope is ambitious here and I admire it even though I am not sure it ultimately works.

Schulman's title comes from a central concept in the book, which is on the difference between conflict and abuse: conflict is power STRUGGLE, abuse is power OVER. The concept is most coherent when Schulman app
Dec 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
The ideas in this book are right on and perfect for our political moment, but it could have used a better editor. It took me a while to finish this book due to clumsy pacing and some repetitive passages.

The final main chapter about social media during the 2014 attack on Gaza was a powerful conclusion. I remember experiencing social media in the same way during that time and being incredibly affected.

I'm so glad I discovered both Sarah Schulman and Maggie Nelson's nonfiction work this year. I'm
Sep 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Five stars not because I agree with every idea that Shulman wrote but because this book challenged me immensely.
This is a fantastic book, should be required reading for all Progressives. Everyone else, too.
Oct 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
A very compelling read. I can't say I agree with everything here but I found the book to be useful to think through the assumptions we hold about conflict and responding to it.
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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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“Confusing being mortal with being threatened can occur in any realm. The fact that something could go wrong does not mean that we are in danger. It means we are alive. Mortality is the sign of life. In the most intimate and personal of arenas, many of us have love and trusted someone who violated that trust. So when someone else comes along who intrigues us, whose interests we share, who we enjoy being with, with whom there could b some mutual enrichment and understanding, that does not mean that we are being violated again. Experiencing anxiety does not mean that anyone is doing anything to us that is unjust.” 3 likes
“With the exception of those natural disasters that are not caused by human misdeed, most of the pain, destruction, waste, and neglect towards human life that we create on this planet and beyond, are consequences of our overreaction to difference.” 1 likes
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