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The Concept of Constructive Controversy

written by: Ksingh • edited by: Jean Scheid • updated: 8/26/2010

Constructive controversy is one of the concepts that primarily falls within the discipline of social psychology but in practice, there is no discipline in which it does not find a mention or application.

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    What Is Constructive Controversy?

    Constructive Controversy Controversies and conflicts surround everyone right from ordinary people to exalted leaders. They can be constructive or destructive. They vary according to circumstances, strategies, and involve the application of tactics that may be in the form of showing one's possible destructiveness if the ultimate aim or negotiation/reconciliation is what one seeks as an outcome. Since this article deals with the concept in its constructive form (constructive controversy), it focuses on relevant themes relating to only to this concept.

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    The Psychological Origin

    Scholastically, there are innumerable definitions available relating to controversy in general and constructive controversy in particular; a handful of examples are described below.

    Nothing in psychology starts without a mention of Freud. In a manner, he viewed controversy as an extra psychic conflict that is a necessary, though not a sufficient condition for psychological development. In the context of constructive controversy, Aristotle opined that it is a deliberate debate of advantages and disadvantages of an intended action that aims at bringing solutions. Thomas Jefferson, had amplified it by stating that difference of opinion leads to inquiry and inquiry to truth and this he felt, was the essence of constructive controversy in the productiveness of which he had immense faith.

    These intellectual statements could be reduced into common terms in the following manner: Controversies are born out of the fact that the prevailing opinion on any issue on its own never brings out the whole truth and they exist when a person's ideas or conclusions are not compatible with that of another and constructivism is born when they seek to resolve them by engaging in a variety of mechanisms such as dialog, negotiation, mediation, and reconciliation. A controversy could then be defined as an essential starting adverse element in any issue, and becomes constructive when it attempts to present the pros and cons from diverse points of views. It also digs deep into the facts to unravel the whole truth which otherwise would have remained either buried or camouflaged.

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    Applications of Constructive Controversy

    As already pointed out above, the concept of constructive controversy has diverse applications. One of the premises on which organization theorists relate to is the belief that problem solving depends on identifying and resolving constructive conflicts among team members. For cognitive psychologists, it is the starting point for insights and discoveries. In the field of educational psychology, it is believed to act as a stimulator for achievement. It has given birth to several political theories.

    For instance, Karl Marx believed controversies surrounding class conflicts brought about social progress. Nonetheless, because of the negative connotation attached to the word conflict, the concept was more suppressed rather than flourished. They are all symbolic in words like dictators, authoritarianism, and arbitrariness. Consequently, it falls into an area of grounded theory that more and more empirical evidence has been sought to acknowledge the fact that the presence of controversies can be more constructive than its absence for fruitful outcomes.

    There is a wealth of literature on theories and practices of controversy and constructive controversies in almost every society, culture, or time period and each may differ depending upon the circumstances available or the ability or inability to adapt to the controversy.

    Image Credit: Hikoi-Foreshore -