• Conflict Is Not Abuse

  • Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair
  • By: Sarah Schulman
  • Narrated by: Sarah Schulman
  • Length: 10 hrs and 48 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (117 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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-criticism, and shows why difference is so often used to justify cruelty and shunning.

Rooting the problem of escalation in negative group relationships, Schulman illuminates the ways cliques, communities, families, and religious, racial, and national groups bond through the refusal to change their self-concept. She illustrates how supremacy behavior and traumatized behavior resemble each other, through a shared inability to tolerate difference.

This important and sure-to-be controversial book illuminates such contemporary and historical issues of personal, racial, and geo-political difference as tools of escalation towards injustice, exclusion, and punishment, whether the objects of dehumanization are other individuals in our families or communities, people with HIV, African Americans, or Palestinians.

©2016 Sarah Schulman (P)2018 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"A concluding call to address personal and social conflicts without state intervention via police and courts caps off a work that's likely to inspire much discussion." (Publishers Weekly, Starred Review)

What listeners say about Conflict Is Not Abuse

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Interesting and important premise; terrible book

Wow, this book is so disappointing.
I purchased this book because it was recommended by Natalie Wynn on the Ezra Klein podcast last week. While I love Natalie’s content and think she has a lot of important contributions to nuanced discourse, I think this book recommendation was not good.
The premise is fascinating and important and true - that people in power can conflate normal conflict (or less-powerful people just existing in a way that the powerful don't like) with "abuse" to justify the harm that the powerful inflict on the power-less. The beginning of the book promised a deep dive into this concept, from the family level to the global political level. She acknowledges the existence of “real abuse” in the introduction, but says she isn’t going to address that, just the “misuse” of claims of abuse.
But right away the book got terrible. The author spends the whole first chapter complaining about things that have nothing to do with the premise. She complains about email and concludes that you can *only* have meaningful conversations by telephone or face to face. She claims that a desire to communicate in text is the equivalent of abusive "shunning." She says that any form of one person unilaterally deciding to go "no contact" from another is abusive and wrong and that everyone should always be willing and available to discuss everything and repair/ build relationships. She places a lot of burden on the person being “hit on” or receiving friendship overtures to help the person hitting on them self-actualize, regardless of the person’s interest in being friends or romantic partners. She says that her own experience of not being able to admit her homosexuality to herself in early years and brushing off advances from women, means that people who receive unwelcome advances need to just open themselves up to the advances as an opportunity to transform. She complains about her busy friend cancelling on her lunch plans by email and insists that the “right” way for the friend to resolve this would be through telephone, not email. Not only does some of the conduct she is advocating for sound like “real abuse” (like ignoring an individual’s stated desire for you to not contact them), but by not addressing any distinction between her definition of real abuse and misuse of abuse, there is nothing to be gained by this writing – how would you even know if a situation calls for opening yourself up to mutual transformation and understanding if you can’t identify the difference between an opportunity for discourse and abusive power-plays? The author comes off as advocating for the person desiring connection to just force it on the object of their desire.
The book is entirely from the author’s personal experience and makes a lot of unsupported, conclusory statements, without even logical arguments to persuade the reader. I gave this author a chance to move past the initial terrible beginning, but I had to stop reading after the first full chapter (after the introductory chapter). I had such high hopes for this book initially that I bought the audiobook, and the kindle edition and this was 2 hours in to the 8 hour audiobook (read badly by the author at a snail’s pace). I do NOT recommend.

11 people found this helpful

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Great insights with lots of dross

I strongly recommend this book overall. It introduces a valuable vocabulary and way of articulating that make conflict resolution seem tractable in a way I hadn't seen before. But it also mixes in a lot of sketchy leaps in conclusions and unnecessary (or deleterious) assumptions.

My concerns came early in the book, when Schulman explains that her book is immune to traditional judgements about right- or wrong-ness because she's a creative writer. Her book, she says, isn't academic and doesn't present traditional evidence, so it can't be considered a candidate for the kind of objections that you could fairly level at a book with, say, citations or research to back up its assertions. If Audre Lorde can write up a bunch of semi-true stuff and call it a "biomythography" to escape the worry of writing only what really happened to her, Schulman reasons, she should be able to similarly write a book that escapes traditional scrutiny.

This claim of immunity is such a naked attempt to hedge and avoid criticism that I felt empathy for the author. Clearly, this is a highly sensitive person who wrote because, at least in part, she sees a problem in the world she wants to fix. But she fears criticism based on the demand for evidence, which is a valid concerns as she rarely presents any.

If you write a book full of extraordinary claims, write about real-world events and make strong suggestions about policy and practice, you don't get a free pass. Even if your career has been in creative writing. Even if your insights are gleaned from ways of knowing other than science. You don't get to just lay out your truth and claim there is no tracery of analyzable facts that link them to reality that we could take issue with.

Despite all this, there are large sections of this book I would label "required reading" for anybody with compassion who wants to help resolve conflict within their own lives and in the world in general. I am not especially concerned about the times she wanders off into the weeds, because any careful reader will notice it and know not to be led too far. The valuable parts shine, so they are easy to see.

I didn't care for Schulman's reading. Hiring a professional reader isn't just about avoiding the occasional tripping over words that Schulman chose to leave in the book, it's about knowing how to read for an audience. While her raw style is kind of quaint, I prefer to *hear* a professional reader, just as I prefer to *read* her book rather than an amateur effort.

4 people found this helpful

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conceptually great, delivery flat

Downloaded this book because I'm interested in understanding ways in which transformative justice can be executed. I knew the author wasnt a mental health professional, but her diversity of experience peaked my interest. It starts strong, but the subject matter gets muddy after chapter 5. narration is unfortunately very under stimulating.

2 people found this helpful

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Important Perspective

I really appreciate how Sarah explores the complicity of conflict in our time. She doesn't resort to simplifying and demonizing language to make a point (as we often see), and backs up her points with both research and relatable stories.

5 people found this helpful

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What a fantastic, eye-opening book!

This book was recommended by YouTuber Natalie Wynn (Contrapoints) and this book is a much better, more concise, more cerebral, more compassionate, more empathetic, more historically relevant, and more progressive view of group shunning and supremacy mindset that takes place on the internet (I.e. cancelling) than any other piece of literature out now. I hope people really embrace its core message because it genuinely has the power to improve so many lives if folks with power and authority take its message to heart.

1 person found this helpful

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Abuse and bullying survivors will benefit from listening to this!

A thoughtful, kind, ethical analysis of conflict and abuse. Very beneficial for those who wish to view the world with nuance and behave in a truly compassionate way.

1 person found this helpful

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Complex and requires re-reads

What could I possibly say here to convince one of reading, that the language of outrage in 1 Star reviewers here would not be said to better sell the text with their eloquent style of defensiveness and admittance to being driven to throw the book away in moral disgust after reaching the end of chapter.
I suppose they'd say they feel invalidated,
that their ears were being abused..

My only contention with the text is what the author refers to as "Childish" regarding descriptions of behavior and rationalization is often an insult to children.

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love the content, struggle with format

I don't know how to review this book exactly, it's clearly deep felt, well thought out, and compelling content. The root distinction between conflict and abuse as explored by the author has far-reaching implication even beyond what's addressed in the book. I found the general format of the book long-winded and often anecdotal. the emphasis on personal experience in anecdote makes it hard for me to consider it's content from a policy and principle perspective.

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geez

I'm not sure how such a mealy-mouthed victim-blaming tour de force of cowardice and self-absorption gained so much traction in queer circles. Setting aside how thoroughly absurd this book is, the word "trauma" does not have three syllables or a short a.

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eye opening

This book was a really excellent read on how we tend to communicate with each other from a place of fear instead of building community and problem solving. It gave a lot of new depth of understanding to some of my past experiences in conflict! Obviously take what resonates and leave what doesn't, but this is a great page turner that has lots of nuanced perspective that I think we could all benefit from!

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  • AGGELOS IOAKIMIDES
  • 03-01-22

Useful for argumenting

This book is a chance to follow the reasoning behind compassion. It offers techniques and explanations on the art of conflict resolution and even though it’s is hurtful near the end with the content of Palestine, it is worth to stick by it…

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  • G.Sinister
  • 07-22-21

Wow

This book really changed the way I interact with my emotions and the way I view conflict. Thank you.

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  • Traci Gardiner
  • 05-11-21

Not what I expected...

So uncomfortable. The kind of uncomfortable a caterpillar feels just before it becomes a butterfly...

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  • Anonymous User
  • 04-05-21

Great Listen - We Absolutely Love To See It

Sarah Schulman is incredibly insightful.

The message central to her book is so poignant today and, could go a long way in solving almost all of the worlds' geopolitical, social and interpersonal issues. Reading this book (or rather listening) really allowed me to reflect on the many times I have felt victimized by people when little harm was actually meant and the harm was mostly imagined. As an anxious person, this book has really helped me come to grips with the fact that my emotional response is not always 100% accurate to the actualities of a situation.

Near the end of the book, Schulman goes on this tangent about the Israel/Palestine conflict that felt somewhat out of place. It lasts about 2 hours and is mainly comprised of Facebook threads and Twitter posts that I can only imagine are incredibly boring to read- but are alright when they are read to you. Overall, I can forgive this because Schulman's discussion of Israel is so interesting- even if it is oddly presented and somewhat out of place in the context of the rest of the book.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and learnt a lot. This should be read in feminist classes and politics classes too. Better yet, we should teach this at school :)

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  • Rachael C
  • 07-25-20

Controversial examples don’t make sense

I only got half way through this. I found the examples very problematic in relation to power dynamics in workplaces and whether a supervisor or professor should have a relationship with a student. Not just this example though.
There was one Schulman gives of her own account of being attracted to a coworker during a work lunch or dinner and she starts objectifying her.

And there were other examples about consent that were questioning a woman’s believability in relation to sexual assault.

Of course, a minority of women make false claims, I don’t deny that. But as a recent ‘survivor’ of date rape, it is so important that women are believed. I never reported my experience and many of my friends have never reported theirs.

Now that we see all these cases of women, men and non binary people in the army not reporting out of fear for their lives, those few cases that weren’t true shouldn’t be given the attention they do, compared to the constant violence women and others face.

2 people found this helpful