Cinema and Social Justice in Zimbabwe: An Evening with Agnieszka Piotrowska

Brooks Marmon is a PhD student in the Centre of African Studies at The University of Edinburgh.  His thesis examines Zimbabwean responses to the broader process of decolonization in Africa. In this blog post, he writes about an illuminating evening in Edinburgh with Agnieszka Piotrowska on cinema and social justice in Zimbabwe.

With support from the Global Justice and Global Development academies’ Innovative Initiative Fund, the University of Edinburgh hosted Dr. Agnieszka Piotrowska (University of Bedfordshire) in March 2017 for a screening of her film Lovers in Time: Or How We Didn’t Get Arrested in Harare and presentation of a paper on post-colonial trauma.  The event explored the theme of ‘Cinema and Social Justice in Zimbabwe’ and was moderated by Dr. Francisca Mutapi from the School of Biological Sciences.

For the better part of the past decade, Piotrowska has been engaged with cinematic and theatrical initiatives in Zimbabwe.  Expanding on her initial training activities undertaken in Zimbabwe with the support of the British Council, Piotrowska has now made several feature-length and short films in the country and recently published Black and White: Cinema, Politics and the Arts in Zimbabwe.

Piotrowska has been particularly engaged with the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA).  This annual festival in the Zimbabwean capital was the subject of one of Piotrowska’s earliest works on Zimbabwe, The Engagement Party in Harare.  A subsequent edition of the Festival formed the backdrop to the film for which we gathered at Thomson’s Land.

Lovers in Time traces the controversy surrounding a play of the same name.  Written by a Zimbabwean, Blessing Hungwe, Piotrowska was selected to direct the performance at the 2014 edition of HIFA.  The play provocatively traces Nehanda and Kaguvi, revered Zimbabwean spirit mediums who played prominent roles resisting the intrusion of white colonists in the late 19th century.  State media criticized the play for reincarnating the characters with a different gender, calling it “a distortion of history” and Piotrowska was requested to make (slight) alterations to the script, which she refused.  The documentary follows the impact of the tension induced by this critical attention on the cast and crew.

Piotrowska spoke frankly on the challenges she faced in directing the play both in the film and during her remarks. Toward the end of the film, following a scene in which the play has been disrupted by a protester, she queries in a voice-over, “I’m left confused and battered, not sure at all anymore.  Did we change anything?  Did we open a space for dialogue about history and race?”  She does not directly answer the question in the film, however during the Q&A, she noted that if she could do it all over again in that moment, she would.

Ultimately, as the title foreshadows, no one gets arrested. Piotrowska continues to work in Zimbabwe.  She has overseen the production of several shorts on the tumultuous relationship between the German academic Flora Veit-Wild and the celebrated Zimbabwean writer, Dambudzo Marechera.  Her latest feature-length piece, a film noir entitled Escape with Joe Ngagu (with whom she also collaborated on Lovers in Time) will soon premier in the UK.

Piotrowska, whose work draws heavily on psychoanalysis, has described herself as a ‘trickster’, subverting dominant structures in a humorous manner.  In light of her continued (and prolific) work in and on Zimbabwe, it seems that the post-colonial trauma she endured in staging Lovers in Time has not dented her ambition to provocatively interrogate the lingering impact of foreign rule on Africa.

 

Human Shields: From International Law to Legitimate Political Violence (Peace and Conflict Series)

 

Nicola Perugini on the weaponisation of human bodies and the increasing justification of the killing of innocent civilians through international law

 

Nicola Perugini is a Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Edinburgh. For this exclusive blog post in the Global Justice Academy’s Peace and Conflict Series, Nicola was asked to answer the following question about his research:

What does human shielding tell us about the link between international law and contemporary political violence?

 

Nicola Perugini

Human shielding is growing phenomenon intricately linked to the increasing “weaponisation” of human bodies in contemporary warfare. The term refers to the deployment of civilians in order to deter attacks on combatants or military sites as well as their transformation into a technology of warfare. From Gaza City through Mosul in Iraq to Sri Lanka, accusations of using human shields as an instrument of protection, coercion or deterrence have multiplied in the past few of years.

Indeed, the dramatic increase of urban warfare, including insurgency and counterinsurgency, terrorism and counterterrorism, has inevitably meant that civilians often occupy the front lines in the fighting, while the distinction between civilians and combatants is blurred. This, in turn, presents a series of ethical dilemmas relating to the use of violence and whether the violence deployed complies with international law.

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Peace and Conflict Series: Conflict and Syria, Think-tanks, and the Academy, Interview with Thomas Pierret

Universities find impact beyond academia increasingly important. In situations of violent conflict, however, it can be difficult for experts who are working on evolving conflicts such as Syria to remain relevant outside of the academy.  The increasing influence of think-tanks, and use of social media, together with pressures of wider academic life, pose serious questions as to what the academy has to offer.  In an interview with GJA Peace & Conflict blog series editor Andreas Hackl, Thomas Pierret looks back at 13 years of research in Syria and reflects on the changing role of his expertise within and outside of the academy.  Thomas suggests that academics may uniquely contribute the ability to locate specific events and moments in a conflict within wider conflict patterns and dynamics.

Thomas Pierret is a Senior Lecturer in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Edinburgh. He has worked on the Syrian insurgency with a focus on the leadership of insurgent movements and the role of various brands of Salafism. As an expert on the Syrian crisis, Thomas Pierret’s commentary was featured on hundreds of occasions in dozens of media outlets, among them the BBC, The Financial Times, The Guardian, the New York Times, and Le Monde.

How has your research field changed since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis?

I have done research in Syria for almost 13 years now, and at the beginning I was almost alone on my topics of expertise. In a matter of years, the field has become extremely crowded, including non-academics such as think tank analysts. The problem is: they are good. It is no longer true that academics know more than they do. Once we could look at think tanks and say that their research is superficial, with some exceptions. But this has changed.

It seems academic expertise on Syria is becoming less relevant. How did this happen? Continue reading

Trafficking in the UK: Demands and Dilemmas for Justice

Mahlea Babjak is reading for a PhD in Religious Studies and is researching human trafficking in South Asia.  She is a Global Justice Academy Student Ambassador for 2016-17. Here, Mahlea reports on the recent Tumbling Lassie seminar on Trafficking in the UK.

The Faculty of Advocates, as well as other lawyers and justice advocates, gathered on the 28 of January 2017 to hear from key stakeholders fighting human trafficking in both the UK and abroad, due to the interlinking nature of trafficking networks.

The seminar opened with a short history of The Tumbling Lassie, followed by a compelling talk led by Andrew Bevan of International Justice Mission (IJM). When Andrew stated that the IJM’s mission to “rescue thousands, protect millions and prove that justice for the poor is possible” was an ambition being met (with IJM currently protecting an estimated 21 million), I was filled with hope and reminded that seemingly impossible justice goals are never beyond reach.

Andrew traced the story of one woman whom IJM worked with in India. The woman was trafficked for labour and enslaved at a brick kiln under debt bondage for forty years. Our hearts grew heavy as we felt the weight of one brick that Andrew passed around the seminar from the kiln. Andrew is passionate about seeing students, businesses and lawyers in Scotland becoming advocates in anti-human trafficking. As Andrew stated, you can “use what’s in your hands to respond” to the global justice issue of human trafficking.

We then heard from the Solicitor General for Scotland, Alison Di Rollo, who emphasised her (and the Lord Advocate’s) desire to “make the invisible visible” by improving our ability of detecting, challenging, and reporting cases of trafficking in the UK (see photo).

Alison’s talk drew widely on the general approach of the justice system in Scotland and about their commitment to safeguarding human trafficking victims rights, working collaboratively with NGOs and academics, and prosecuting traffickers. While many would be surprised to hear that trafficking is indeed happening in Scotland and the UK widely, Alison noted common destinations in Scotland and discussed several cases as examples and stressed that improving our ability to detect victims of trafficking as critical.

Alison’s talk led nicely to Bronagh Andrew’s of TARA (Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance), a sector of Community Safety Glasgow. Alison shared about how TARA offers a support service to trafficking survivors and helps to identify victims of sexual exploitation. TARA has a unique survivor-led approach, which has provided survivors with hope as their survivors re-learn how to trust people and the legal system. The work of TARA has empowered survivors through TARA’s ability to support survivors on a long-term basis, until the survivors express that they feel they’ve regained a sense of agency.

The final speaker was Parosha Chandran, an award-winning human rights barrister and receiver of the ‘Trafficking in Persons Hero Award 2015’ from former US Secretary of State, John Kerry. Parosha spoke about establishing rights recognition for victims of trafficking and she over-viewed some of the ground-breaking trafficking cases she has worked on over the past 15+ years, which have come to shape anti-trafficking efforts in the UK. A theme that would be interesting to explore further from Parosha’s presented cases is the often out-dated relationship between the justice system and Home Office. Since much of Parosha’s discussion was technical, legal language, she has offered to share her powerpoint that outlines the major human trafficking cases in the UK if requested by email.

Overall, this event sparked both hope within attendees and a desire to see more anti-human trafficking seminars combining major UK law firms and legal advocates. I would highly recommend people mark their calendars in advance for whenever the next Tumbling Lassie seminar may be.

More about the author

Mahlea is also the Emerging Fields Researcher for Tiny Hands International, an NGO fighting human trafficking globally through border and transit monitoring. Mahlea can be contacted at: mahlea@tinyhands.org.

The Tumbling lassie

If anyone is interested in this field and would like to get in touch with The Tumbling Lassie directly, you can email them here: tumblinglassie@gmail.com 

Should we have hope for the human rights project?

Vivek Bhatt is reading for a PhD in Law, and is a Global Justice Academy Student Ambassador for 2016-17. He recently attended and spoke at a conference hosted by the University of Sussex’s Human Rights Research Centre. The conference theme was Challenging Human Rights Disenchantment.

The past few years have been uncertain times for the human rights project. On one hand, the human rights discourse seems ubiquitous in contemporary international affairs. Yet on the other, the authority, legitimacy, and efficiency of international human rights law are continually being challenged. 2016, for example, saw the escalation of the refugee crisis resulting from conflict in Syria and Iraq, the rejection by several African heads of state of a UN dialogue on the human rights of same-sex attracted individuals,[1] and the election of a new American head of state, who – from the outset – has expressed an unwillingness to abide by key international human rights laws, the Convention against Torture, and the Refugee Convention.[2] In light of such developments, disenfranchisement and frustration with international human rights law seem inevitable. While some suggest that human rights are admirably idealistic but ultimately unenforceable,[3] others claim that the human rights project is but a vehicle for capitalism, the entrenchment of global power disequilibrium, and Western neo-colonialism.[4]

It was against this troubling backdrop that the Sussex Centre for Human Rights Research at the University of Sussex hosted its inaugural conference, titled Challenging Human Rights Disenchantment 50 Years on from the ICCPR and ICESCR. The interdisciplinary conference brought together human rights advocates, lawyers, and philosophers, with speakers considering various forms of human rights disenchantment, and the ways in which they can be challenged. Mona Rishwami – Chief of the Rule of Law, Equality, and Non-Discrimination branch of the OHCHR – opened the conference with an outline of the developments that galvanised the human rights movement and the profession of human rights law. Rishwami suggested that although the current legal framework for human rights was conceived in the aftermath of the Second World War, it articulates concerns and ideals that are pertinent to contemporary human experience. She was followed by Professor Pamela Palmater, who – as an indigenous woman – argued that human rights activism should no longer be left to members of the world’s most marginalised communities. Citing the disproportionate number of indigenous women in custody and the infrastructural underdevelopment of indigenous nations within Canada, Palmater suggested that human rights violations are rife even within States that are reputed as bastions of human rights. To Palmater, human rights law generates demands for state accountability, demands that we must all amplify within and beyond academic circles.

Following a series of thematic sessions featuring speakers from the UK and abroad, the esteemed Professor Andrew Clapham delivered a closing address. Professor Clapham shared anecdotes about the many ways in which he has been confronted by human rights disenchantment, from being told that human rights ‘are for girls,’ to seeing politicians and the press tell ‘lies’ about the competence and function of regional and international human rights bodies. While Professor Palmater highlighted the importance of human rights advocacy by individuals, Professor Clapham addressed the roles of academics and lawyers. He suggested that we must defend human rights as a binding and legitimate body of law, dispel pervasive fictions about the function and reach of human rights bodies, and challenge rhetoric that characterises human rights law as vacuous idealism.

Though they focused on different issues, Palmater and Clapham made a common argument: that there exist innumerable human rights issues around the world today, and their resolution requires engagement with individuals outside the realms of human rights law and academia. This, to Palmater, is in order to encourage widespread human rights activism. To Clapham, meanwhile, it is in order to legitimise human rights as a valid and functional category of law that can – and does – influence governance and society. Clapham’s argument resonated with Charlesworth’s description of international law as a ‘discipline of crisis’;[5] we can challenge human rights disenchantment by encouraging sceptics to look beyond the law’s most prominent failings, and to recognise the ways in which human rights laws exist as practice, constituting everyday realities.

As a participant, I left the conference with conflicting intuitions. I had spent the day speaking and hearing about the emancipatory promise of human rights, but simultaneously reading news about a travel ban in the USA and a possible escalation of torture practices in the context of the war on terror. Yet there was meaning to be found in this apparent clash between theoretical optimism and reality. Not that we should give up on human rights altogether, but that the human rights project is most important and meaningful precisely when the reasons for disenchantment with it seem most convincing. Human rights provide a basis for critical discursive and legal engagement with political institutions by academics, social movements, lawyers, and jurists. International human rights law also serves as a reminder that each individual is entitled to certain liberties and securities by virtue of his or her humanness. The policies of the Trump administration may be conspicuous and shocking, but they should not diminish the significance or urgency of other human rights issues around the world. As moral claims and as law, human rights require us to reflect on and respond to all instances of marginalisation, deprivation, and violence. This includes not only the suffering of migrants in constitutional democracies, but also indigenous communities, persecuted religious minorities, and same-sex attracted individuals, among others.

We should, therefore, have hope for and promote the human rights project. As Professor Palmater implied, inaction and despair would merely aid the demise of something we recognise as intrinsically valuable. The inaugural conference of the Sussex Centre for Human Rights Research highlighted not only the diversity of current human rights scholarship, but also the number of domestic, regional, and international practices that can be influenced (and improved) by human rights considerations. More information on the conference proceedings and speakers, including a copy of the programme, can be found at: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/schrr/pastevents/challenging-human-rights-disenchantment.

About the author

Vivek Bhatt is an Edinburgh Global Research Scholar, and is reading for a PhD in Law. He holds an MSc in Political Theory from the London School of Economics and a Master of International Law from the University of Sydney. Vivek’s research interests span public international law, international political theory, and counterterrorism. His current research relates to the engagement of individuals in the international legal system through the course of the war on terror.

[1] Permanent Mission of the Republic of Botswana to the United Nations, Statement of the African Group on the Presentation of the Annual Report of the United Nations Human Rights Council (4 November 2016) United Nations PaperSmart < papersmart.unmeetings.org/media2/7663738/botswana.pdf>.

[2] See, for example, Mark Mazzetti and Charlie Savage, Leaked Draft of Executive Order Could Revive C.I.A. Prisons (25 January 2017) The New York Times < https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/25/us/politics/executive-order-leaked-draft-national-security-trump-administration.html?_r=0>.

[3] See, for example, Eric Posner, The Twilight of Human Rights Law (Oxford University Press, 2014).

[4] See, for example, David Kennedy, ‘Reassessing International Humanitarianism: the Dark Sides’ in Anne Orford (ed), International Law and its Others (Cambridge University Press, 2006) 131, 133-5.

[5] Hilary Charlesworth, ‘International Law: A Discipline of Crisis’ (2002) 65(3) The Modern Law Review 377.

Peace and Conflict Series: Into the Grey Zone of Human Rights Violations with Political Theorist Mihaela Mihai

The many ways of being complicit in violence and injustice

An interview with Mihaela Mihai, Senior Research Fellow in Political Theory at the University of Edinburgh

 

Mihaela Mihai

What is your current research about?

The Auschwitz survivor and great Italian writer Primo Levi – who coined the term ‘the grey zone’ to refer to moral ambiguity in a situation of violence – said that ‘we all make our deals with power, willingly or not.’

In our research project, we are using his concept of the ‘grey zone’ and his insights into the ambiguity of moral responsibility as starting points for an inquiry into the many ways in which people are complicit in violence and injustice. We analyse complex accounts of moral and political complicity in four cases: Vichy France, apartheid South Africa, totalitarianism in Communist Romania and the military dictatorship in Argentina during the Dirty War in the 1970s and 80s.

Our claim is that the ambiguous roles of collaborators, bystanders and beneficiaries has not been properly reckoned within the current theory and practice of transitional justice in post-conflict societies. We ask how historical sources, cinematic and literary representations illuminate this murky reality of political conflict.

Can they then reinvigorate efforts at justice and reconciliation in societies wrought by violence and division?

To give one example, we’re exploring how powerful films that touch on this space between victims and perpetrators can promote debate, public engagement and historical understanding. Think of how Louis Malle’s classic film Lacombe, Lucien unsettles viewers’ preconceptions about the motivations of perpetrators in its portrayal of the thoughtlessness and divided loyalties of its lead character. Likewise, the disturbingly ambivalent relationship between a torturer and his young female victim in the powerful 1999 Argentinian film Garaje Olimpo challenges the way we normally think about responsibility and culpability.

 As you can imagine, this research takes in many disciplines, including philosophy, history, political science, law, literature and cinema. Within that general project, each of the four team members has developed specific interests.

As the principal investigator in this project, I am currently exploring two themes of relevance. First, I am working on delineating an account of the epistemic functions of artworks. The main question is: by virtue of what characteristics do films, novels and poems help us better understand the thorny issue of complicity?  In addition, I explore the significance of feminist theories of responsibility and complicity for the ‘grey zone’. Feminists have long worked on unpacking the issue of how one becomes complicit with an unjust structure. Their insights into this phenomenon bear a great relevance for any sophisticated attempt to illuminate the ‘grey zone.’

Hugh McDonnell has recently published his book, Europeanising Spaces in Paris, c. 1947-1962, which examines contested conceptions of ‘Europe’ and ‘Europeanness’ in the post-World War Two French capital. He is now undertaking historical research on aspects of the ‘grey zone’ in Vichy France, and is also working on an article on Jean-Paul Sartre’s varied engagements with the idea of Europe and what it means to be European.

Maša Mrovlje is currently exploring ways of judging instances of violent resistance to oppressive systems, looking particularly at South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle. More generally, she is interested in how existential philosophy illuminates the dark realities of conflict. She is also finalising a book manuscript on existentialism and the ambiguity of political judgement, with a focus on transitional justice as the area where these philosophical frameworks clearly show their value.

Last but not least, Gisli Vogler’s PhD project focuses on the issue of responsibility and is located between social and political theory. Gisli draws on the work of Hannah Arendt and Margaret Archer to provide an account of political judgement that takes seriously its situatedness and limited emancipatory power. This has great relevance for transitional justice in general, and for our understanding of resistance and complicity in particular.

How does your research contribute to global justice and peace?

We address what we consider to be weaknesses in current approaches to transitional justice: their unsatisfactory take on the ‘grey zone’. Post-conflict societies worldwide understandably seek clear answers and solutions, but these obscure the messiness and ambiguity of human interaction. We argue in favour of sustained efforts to understand the shadowy zone of collaborators, bystanders and beneficiaries of violence. By grappling with invisible injustices in various historical and geographical situations, we call attention to the fragility of peace and the incompleteness of justice in societies that have neglected the ‘grey zone.’

We should also say that our work is not about dismissing or overthrowing existing approaches to transitional justice processes. Rather, it is about supplementing or enriching the toolkit of scholars and practitioners of transitional justice. As already mentioned, one innovative aspect of our work is our belief that art might be better placed to provoke societal processes of reflection on invisible forms of participation in violence and injustice.

What impact has your work had so far, and what impact do you hope it will have?

Not least because of the broad scope of our work, we are excited about its future impact. In the first place, it raises awareness of the dangers involved in ignoring general complicity with violence and allowing undemocratic attitudes to reproduce across generations. In this vein, it aims to make a convincing argument about why and how cinema and literature should be used in civic education aimed both at deterrence and reconciliation.

And as part of giving wide exposure to our research goals, last April the team organised and participated in the prestigious European Consortium for Political Research – The Joint Sessions in Pisa. We organised a workshop on “Imagining Violence: The Politics of Narrative and Representation,” which brought together scholars from all over Europe and North America to discuss the role of imagination in understanding and responding to the complex issues of political violence. The fruitful discussion has in turn led to a special journal issue on Imagination and Violence, forthcoming with Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy.

We also aim to translate our academic work for a broader public audience, to promote dialogue between academia and the wider community, and to develop cultural and educational resources on the issue of ordinary complicity in injustice. We are especially excited about our film series on “Complicity and Resistance” that will be held in March 2017 at Cameo cinema in Edinburgh. Films like The Secret in Their Eyes and The Headless Woman from Argentina, Une Affaire de femmes and Lacombe Lucien from France, Quad Erat Demonstrandum and The Paper Will Be Blue from Romania, or Fools and Skin from South Africa will be screened to highlight exactly these sorts of troubling questions about complicity, difficult choices and agonising dilemmas confronting individuals in the grey zone.

What other research questions are you discovering which you think need to be addressed, and others you would like to move on to?

It’s certainly the case that our research is always generating further avenues of fruitful inquiry. For instance, an examination of the ‘grey zone’ of resistance as the other side of the coin of complicity in injustice. What are the moral dilemmas, tragedies and human cost involved in (violent) struggles against oppressive systems?

Another example would be the further investigation into the distinct nature of complicity and responsibility of artists and intellectuals, and the significance of varying representations of the grey zone.

The project also raises the problem of how the political effects of failures to engage complicity in human rights violations might be transmitted and reinforced not only over time, but across different geographical and spatial contexts. The questions we raise are of course applicable far beyond our case studies. Similarly, the colonial links or global interconnections in histories of complicity in violence need to be further addressed.

We are also finding that the issue of complicity raises new questions about silence and memory, betrayal and revenge, friendship and trust – notions that remain at the margin of transitional justice scholarship, which yet contain important insights.

Finally, the exploration of cinematic and literary narratives poses the question in turn of the potential moral and political significance of other art genres, such as music or architecture, and their relevance to the issue of ‘grey zone’ and transitional justice more broadly.

Peace and Conflict Series: What is so ‘Modern’ about Modern Conflict?

Eavesdropping on a roundtable conversation at the Centre for the Study of Modern Conflict…

‘Modern conflict’ is commonly used to refer to conflicts in recent history that used particular modernised means of waging war and share a number of other elements. Why the label ‘modern’ is used to describe some conflicts and not others, and what its analytical purpose should be was heavily debated during a roundtable organised by the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for the Study of Modern Conflict. Hosted by Emile Chabal, four young experts put their own research into the context of the debate on the utility of Modern Conflict as a concept.

For Fraser Raeburn, the label ‘modern’ explained ‘for how long we can look back in time and find things we recognize in conflicts’. It was thus a question of familiarity and continuity. Researching the Scots who fought against fascism among the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War, Raeburn suggested that the concept of Modern Conflict allows for comparisons between similar types within a particular time period. Moreover, he suggested that a certain cultural continuity defines Modern Conflict – that it remains central and defining in one way or another within a given society’s culture.

The first modern war

However, Catherine Bateson, whose research explores the American Civil War (1861-1865), suggested a different approach. Speaking about songs invoked about the Civil War, she said that a whole sub-culture of war and music relates modern conflicts back to the origins of war. In this sense, the ancient practice of songs about and within wars represents continuity across time, but also deeply “unmodern” roots of supposedly modern conflicts.

The American Civil War is in many ways considered to be an early, or even the ‘first modern war’.  The role of mass mobilization, industrialization, new technology such as submarine prototypes, and the number of deaths are among many other factors that are known to distinguish this war as ‘modern’.

Yet one of the most important aspects, explained Bateson, was the fact that modern conflicts were and continue to be much more visible than earlier ones: they were photographed. ‘Photography opened a new lens, it changed how the image of war was perceived’, said Bateson.

Sounding the taps in the Civil War / Flickr, Cc license

Modern civilisation

Anita Klingler has been researching political violence and political culture in interwar Germany and Britain, saying that one important concept attached to modern conflict is civilization: the emergence of the Second World War shows that the ‘protective shell of civilization was not thick enough’.

At the heart of this realisation lies the question of whether violence is an enemy of civilization or one of its central characteristics. Or, as Klingler asked in reference to the interwar period, ‘how did violence become the enemy of our civilisation?’

Don’t say war

However, violence has also been institutionalised and legitimised as a motor of civilisation, whether in the wake of colonialism or contemporary interventions. Indeed, as Sissela Matzner argued in the case of Libya, France has defined its military intervention as an extension of its own national culture and global leadership ambitions.

Matzner’s research compares the foreign policy of Germany and France on Libya from the perspective of political parties. Her findings suggest that the military intervention was framed in ways that may relate to a particular periods of contemporary modern warfare:  responsibility as a central elements in their ‘national role conceptions’, and the fact that most interventionists avoid using the word war altogether. ‘The categorical avoidance of the term war reflects the changing nature of war itself, and the controversy around interventions’, said Matzner.

As the nature of conflict and war is changing, so should the concepts that help us to understand and compare them. But as Catherine Bateson put it: ‘How long can modern conflicts remain modern? What about 50 or 100 years from now, will we still talk about these wars as modern conflicts?’

Peace and Conflict Series: Can Data Bring Peace? The Gains and Caveats of Data Science in Peace and Conflict Studies

What can social and political scientists learn from data science? And what can data science contribute to the research on peace and conflict?

‘Most importantly, one has to know what questions to ask’, says Gabriele Schweikert, Research Fellow at the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh. ‘And secondly, one needs the necessary data to answer that question.’

For example, researchers on urban conflict might be interested to find out how different instances of violence distribute across a city over time. Available data from media on the location and intensity of violence can be harvested with the help of automatised bots searching for keywords. ‘But if researchers have only a vague idea of their question and do not know what data can do and what not, they might end up with a trivial answer’, she says, adding: ‘Such as the simple result that violent conflict in cities tends to take place in streets.’

Can data predict conflict?

Gabriele’s colleague, Guido Sanguinetti, a Reader in Machine Learning in Informatics at Edinburgh, is an expert in running prediction models, usually in the field of computational biology. But when a friend who worked as a data scientist for the New York Times sent him a visualisation of violent incidents in Afghanistan, taken from the WikiLeaks Afghan War Diaries, he realised that he could ‘do much more with the available data’.

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New Blog Series: Rethinking Peace and Conflict Research in Edinburgh

The University of Edinburgh’s research expertise on peace and conflict is growing fast, making it ever more important to connect and communicate across disciplinary lines. To this effect, a new blog series titled Rethinking Peace and Conflict Research in Edinburgh will foster exchange and make this ongoing research and its challenges more visible. Its aim is to build new interdisciplinary capacity and exchange around challenges and themes that connect experts working on peace and conflict across and beyond the University.   Continue reading

Rethinking the International Criminal Justice Project in the Global South

This guest post is by Michelle Burgis-Kasthala, who is currently a Research Fellow at the Centre for International Governance and Justice, RegNet, ANU. Michelle will be returning to Edinburgh Law School in 2017-18. This post is re-blogged from ‘Regarding Rights: Academic and Activist Perspectives on Human Rights’ and is based on an article published recently in the Journal of International Criminal Justice: ‘Scholarship as Dialogue? TWAIL and the Politics of Methodology’.

ICC in Ivory Coast in 2013. Image: BBC News

ICC in Ivory Coast in 2013. Image: BBC News

Concerns about the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) continuing relevance in Africa following exit announcements by Burundi, South Africa, and Gambia are widespread. But the picture across the continent is more complex. While some African states have clearly rejected the Court, the majority remain members. How can we explain the fracturing of the Court’s support in Africa? More fundamentally – what is the best way of studying international criminal justice and its effects in the Global South – whether in Africa or elsewhere?

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