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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Local Space, Global Life: a notable methodological & theoretical contribution to international law scholarship.

Vivek Bhatt is reading for a PhD in Law, and is a Global Justice Academy Student Ambassador for 2016-17. Here, he reviews Luis Eslava’s Local Space, Global Life: The Everyday Operation of International Law and Development (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

Luis Eslava’s Local Space, Global Life considers the ways in which international law and the development project jointly produce local spaces and ‘locals’ that conform to global ideals.[1] The author moves beyond the doctrine of legal subjects,[2] a concept that confines many international law scholars to the relationship between law and states, the primary bearers of legal ‘status.’ To Eslava, international legal norms move across spaces and jurisdictions, constituting everyday, local, and private life. Dr Eslava traces the conceptual trajectory of the international development discourse, which became prevalent following Harry S. Truman’s 1949 inaugural address.[3] Truman identified the Third World nation-state as the ideal unit for the attainment of developmental goals. International law and development became inextricable; the former would contribute to the ‘making of a new world order’[4] by aiding the development of Third World nation-states. Yet according to Eslava, world leaders gradually became disenchanted with the idea that development could be achieved through reform at the nation-state level.[5] This led to the identification of the local jurisdiction as the new ideal locus of international development.

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Following Ghana’s Elections: an IIF Event

On 7 December 2016, the Global Justice and Global Development Academies supported a student-led initiative to follow the elections in Ghana, as part of their Innovative Initiative Fund. In this post, MSc student, Matthew Pflaum, reflects on the evening’s events.

image-1Elections are critical processes for global social and political change, leading to new policies and reforms. Certain elections, referenda, and regions receive widespread attention and coverage – the US election and Brexit, for example – while others are less covered. Elections in the Global South tend to be disregarded by much of the world, and this is a mistake. All elections are significant, principally for local citizens, but also for the rest of the world through geopolitics and trade.

 

During the US election, crowds gathered in tenebrous bars and sterile classrooms to watch the event unfold, their eyes festooned to the glaring screens with constant updates of results. Americans and non-Americans watched with anticipation, feeling that the event was important to their lives. But aren’t all elections important? Should we not also gather to support elections in Burma and Botswana?

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Peace in Colombia?

This blog post by Gwen Burnyeat, Wolfson PhD scholar at UCL, was first published by the London Review of Bookson 1 December  2016. In this piece, Gwen comments on the recent development in the post-referendum context and the adoption of a new peace agreement in Colombia.

Photo: School-Children in Pereira draw their hopes for peace, August 2016, by Gwen Burnyeat.

Photo: School-Children in Pereira draw their hopes for peace, August 2016, by Gwen Burnyeat.

The new peace accord between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia was signed in Bogotá’s Colón Theatre on 24 November. It was a more sober ceremony than the extravagant signing of the first agreement in Cartagena on 26 September, a week before Colombians narrowly voted against it in a referendum. The second signing was a closed event, and only President Juan Manuel Santos and the Farc commander, Timochenko, gave speeches. A subdued group of Colombians in the main plaza in Bogotá watched it on a big screen. The right-wing TV channel RCN, meanwhile, held a panel featuring only figures opposed to the deal, for ‘balance’.

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Building Bridges, Not Walls: Bauman’s Reflections on the Present-Day ‘Migration Panic’

profile-jgIn his second book review as a Global Justice Academy Student Ambassador, James Gacek considers Zygmunt Bauman’s Strangers at Our Door and the popular panic that often surrounds mass migration.

Zygmunt Bauman’s (2016) book, Strangers at Our Door, provides a significant contribution to a growing discussion which counters the illusory panics of mass migration. Bauman explores the origins, contours and the impact of ‘moral panic’ seemingly spreading across Western, liberal democracies, and dissects the present-day ‘migration panic.’ Such migration panic, he contends, is witnessed within anxiety-driven and fear-suffused debates percolating within Western societies. While moral panic is not a new concept—one in which articulates that some malevolent force of ‘evil’ threatens a society’s well-being, coupled with the anxieties ostensibly overwhelming felt within such societies (c.f. Cohen, 1972)—what is new is the feeling of fear spreading among an ever-growing number of people within Western nations.

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Will Business Interests ‘Trump’ Human Rights?

Sean Molloy is a Principal’s Scholar in Law, reading for a PhD at Edinburgh Law School. Sean researches the relationship between business and human rights, and contributes to the LLM in Human Rights as a guest lecturer. In this post, he considers what a Trump presidency might mean for human rights and how this applies to businesses in the USA.

As the world comes to terms with the shock election of Donald Trump, our thoughts quickly turn to the implications of the choice of the American people (or more precisely the electoral colleges). From issues such as US foreign policy in Syria to US relations with Russia, the rights of Muslims and Mexicans, to abortion and the rights of women, both America and the world are left in a state of unease and uncertainty as to what the next four (or possibly even eight) years hold. As the dust settles, further potential consequences on other thus far unmentioned rights-related issues become the topics of thought. One such issue is that of Business and Human Rights (BHR) and in particular what Trump’s election might mean for the protection of rights in respect of the actions of businesses both in America and in regards to American companies operating abroad (see generally Business and Human Rights Resource Centre).

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Report from an IIF Event – Academic Freedom: “national security” threats in Turkey, India and the UK

Can the university be a space where academic freedom reigns while restrictions are increasingly threatening voices and lives outside its gates? Or must spaces for politics be opened up on and off campus in order to address the invasion of national security (and capitalist) logics into the realms of open enquiry? On 27 October 2016, scholars and activists engaged these questions with a focus on the variable effects of the securitisation of university space in Turkey, India and the UK.

A panel on Turkey included academics and students who have lost their jobs as a result of the broader crackdown on dissent following the failed coup in July. They highlighted the connections between increasing violence in the Kurdish regions of Turkey—which precipitated the “Academics for peace” petition that has been used as a pretext for dismissing many signatories from their posts—and the attempts of the state to impose controls on its critics. They asked if the focus on the plight of academics may mean that this violence recedes from the view of international publics. Efforts to maintain solidarity among those now outside the academy and those still within it, as well as initiatives to take the university outside spaces the government controls, provide hope for continued resistance in fearful times and carve out a more universal idea of the University as institution and spirit that always has had to be fought for and salvaged from strategies of subjection from various quarters, not only outside the University. In this way, this panel was inspiring for all university struggles, not just those related to Turkey.

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Postgraduate Gender Research Network of Scotland Launches

setting-up-tweetThe Global Justice Academy is delighted to support the launch on the Postgraduate Gender Research Network of Scotland (PGRNS). This guest post by co-organiser, Rhian Sutton, reflects on the launch event which took place in October, and plans for the Network over the coming months – including how you can get involved. Rhian is reading for a PhD in History at the University of Edinburgh.

The Postgraduate Gender Research Network of Scotland (PGRNS) was formed in August, 2016. PGRNS aims to provide a platform on which postgraduates engaged in researching gender across Scotland can share their work, advertise events, workshops, and conferences, as well as learn about calls for papers and funding opportunities. Our goal is to facilitate discussion among researchers with common interests across both universities and disciplines in order to allow students to engage with people and ideas that they would not usually encounter through the course of their study.  Ultimately, the network hopes to assist postgraduate students in enriching their research through the discovery of, and engagement with, new perspectives of gender research.

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