The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) has awarded funding of CHF 1,070,688 to support a four-year research project based at the Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding (CCDP). The project, the Violence Prevention (VIPRE) Initiative, explores novel approaches to preventing state-led political violence. It suggests that it is possible to prevent political violence in a similar way to that by which we prevent, or minimise the damage caused by, public health problems like traffic accidents, smoking, alcoholism, infectious diseases or firearm-related deaths. Efforts to prevent these problems focus not simply on the “original causes” of harm (driving while intoxicated, for example) but also on mitigating the risk of harm and/or damage inflicted once these original causes are set in motion by placing “intervening” obstacles or “firewalls” in front of these risks/harms (constructing crash barriers on roads or cars that beep when seatbelts are not worn, for example). The VIPRE Initiative will theorise, empirically explore, and test the possibility of constructing similar barriers or firewalls vis-à-vis political violence by drawing on interdisciplinary insights from organisation studies, the microsociological study of violence and International Political Sociology.
The VIPRE Initiative is financed through the interdisciplinary Sinergia programme and convenes research groups from political science, sociology and organisation studies. The first principal investigator is Keith Krause, Professor of International Relations at the Graduate Institute and Director of the CCDP. Prof. Krause’s expertise on the politics and practice of military and security development, alongside his longstanding focus on evidence-based and policy-relevant research, will be crucial to the VIPRE Initiative. Further principal investigators are Riccardo Bocco, Professor of Political Sociology at the Graduate Institute, and Anna Leander, Professor at the Copenhagen Business School (CBS) and the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio). Prof. Leander’s field-leading theoretical work within International Political Sociology and empirical work on private military companies are central to the goal of translating “high theory” into policy relevance. Likewise, Bocco’s work on Middle Eastern conflicts (the regional focus of the project) and political violence will be key to bringing the VIPRE Initiative to practical leverage on the ground.
The VIPRE Initiative’s lead researcher is Jonathan Luke Austin, whose published and forthcoming work exploring the conditions of possibility for violent human rights abuses like torture forms the core theoretical, conceptual and empirical base underlying the VIPRE Initiative. Together with Keith Krause, Riccardo Bocco and Anna Leander, and assisted by two doctoral students, he will guide the Initiative toward achieving its three main goals:
- To develop a theoretical approach to preventing violence that considers the role of the “organisation”, “circulation” and micro “practices” of violence across borders (the “OCP” preventive model.
- To ground this theory through a detailed microsociological empirical study of military training regimes focused on interrogation, detention and counterinsurgency practices that draws on textual, visual and ethnographic data.
- To synthesise the Initiative’s theoretical and empirical components in order to build insights for practitioners working in the field of violence prevention that allow them to mitigate the risks of forms of political violence like torture, the targeting of civilians, or police violence during civil unrest, for instance.
The VIPRE Initiative is situated at the centre of both international and Swiss scientific and policy-making work on security, human rights and violence, combining cutting-edge theoretical and methodological approaches with the study of world politics.