The Violence Prevention (VIPRE) Initiative explores novel approaches to preventing (state-led) political violence.

In basic terms, the Initiative suggests that it is possible to think about preventing violence in a similar way to that in which we think about preventing, or minimising the damage caused by public health problems like traffic accidents or smoking. Efforts to prevent these problems focus not on ‘original causes’ of harm but on mitigating the risk of harm and damage caused by placing ‘intervening’ obstacles or ‘firewalls’ in front of these risks/harms. The project seeks to theorize, empirically explore, and test similar barriers or firewalls vis-à-vis political violence by drawing on insights from organisation studies, micro-sociology, and international political sociology.

VIPRE’s efforts are founded on a trans-disciplinary theoretical and empirical literature (see publications) that reveals how a significant portion of human practice (including violent practice) is driven less by rational, reflexive, or ideological factors and more by material, aesthetic, and affective forces. These ‘unthought’ drivers of political violence require we begin to think differently about prevention. Presently, most efforts at political violence prevention are focused on augmenting ideational and/or legal structures (norms, accountability mechanisms, etc.) with the hope that expanding the reach of these approaches will slowly work to reduce the global burden of political violence. However, the ‘unthought’ factors underlying violence are largely unaffected by interventions based on these approaches. Something more is needed to tackle these issues, something VIPRE focuses on conceptually and empirically exploring. For more details on VIPRE’s approach, please review our research model.

VIPRE’s core goals are to 1) theoretically develop an approach to preventing political violence exploring the role of the ‘organisation’, ‘circulation’, and micro ‘practices’ of violence, 2) empirically ground this theory through a microsociological study of military training regimes focused on interrogation, detention, and counterinsurgency practices that draws on textual, visual, and ethnographic data, and 3) programatically synthesize its theoretical and empirical components to provide insights for practitioners working in the field as to how to better prevent political violences like torture, the targeting of civilians, and other related violences (see horizons).

VIPRE is based at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva. It draws on a team of leading social scientists and practitioners and is situated at the centre of Swiss and International policy-making communities. VIPRE is currently financed through the Swiss National Science Foundation’s (SNSF) interdisciplinary Sinergia programme and brings together researchers whose expertise cuts across political science, sociology, anthropology, organization studies, and beyond. VIPRE’s origins lie in the activities of its Lead Researcher, Jonathan Luke Austin, who has worked extensively on the conditions of possibility underlying violent of human rights abuses, work that forms the core theoretical, conceptual, and empirical base of VIPRE. Complementing this, VIPRE’s three co-PIs possess extensive expertise on the politics and practice of military and security development (Krause), field-leading conceptual work on private military companies, the social theory of assemblages, and collaborationist research methodologies (Leander), as well as on the politics of international organizations and the middle eastern region (Bocco). VIPRE is based at the Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding (CCDP) and its work is supported by two doctoral candidates who act as research assistants. In addition to this core team, VIPRE is supported by scientific and practitioner advisor boards, and has – throughout its research to date – actively collaborated with members of inter alia the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Danish Institute Against Torture (DIGNITY), the Forensic Architecture (FA) research group, the Nordic Centre of Excellence for Security Technologies and Societal Values (NORDSTEVA), and beyond.

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