Violence Prevention (VIPRE): Towards a Material-Semiotic Approach to the Prevention of Violent Human Rights Abuses

Principal Investigators: Keith Krause, Riccardo Bocco and Anna Leander

Principal Collaborators: Jonathan Luke Austin (Lead Researcher), Alice Baroni (Research Assistant), Basil Farraj (Research Assistant)

Funding: The VIPRE Initiative is funded via the Swiss National Science Foundation’s Sinergia instrument (grant number: CRSII5_170986).


Project Description

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 minimize 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 theorize, empirically explore, and test the possibility of constructing similar barriers or firewalls vis-à-vis political violence by drawing on interdisciplinary insights from organization studies, the micro-sociological study of violence and International Political Sociology. For more scientific details on the VIPRE Initiative please click here.

The main goals of the VIPRE Initiative are to:

  • Develop a theoretical approach to preventing violence that considers the role of the ‘organization’, ‘circulation’, and micro ‘practices’ of violence across borders (the ‘OCP’ preventive model, see here).
  • Empirically ground this theory through a detailed microsociological study of military training regimes focused on interrogation, detention, and counterinsurgency practices that draws on textual, visual, and ethnographic data.
  • Programmatically synthesize 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 better mitigate the risks of forms of political violence like torture, the targeting of civilians, or police violence during civil unrest, for instance.

In its work, the VIPRE Initiative will situate itself 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 to the study of world politics. For more information see the VIPRE Initiative website here.

The VIPRE Initiative is financed through the interdisciplinary Sinergia programme and convenes research groups from political science (Krause), sociology (Bocco) and organization studies (Leander). Krause’s expertise on the politics and practice of military and security development, alongside his focus on evidence-based and policy-relevant research, will be crucial to the VIPRE Initiative. 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 Initiative) 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. Austin’s 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 (for more details click here). Together with Krause, Bocco and Leander, and assisted by two doctoral students, Austin will guide the Initiative toward achieving its main goals.


Publications

Austin, Jonathan Luke & Bocco, Riccardo. Becoming a Torturer: Towards a Global Ergonomics of Care – International Review of the Red Cross – Forthcoming 2107.

Austin. The Germination of Abusive Violence and its Restraint, Concept Note on the Violence Prevention Initiative – Jonathan Luke Austin, Geneva, Switzerland – 2016