ESRC Seminar Series (2016-2018)

From data to knowledge? Understanding peace and conflict from afar

How do we know what peace and conflict looks like? How do we know how it is experienced, particularly in putatively remote or dangerous contexts? How should we understand the experiences of those involved and affected or, perhaps, respond to them?

In an academic and policy environment where so-called ‘fragile and conflict-affected states’ are increasingly the focus of study and intervention but – conversely – where physical presence in such contexts by Western actors is circumscribed and blocked by ethics committees, insurance outfits, risk management consultants and travel advisories, these questions are more relevant than ever.

This seminar series aims to bring together scholars, policy actors, development and peacekeeping practitioners and CSOs – in the North and South - interested in these important questions and, over the course of seven seminars and two years, will engage with a number of key themes linked to two central concerns. The first of these focuses on a methodological problematique: what data collection techniques can scholars and practitioners use to gather more localised perspectives on regions deemed too difficult or dangerous to visit? The second concern contains a more epistemological element: what are the implications of the growing remoteness of data- gathering, research and policy-making in – and on – these parts of the world for the credibility and legitimacy of knowledge production and intervention itself?

More about the ESRC seminar series.

Forthcoming seminars:

Seminar 4: Brokers, translators and NGOs in knowledge production

Date: TBC (Late 2016)
Location: Save the Children, London

This seminar will focus on the critical role played by NGOs as mediators of conflict knowledge and expertise. Hosted by a prominent global NGO, the session will bring together NGO and CSO representatives to ask: How important are NGOs as informants and knowledge gatekeepers in the field? What is the relationship between international and local NGOs with regard to knowledge production? What challenges do NGOs face in mediating relations between the ‘local’ and the ‘international’?

Seminar 5: Policy-making beyond the bunker? The case of Somalia

Date: TBC (Early 2017)
Location: Somalia NGO Consortium, Nairobi

This seminar will bring together representatives of key diplomatic, development, NGO and CSO organizations in Kenya and the wider region to discuss the implications of the series’ findings so far for the development and implementation of policy interventions in the state where aid bunkerization and sustained international involvement are perhaps most starkly combined: Somalia.

Seminar 6: Conflict experts: Methodology, Authority, Impact

Date: TBC (Mid 2017)
Location: Aberystwyth University

The seminar will explore the role and influence of professional conflict experts such as think tanks, NGOs and consultancies specialising in policy advice on violent mass conflicts. Core questions to be discussed are: How do conflict experts transform data into knowledge and how reliable is this knowledge (methodology)? How do influential conflict experts generate authority? How do they generate impact on policy-makers and what determines successful policy advice?

Seminar 7: Agency and resistance in the production of conflict knowledge

Date: TBC (Autumn 2017)
Location: Loughborough University

This session will conclude the series by exploring the challenges posed to those seeking to understand – and design interventions in – conflict-affected regions by states and communities resisting external knowledge production processes. This takes the form of restricting access but also the management of space and information flows themselves. The various forms of ‘local’ agency identifiable within such dynamics will be a key focus alongside the question ‘do outsiders have a right to know about societies which are not their own?’

Recent seminars in the series:

Seminar 1: Remote-gathering and local needs: Unpacking the digital-security nexus (24 February 2016)
This session launched the series by critically interrogating the use of 'remote [data] gathering' technologies by conflict analysts and policy-makers from both methodological and normative perspectives.

Seminar 2: Does gender count? New methodologies and the gender dimensions of conflict data (11 May 2016)
This seminar gathered together a range of gender, peace studies and geography scholars and practitioners based at institutions throughout the UK to share their thoughts and experiences on these key questions related to the place of gender issues in the theory and practice of peace and conflict research

Seminar 3: Knowledge Conflicts and Conflict Knowledge (27 January 2017)
This session moved to issues of epistemology, focusing particularly on how different social and cultural frameworks affect how conflict knowledge is collected and interpreted. How far can, or should, external actors attempt to understand conflict- affected societies on their own terms? How significant are language barriers in the transferral and interpretation of conflict knowledge? To what extent does contemporary Western analysis of peace and conflict need to be ‘decolonized’?

If you would like to find out more about the series or are interesting in participating in future seminars, please email Dr Jonathan Fisher ( and follow us on Twitter: @esrc_conflict.