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 and Events:

Exhibition: Stitched Voices: Knowing conflict through textiles

Date: 17 November (Exhibition launch and reception from 1730-1900) until 20 December
Location: Birmingham Voluntary Service Council (BVSC)

Those affected by violence and conflict voice their experiences in many different ways – and not just in words or writings. This part of the Series focused on exploring the non-verbal production of conflict knowledge through an exhibition and series of activities and workshops.

The exhibition focused on textile narratives of struggles against violence, injustice, oppression and forgetting; from Chile, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, England, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Nigeria, Spain, Colombia and Germany. The core of the exhibition consisted of textiles from the international Conflict Textiles collection and the exhibition was curated by Roberta Bacic, with assistance from Breege Doherty.

The aim of the exhibition was to challenge visitor understandings of what conflict ‘looks like’ and how it should be explained and explored – picking-up a theme running throughout the Series. The exhibition brought together a selection of powerful and unique wall hangings and quilts. These had been hand-stitched and crafted by a range of people and communities who use textiles as a language to articulate their experiences of loss, solidarity and resilience in the face of human rights violations and insecurity.

The exhibition was launched on 17 November 2017 at 1730 and will run until 1200 on 20 December 2017. 

The exhibition was accompanied by a series of events and workshops:

a. 17 November 2017, 1500-1700: Seminar 6: Knowing conflict through textiles.

This small workshop will explored the question: ‘how can arts and crafts contribute to our understanding of violent conflict, injustice and international politics?’

Speakers included:

  • Roberta Bacic, Northern Ireland, curator of the Conflict Textiles collection
  • Jimena Pardo, London Mexico Solidarity, arpillerista and political activist 
  • Christine Andrä, Dr Berit Bliesemann de Guevara, Lydia Cole and Danielle House, Aberystwyth University, Department of International Politics; commissioning team of Stitched Voices Aberystwyth

Read more information on this workshop

b. 17 November 2017, 1730-1900: Exhibition launch and reception.

Read more information on the launch

c. 22 November 2017, 1730-1900: Film showing and discussion: Breaking the silence: Gender and genocide – showcasing the work of Remembering Srebrenica

This event, led by Louis Monroy Santander, a PhD researcher at the University of Birmingham, was focused around a short documentary film by Remembering Srebrenica (Breaking the Silence) which explores three important cross-cutting themes in the exploration of conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina: Gender and genocide; women’s courage and seeking truth and justice.

Read more information on this film and discussion

d. 6 December 2017, 1730-1900: Photography workshop: “Bozambique”: Where healing meets resilience – looking at non-judicial transitional justice through photographs

This event, led by Samara Guimaraes and Louis Monroy Santander, PhD researchers at the University of Birmingham, sought to highlight practices of indigenous trauma-healing in Mozambique and of
remembrance in Bosnia-Herzegovina to understand processes for dealing with past violence through non-judicial mechanisms.  This photographic exhibition and discussion presented two different contexts of post-war reconstruction, presenting the opportunities and dilemmas for doing a creative engagement with processes to deal with the aftermath of human rights violations.

For more information on the exhibition please visit the Conflict Textiles website or follow us @StitchedVoices


Seminar 7: Brokers, translators and NGOs in knowledge production

Date: January 2018
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’?

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’?

Seminar 4: Conflict experts: Methodology, authority, impact (29 March 2017)
This seminar explored 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 discussed included: 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 5: Bunkers, bubbles and body armour: “Knowing” Somalia from a distance (5 September 2017)
This seminar, held in Nairobi, Kenya, brought together representatives of key diplomatic, development, educational, NGO and CSO organizations in Somalia, Somaliland, 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. Key questions explored included: What are the core challenges to conducting research on, and in, Somalia? Which Somali actors are empowered, or disempowered, through these processes? How is knowledge on Somalia generated, and how do we know that it is accurate? To what extent is knowledge on Somalia gendered? What is ‘local knowledge’ in Somalia?

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.