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PRIF Review 2022Transformations of Political Violence

Research center TraCe starts

Transformations of Political Violence

people on podium
Photo: TraCe

The history of modern societies and international relations is usually told as a gradual renunciation of violence. However, there can be no question of an end to political violence. On the contrary, current trends point in the opposite direction: worldwide conflict has increased in intensity again; globalization and technological change make new forms of warlike and terrorist violence possible. These developments point to transformations that challenge existing norms and practices for containing political violence. The research center “Transformations of Political Violence” (TraCe) examines these developments with the aim of identifying the consequences for intra-societal and international peace and developing strategies to contain political violence under changing conditions.


Who is TraCe?

The research center “Transformations of Political Violence” is an interdisciplinary research alliance of five Hessian research institutions: In addition to PRIF, Goethe University Frankfurt, Justus Liebig University Giessen, Philipps University Marburg and Technical University Darmstadt are involved. Funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), more than thirty scientists will conduct multi-perspective research on transformations of political violence from 2022 to 2026. Coordination and science communication are located at PRIF.

Interdisciplinarity in action

In order to understand, explain and critically question the transformations of political violence, TraCe integrates different disciplinary perspectives, levels of analysis and methods and takes a look at different forms of violence.

To be irritated by other disciplines is tremendously important to see new developments.

Christopher Daase, PRIF Talk, 23.03.2023

The center brings together perspectives from political science, sociology, history, law, social anthropology, social psychology, cultural studies, linguistics, and computer science.

With the second, third, fourth, fifth eye, you simply see more, and that is our goal.

Astrid Erll, PRIF TALK, 23.03.2023

Astrid Erll and Christopher Daase, TraCe speakers in the first year of the project, discussed why it is important and exciting to explore transformations of political violence across disciplines with Tina Cramer in the PRIF Talk podcast (in German).

Which aspects of political violence are being studied?

TraCe is divided into three thematic research areas and a synergy work area:

  1. Forms: Change and continuity of political violence
  2. Institutions: Prevention and legitimation of political violence
  3. Interpretations of political violence
  4. Synergies

How can we study political violence?

Political violence occurs in many forms – from femicides to insurgent protests to wars between states – and has immense moral and political implications. However, the question of the overall evolution of political violence remains controversial. In the first TraCe Working Paper, the authors summarize existing debates and identify three general positions in the research field: political violence has either decreased, escalated, or taken other forms. They provide a framework to distinguish existing approaches, classify available findings, and stimulate further research.

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The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the transformations of political violence

In 2022, the Russian invasion of Ukraine not only dominated media coverage, but also led researchers to rethink fundamental assumptions: how do we need to think about political violence in light of this interstate war that has implications for the entire global order? The TraCe Research Center placed the Russia-Ukraine war at the center of its kick-off event in Berlin. Similarly, the TraCe lecture series in Marburg also dealt with the effects of war on violence research in its first event.

The end of the Cold War ushered in a period of hope in the late 1990s: Perhaps the end of the “old” major interstate conflicts had now come. Although conflicts, including warlike ones, continued to exist, researchers noted a trend toward “smaller” conflicts within states or along ethnic lines. Political scientists such as Mary Kaldor and Herfried Münkler introduced the term “new wars” into the discussion. The “old” interstate war was considered to be obsolete.

But with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, this assumption seems fundamentally challenged. It seems reasonable to assume that the pattern of “old” interstate wars is not a thing of the past after all. At the same time, fundamental changes in the nature of warfare can be observed, for example in the use of civilian infrastructure or nuclear weapons. Are we now in a new era of violent conflict? These questions were the focus of the kick-off event “A New Old War? The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the transformation of political violence”. Representatives of politics, science and civil society met on December 13, 2022 in the Hessian State Representation in Berlin.

Info box

What role does language play?

“The language issue in Ukraine has been politicized in election campaigns since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Russia’s propaganda abuses this politicization to construct a Ukrainian-Russian language conflict in Ukraine as a justification for war. Research on Eastern Europe must work even more intensively on concepts for knowledge transfer to the public, and politicians must listen to research on Eastern Europe more than they have in the past,” says TraCe researcher Monika Wingender of Justus Liebig University in Giessen.

Berlin-based political scientist Herfried Münkler was also a guest and emphasized in his statement that one or two wars do not falsify trends “that are based on a much larger number of wars within society. But it is true that Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is currently drawing our attention and forcing significant political reorientations.”

In the discussion, Jonas J. Driedger referred to the Russian regime’s increasing willingness to take risks: shortly after the start of the invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, it became clear that the Putin regime would not achieve its goals and would pay an enormous price for the war. He ruled out miscalculation. Rather, he argued that the regime was willing to consciously take the risks of the invasion.

With this event, TraCe introduced itself in political Berlin as a new player in peace research and brought science and politics into conversation.

Such an interdisciplinary research alliance is a strong flagship for conflict research in Hesse.

Angela Dorn, Hessian Minister of Higher Education, Research, Science and the Arts, at the kick-off event

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