Research approach – Conflicts.meanings.Transitions

Conflicts.Meanings.Transitions examines how historical rocesses of change are played out socially and politically and under what circumstances this contributes to peace. Such transitions occur, among other things, in the upheaval of political orders, historical epochs, or social ideas. In these phases, “old” political positions that were thought to have been overcome often emerge and combine with “new” hot conflicts. The parties involved argue about views of the past in order to substantiate their positions in the present and to shape the future. Such disputes can escalate into violence, but they also offer opportunities to consolidate peace.

The research network investigates the interlinkage of conflicts, meanings, and transitions from an interdisciplinary perspective, with a multi-methodological approach and using case studies from different world regions. The case studies range from the Freicorps in Franconia at the time of the Weimar Republic to the role of the Nuremberg Trials for the democratization of Argentina and the influence of alternative truths on violence in the Western Sahara and Sudan. In this way, the group addresses pressing social challenges of our time, particularly around responsibility for colonial violence, the transformation of war-torn to post-war societies, and universal rights and diversity.

Bavarian Center for Peace and Conflict Research

The research network links regional locations of Peace and Conflict Research in Bavaria through the thematic field “Conflicts.Meanings.Transitions”. The universities of Augsburg, Bayreuth, and Erlangen-Nuremberg as well as the Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History Munich-Berlin are involved. The aim of the cooperation is to establish an interdisciplinary Bavarian Center for Peace and Conflict Research. With its profile in history and the social sciences, the center can complement the institutes of Peace and Conflict Research in Germany, which have so far been predominantly political science institutes.

The network also contributes to the establishment of the center through broad transfer measures. Communication formats are being developed for multipliers, regional publics and policy advisors. Young academics – from students to postdocs – will be supported in order to establish sustainable networks between researchers. Last but not least, scientific and high-profile publications and events – including conferences, lectures and panel discussions – will generate the necessary national and international visibility.

In this way, the existing regional gap in Peace and Conflict Research in Bavaria is to be closed. At the same time, the particularly interdisciplinary research approach made in Bavaria provides important contributions to the scientific landscape, politics, and the public.

Research Approach

Conflicts.Meanings.Transitions is divided into three thematic areas, each of which brings together researchers from several locations and disciplines. The focus is on interpretive struggles around peace strategies of non-state actors, interpretive struggles around violence, and interpretive struggles around universal rights and diversity. A multi-methodological research design will be used that combines approaches from the humanities, social sciences and participatory research. In this way, (basic) theoretical contributions as well as application-oriented concepts and a common, innovative research profile will emerge.

In addition, the network strives for local and regional networking and consolidation. One focal point for this is Augsburg, the city of peace, where the “Peace Academy” series of events and Peace Summer Schools take place. The promotion of young academics consists of the development of practice-oriented teaching concepts as well as support offers for doctoral students and postdocs. For transfer and outreach, multipliers are addressed, various online media are used, politicians are advised, and policy papers are produced. The very application-oriented research of the network enables knowledge transfer and demand-oriented consulting services.

The cooperation for research, networking and knowledge transfer should create sustainable structures for the envisaged Bavarian Center for Peace and Conflict Research.

Scientific Location and Contributions to Research

With its focus on powerful, conflictive processes and violence, the research network addresses central aspects of Peace and Conflict Research. In doing so, the network takes up and contributes to a variety of research strands.

Following sociological and anthropological research, the researchers of the network assume that transitions between violent conflicts and peace are often fluid. Thus, historical Peace and Conflict Research is increasingly looking at processes of mobilization and demobilization instead of sharp caesurae such as a declaration of war or an armistice. Furthermore, historical studies are being linked to the extent that interpretations of the past and the associated conflicts are being examined. However, Verbund is not concerned with “correct” interpretations of the past, but rather with understanding social self-understanding and its change through interpretive struggles.

By studying the interplay of conflicts, meanings and transitions, the network also takes up research on de-escalation and “peacebuilding” after violent conflicts. In this field, transitional justice research in particular is also concerned with social struggles in transition. The focus to date, however, has been on legal processing and its risks for peace. At the same time, the group connects to post- and de-colonial theories that make power relations and hidden violence visible. Consequently, transitions can also occur when new interpretations make hidden violence visible or past violence is reassessed.

Furthermore, Conflicts.Meanings.Transitions contributes to the study of transnational entanglements as well as to overarching key concepts such as power, memory, legitimation, space, and time.

Research Profiles of the Participating Institutions

The participating institutions have many years of experience in research and science communication. This forms the basis for analyzing interpretive struggles in transition and establishing a Bavarian Center for Peace and Conflict Research.

One of the long-standing focal points of the Chair for Political Science, Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Augsburg (Prof. Dr. Christoph Weller) is the question of the legitimation of violence. Different forms of violence are examined: physical, structural, cultural and epistemic violence. The researchers at the chair also examine cultures of memory and the discursive processing of transitions. They also contribute in various ways to socio-political activities in the Friedensstadt Augsburg.

At the center of the  Chair for Modern and Recent History at the University of Augsburg (Prof. Dr. Dietmar Süß) is the historical study of violence and conflict. The starting point is the assumption that violence is not a counter-design, but an integral part of modern societies. In various projects, the staff investigates experiences of violence and conflict, the scientification of warfare and peacebuilding, and the role of churches in violent conflicts.

At the  Institute for Franconian Regional History at the University of Bayreuth a research group (Dr. Julia Eichenberg) works with perspectives of historical Peace and Conflict Research. Transitional phases in which crises end, demobilization takes place and post-war orders are planned are examined, especially using the example of the Second World War.

The  Chair for Sociology of Africa at the University of Bayreuth (Prof. Dr. Jana Hönke) examines practices, conflict management and resistance in phases of transition in the Global South. Using approaches from sociological peace and conflict studies, the role and responsibility of multinational corporations for conflicts and violence in Africa is discussed in particular. PD. Dr. Florian Kühn (coordinator of “Conflicts.Meanings.Transitions”) conducts research on international interventions, liberal peace and state-building processes in this context. The Chair also hosts the coordination group for Conflicts.Meanings.Transitions and the new network for Peace and Conflict Research@UBT.

The  Chair for Modern and Contemporary History at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg (Prof. Dr. Simone Derix) and the Center for Human Rights Erlangen-Nuremberg (CHREN) deal with transnational actors, networks and perceptions in phases of transition from a historical perspective. Special attention is paid to the history of human rights in South America.

The  Leibniz Institute for Contemporary History (led by Prof. Dr. Andreas Wirsching) explores contemporary German history in its international and global contexts. A variety of transitions are considered, including democratization, historical self-understanding, and transnational relations. The institute also contributes its research infrastructure (archive, library, digital, public relations and transfer) to the network.