The Violence Prevention Initiative

The Violence Prevention (VIPRE) project is a breakthrough research programme in the study of state-led political violence. Constructing an interdisciplinary approach combining the state of the art in the disciplines of Management and Organization Studies, International Relations, and Sociology (MIRS), the project draws on pragmatist sociology to build a ‘material-semiotic’ framework of analysis that will produce theoretical and practical insights into the possibility of preventing violent human rights abuses. The project uses this framework in order to articulate an entirely novel ‘non-causal’ or ‘indirect’ mode of prevention, based on an empirically grounded theory of the non-purposeful emergence of state violence. Termed the Organization, Circulation, and Practice (OCP) approach to prevention, the VIPRE project draws on its interdisciplinary base to build this breakthrough theory of violence prevention, which transcends specific levels and units of analysis, as well as methodologies, in a way that has previously been lacking in the study of state violence across disciplines. In doing so, the VIPRE initiative exceeds the state of the art in this field substantively by shifting understandings of both the emergence and prevention of state-led political violences away from a sole focus on pathology (e.g. ‘bad’ apples, ‘bad’ states, ‘bad’ leaders, etc.), motivation (economic, political, social, etc.), ‘ideology’ (dehumanisation, racism, etc.), and/or emotions (anger, shame, collective effervescence). Preventive approaches based on these foci remain too preoccupied with locating the ‘causes’ of violence in the attributes of individual or collective groups of human beings and, in so doing, restrict the possibility of thinking about prevention to factors that pre-exist the sequences of practical action leading up to any act of political violence. They rely, in other words, on locating and removing ‘originary’ (efficient) causes of violence. By contrast, the VIPRE project conceptualizes violent human rights abuses as dynamic non-deterministic processes constituted by multiple (sequentially-linked) ‘situational’ moments of practical action that encourage or discourage an eventual ‘slippage’ into violent abuse by state actors. From this perspective, it may be possible to theorise the prevention of violence or, at the very least, its mitigation, irrelevant the continued presence of those ‘originary’ (efficient) human casual factors.

The VIPRE project is based on Austin’s earlier work on political violence and torture (see Small Worlds of Violence here). Building on the insights of this earlier research, the project works to provide a unique combination of theoretical, empirical, and practical insights into preventing political violence. The project is a multi-year international collaboration, drawing on scholars based at the Graduate Institute, Geneva, and elsewhere. Presently, the theoretical basis of the project has been articulated in forthcoming journal article at the International Review of the Red Cross (available here). The VIPRE project was conceived, designed, and is being implemented by Austin as part of his postdoctoral research. Early findings from the project were presented by Austin at the Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding (CCDP) in Geneva in May 2016 and at the Svenska Ršda Korset (Swedish Red Cross) in Malmö, Sweden. Austin also recruited all project participants and partners and wrote the main grant application for the project.

From February 2017 the VIPRE project will be funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, which has allocated the project a budget of 1’070’688.00 CHF, aprox. 1,050,000 USD. [Grant number: CRSII5_170986].

Core Project Participants:
Jonathan Luke Austin (Graduate Institute, Geneva)
Professor Keith Krause (Graduate Institute, Geneva)
Professor Anna Leander (Copenhagen Business School/PUC-Rio)
Professor Riccardo Bocco (Graduate Institute, Geneva)

Additional Project Partners:
Ole Wæver (University of Copenhagen; Centre for the Resolution of International Conflicts)
Steffen Jensen (Danish Institute Against Torture; Aalborg University)
Tobias Kelly (University of Edinburgh)

Models of Prevention (Click to enlarge)

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The classical model of preventing violence (Austin, 2016).


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The VIPRE model of preventing violence (Austin, 2016).