Titled “Technology and the Transformation of Political Violence”, the third interdisciplinary conference Science · Peace · Security '23” took place in Darmstadt from Wednesday, September 20 to Friday, September 22. During the three day conference, nearly 120 scholars enaged in more talks, workshops and panels on current developments in technical peace research at the Georg-Lichtenberg-Haus in Darmstadt. The program consisted of more than 40 talks and idea pitches, poster presentations, panel sessions, one workshop and one dialogue panel connecting research and practice. In addition to scholars from Germany, participants arrived from the United Kingdom, Sweden, the USA, Colombia, India Italy, Switzerland, Norway, Czech Republic, Iraq, Austria and the Netherlands.
The conference was co-organized by PEASEC in cooperation with the Research Center “Transformations of Political Violence” (TraCe).
The conference kicked-off on Wednesday, September 20, with the official welcome by PEASEC chair and TraCe scholar Prof. Dr Dr Christian Reuter. Afterwards, the first keynote by Dr Oliver Meier (Europan Leadership Network) focused on the possibilities for peace and conflict researchers to become active and support political processes for arms control and disarmament.
The consecutive days of the conference were entirely dedicated to lectures, workshops and panel discussions. After being officially welcomed by the Vice-President of TU Darmstadt Prof. Dr.-Ing. Matthias Oechsner as well as the organizers, the second day started with another keynote by Prof. Dr Alice Mattoni (University of Bologna). In her talk, Prof. Mattoni presented her research in the context of the project "BIT-ACT" and discussed the transformative potential of digital technologies in fighting corruption by highlighting the democratic ideals embedded in these technologies.
In the following presentations and discussions, speakers addressed multiple topics such as geopolitical issues and (critical) infrastrucutres, the normative power of state actions or the Europan cyber security strategy. Additionally, speakers highlighted the current developments and paradigm shifts in relation to cyber-security and cyber-operations by discussing autonomous weapon systems, human-machine interactions, missile technology or security policy against the background of the so-called Tech War between the USA and China. During a poster session on Thursday, 14 scholars presented their research covering a broad spectrum from digital media use during social movements, critical infrastructures, hate speech, to information warfare as well as disarmament and arms control.
Several TraCe scholars also contributed to these disccusions by presenting their research. Whereas Prof. Dr Markus Lederer presented on "Solar geopolitics - the shining rise of India", new TraCe Research Fellow Miyerlandy Cabanzo presented a critical perspective on issues in the context of protest and technologies. TraCe researcher Laura Guntrum, Verena Lasso Mena and Dr Kaya de Wollf also exhibited posters presenting their current research projects. Whereas Laura Guntrum and VVerena Lasso Mena presented their research on "Unmasking Digital Threats in the Pursuit of Human Rights and Environmental Defense in La Guajira and Cesar, North Colombia", Dr Kaya de Wolff gave an insight into "Political Violence, Populism and Social Media in Brazil".
A particular highlight during the second conference day was the TraCe dialogue panel titled “ICT4Peace - The Role of Information and Communication Technology in (Digital) Peacebuilding”. Moderated by Prof. Dr Markus Lederer and Laura Guntrum, who also participated as a panelist, the dialogue panel specifically addressed the interested public beyond the academic sphere.
The panelists examined the possibilities and risks of digital peacebuilding and highlighted different aspects in regard to the needs of practictioners and scientific research. As such, panelists emphasized the potential of digital technologies in increasing access to peacuilding processes. Whereas Kerem Tugberk Capraz (Berghof Foundation) pointed to how even common technological products simplify connecting with stakeholders in peacebuilding processes by collecting stories and archiving them, Laura Guntrum adopted a gender perspective and highlighted how technology can enable larger community engagement particularly for women and marginalized communiites. Charles Martin-Shields (German Institute of Development and Sustainability) also stressed the inclusive potential of technology when working with refugees and displaced persons, yet also pointed towards the difficulties in bridging the gap between limitations at the institutional level and the creative and often very specific ways and needs of communities. Lastly, Fabian Hofmann (Geneva Graduate Institute) stressed the importance of gaining a critical distance to the appeal of digital technology. He pointed towards the materiality of technology that often already incorporates conflicts such as the environmental costs or human rights violations during production.
A recording of the dialogue panel is available on the TraCe YouTube Channel.