Seeking answers in times of crisis: navigating current pitfalls of conflict research and practice

Research reports and studies
March 2016

In March 2016, bombs detonated in Turkey, Belgium and Pakistan. In Côte d’Ivoire, gunmen killed 19 people on a beach. Nigeria experienced a suicide attack. These events have provoked questions and swift analysis: why Brussels? Why Istanbul? Who knew what about developments in Côte d’Ivoire? Could the attack in Nigeria have been prevented? How? Why was it not?

Questions about violence and its consequences are becoming ever more pressing. Yet, despite increased spending, more sophisticated analysis and information gathering and an emphasis on better practice to prevent and transform violent conflict, violence seems to be increasing. The UK's new aid strategy attempts to respond to this trend by, somewhat tenuously, linking violent extremism to the lack of certain types of development assistance.

The securitisation of aid is nothing new, but linking development and violence creates new challenges for knowledge and practice. It highlights that pressing questions are not yet answered: what exactly are the causes of extremism, and is extremism clearly defined? What is the nature of specific violent conflicts?

The argument presented here is that the missing answers to these questions are rooted in current pitfalls of how violent conflict is perceived, understood and addressed. This report explores the pitfalls for research and practice that these dilemmas create and suggests four approaches that researchers and implementers of conflict resolution programmes can use to navigate these pitfalls.