Event: Announcing Keynote speakers – Understanding Conflict – June 2015


Keynote announcement

Understanding Conflict: Research, ideas and responses to security threats

University of Bath 8 – 11 June 2015

Keynote speakers include:

  • Max Blumenthal (Author Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel); 
  • Professor John Esposito (Georgetown University) on Islamophobia;
  • Dr. Mark Hayes (Southampton Solent) on Academia and the Security State in Britain: Liverpool University – A Case Study in Collusion;
  • Professor Jenny Hocking (Monash University) on Counter- terrorism;
  • Professor Deepa Kumar (Rutgers University) on Mediating Racism: The New McCarthyites and the Matrix of Islamophobia;
  • Professor Arun Kundnani (New York University) on The War on Terror and the University: Racism, Empire, and Surveillance;
  • Norman Finkelstein (author Method and Madness: the hidden story behind Israel’s assault on Gaza) on Whither the “peace process”?;
  • Professor Jeremy Keenan (School of Oriental and African Studies) on State terrorism and state accountability in the transformation of “terrorism” in the Sahara during the GWOT;
  • Professor David Price (St. Martin’s University) on Questioning Our agency Inside Agencies: Rethinking the Possibility of Scholars’ Critical Contributions to Security Agencies;
  • Marc Sageman, M.D, Ph.D (former CIA Operations Officer; Sageman Consulting LLC) on How to think about terrorism? A historiography;
  • Professor Jeff Goodwin (New York University) on Problems in the Study of State Terrorism: The Question of Intent;
  • Dr. Salman Sayyid (University of Leeds) on Democracy and Diversity and the Politics of De-Radicalisation;
  • Professor Christopher Simpson (American University) on Propaganda, Ritual and Structural Violence.



Conflict defines the contemporary era. The attacks of 9/11 still cast a long shadow over foreign and domestic policy agendas in the UK and many other countries.  The 2001 attacks led to the launch of the ‘Global War on Terror’, with invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as a host of other military interventions by NATO powers.

The impact of these interventions have been more complex and widespread than most supporters or opponents anticipated. Instability and conflict in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa have been part of the legacy, with the tragedies of Afghanistan, Gaza, Iraq and Syria of particular note.  The ‘Global War on Terror’ also saw the creation of worldwide networks of ‘extraordinary rendition’, with the attendant questions of human rights abuses and torture, whilst sweeping changes to security policies have impacted on everyday life and civil liberties.

The various ramifications of the ‘Global War on Terror’ have challenged the status of a variety of ethnic minorities, including Muslims and Jews, and raised important questions about identity and belonging, and over whether there is a ‘clash of civilisations’. The rise of right wing populism in the context of widespread controversy over migration has changed the political landscape with the rise of UKIP in the UK, and the radical right and anti Muslim parties across Europe. On the streets, the English Defence League has been but a local element of an international ‘counterjihad’ movement.  Meanwhile, the Israel-Palestine question has come to renewed prominence as campaigns for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions and Israeli attacks on the Occupied Territories interact.

The Understanding Conflict conference seeks to address important questions about conflict in the contemporary world and to interrogate the role of research and advocacy in understanding and responding to it.  The conference is organised around five major themes.

1.     Expertise and knowledge about terrorism.

This strand will focus on the production of ideas about terrorism:

  • What ideas and theories can give us insight to understanding terrorism?
  • How do academic research institutes and think tanks engage in knowledge production about terrorism and conflict?
  • What role do neoconservative, pro-Israel and Islamophobic campaign groups play in influencing public debate, policy and practice?
  • What is the role of the military, intelligence and policing agencies, or civil servants and politicians?
  • Is there such a thing as an expert in terrorism? How and why do ‘charlatans’ gain prominence and in which domains?
  • How is expertise in terrorism funded?  What accountability is there in such funds?

2.   Islamophobia, racism and the counterjihad

  • What is meant by the term Islamophobia? How well does it explain anti-Muslim racism?
  • How and why has the security of Muslim communities in the West been threatened by the ‘Global War on Terror’?
  • How have official counter-radicalisation policies, neoconservatism, and the Israel Palestine question affected the status of Muslims in the West?
  • How has the politics of the ‘Global War on Terror’ shaped racialisation processes?
  • How should we understand the new right wing anti-Muslim movements such as the counterjihad movement?
  1. Conflict, terrorism and governance

Understanding armed conflict and political violence requires focused social scientific attention. This strand focuses on how we understand and research political violence and ‘terrorism’.

  • How do we define ‘terror’ and ‘state terrorism’?
  • How are boundaries between legitimate and illegitimate violence drawn?
  • What is the legacy of past conflicts in shaping the dynamics of conflict today?
  • How have techniques of governance, and indeed the concept of governance itself, shaped or changed how we deal with conflict today?
  • What role do digital technologies play?

4.    Propaganda to Twitter revolutions: How should we think about organised persuasive communication?

The study of ‘propaganda’ has declined in the top communication journals. But work on organisational persuasive communication has expanded, especially in relation to conflict in society. This strand examines the use of organised persuasive communication by participants engaged in conflict:

  • Is ‘propaganda’ a useful term today
  • How can the history of organised persuasive communication help us to understand contemporary conflict?
  • Propaganda and persuasive communications are often thought of as matters of discourse and consent separate from ‘kinetic’ power.  Is this justified?  Should theories of organised persuasive communication also be able to explain coercive and non-consensual aspects of communications?
  • How does work on the ‘new media ecology’ or ‘framing’ analysis help or hinder understanding of organised persuasive communication?
  • What is the role of intelligence agencies in contemporary propaganda campaigns?
  • How is the inherent uncertainty of intelligence reports used by politicians and others in communicative campaigns, and with what outcomes
  • Does the advent of the internet and instantaneous communications mean the end of secrecy? Can publics and politicians now form accurate views on what is done in their name, and for their protection?
  • The case of WMD in Iraq and the alleged connection of the Iraqi regime with al Qaeda are touchstone examples of what is held to be wrong with government communications. What other cases can be examined and with what consequence?

5.    Researching conflict: Ethics, funding and research partnerships from Camelot to Minerva and beyond.

  • What are the ethical issues faced in empirical research on conflict and terrorism?
  • Do researchers put themselves at risk in studying such matters? How does society benefit, if at all?
  • What are the lessons to be learnt from well known incidents like Project Camelot, or more recent problems in the relationship between research sponsors, researchers and the researched?
  • In what circumstances should academic researchers collaborate with government agencies or opposition groups?
  • What methods can be used to study terrorism?
  • Are new methods opening up new possibilities?  How do digital methods, social media, big data and social network affecting the study of terrorism and political violence?

Proposals for papers, panels and workshops are welcome from academics, independent scholars, policy actors, journalists and advocacy groups. We especially welcome collaborative sessions involving policy, media or NGO participants.

A number of publications are planned to come from the conference.  Please indicate if you do not wish your paper to be considered for subsequent publication.

The conference gratefully acknowledge the support of the ESRC, Islam Expo and the Institute of Policy Research at the University of Bath.

The conference will be held at the University of Bath, Claverton Down, Bath.

Please email abstracts of no more than 300 words to expertiseinterrorism@bath.ac.uk by 31st January 2015.

Deadline for Submissions:                                   13th February 2015

Submissions by email to:                                    expertiseinterrorism@bath.ac.uk


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