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Is conflict prevention a science, craft, or art? Moving beyond technocracy and wishful thinking

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
JournalGlobal Affairs
Early online date25 Oct 2018
Accepted/In press1 Oct 2018
E-pub ahead of print25 Oct 2018


King's Authors


Conflict prevention is currently experiencing a new wave of political interest, in the United Nations, the European Union and countries like Germany. By distinguishing and elaborating three ideal-type approaches to the study of conflict prevention as science, craft, or art, we argue that key lessons from 20 years of conflict prevention practice and research have not been learned yet. Official documents and parts of the literature are too often confined to a technocratic understanding of conflict prevention drawing on positivist conflict forecasting (science) and toolbox approaches to ‘what works’ when (craft). Moreover, wishful thinking affects the expected influence of external actors as well as warning response dynamics within organisations. Drawing on extensive research involving multiple cases and actors, we elaborate on how the ‘art’ dimension of conflict prevention is important to understanding and meeting conflict prevention challenge in three important fields: forecasting and early warning, organisational and decision-making structures, and diplomacy and engagement strategies. The paper argues for paying closer attention to informal, individual, and political dimensions of prevention and a more fine-grained understanding of how art, craft and science approaches can complement each other.

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