International Research Network

Cultures of Intervention


Much theoretical background of our works is derived from theories of Pierre Bourdieu (on Algeria, and on the construction of habitus). Pierre Bourdieu has developed a scientific framework for the analysis of those changes and conflicts when he was studying the effects of French policies in Algeria in the 1960s. His insights and methods have rarely been utilized for the study of contemporary interventions yet. The research network Cultures of Interventions aims at bringing back a more sociological and ethnographical approach in the study of today’s interventions.

This research has already produced a number of thesis in the context of ongoing research:

  1. Interventions produce changes in the social texture of both interveners and intervened. The dynamics of interaction among intervend and interveners are likely to change norms, rules and customary habits among all parties, foremost the intervened.
  2. The interaction of interveners and intervened produces a society of intervention. This is the specific condition for follow-up conflicts. The issue of violence and embedded and dis-embedded rules for conflict-management become pivotal aspects of interest.
  3. Follow-up conflicts in a society of intervention are signs of changes, which are being perceived as dangerous for the social status and the identity. It is relevant to know whether there are different habitus confronting each other, and whether there is a joint (collusive) habitus of intervention emerging.
  4. The subjective intensity of perceived threats to identity is different from the objective potential of such threats. Thus, security has to be reconceptualised.
  5. Subjectively perceived threats lead towards the legitimising of extraordinary measures or actions; possibly to direct violence. The relation between emergency and normalcy (for a society or particular groups) is of high importance for research and conflict resolution.
  6. The introduction of new concepts by the interveners (such as elective democracy or rule of law) often leads to (a) a hybridisation of pre-existing and new structures and (b) a lagging behind of social practices rooted in the lifeworld in relation to the fast changing set-up on system level (which Bourdieu calls Hysteresis)

Such research, focusing on the societies rather than the state, calls for a methodological approach distinct from the classical studies of political scientists that have so far dominated the research landscape on international interventions.
Our research-design provides an indispensable sensitivity for historical, political, and social effects on perception and behaviour, which are often lost in quantitative analysis. A representative picture of the conflicts in the societies is not the aim of the project. Rather than revealing the objective, “true” core of these conflicts, the data of the field studies makes visible how different perceptions and constructions of social reality lead to secondary conflicts—and not political ideologies, tactical mistakes, or strategies of empowerment. This can be achieved by a research-design that derives from the subjective accounting about a conflict by the involved actors the underlying ways of perceiving the social reality.

For data gathering, we use and combine

  • open and qualitative interviews (with decision-makers, local researchers and analysts, ordinary community members, political and religious leaders etc.)
  • Group dicussions
  • Field work and observation
  • Secondary analyses of pre-existing sources (social statistics, opinion polls, newspaper articles, fieldwork and ethnographic accounts of other researchers; inductive procedures are being recognized as valuable approaches)

The methods are, as always in qualitative procedures, bound to the ethical and methodological transparency of the researchers. This plays a role in our design of research to avoid false ‘objectivism’, as we acknowledge that the researchers themselves are part of the culture of intervention.

Throughout a long process of data analysis and generating categories we want to know how the texture of the new society and the subsequent development of a culture is being perceived and entering the discourse, from which the interveners cannot be excluded.

Since using the approaches by Pierre Bourdieu, the major difficulty on the methodological level is that Pierre Bourdieus habitus concept cannot be investigated by a direct objectivist approach, since it “is” only subconscious; the categories by which we deconstruct the subtexts in order to reveal the habitus may thus never be taken directly from the observation, lest we would get too many artefacts and we would reproduce mainly the common sense judgement about the society or respective group. Therefore, we will apply categories, which we have already won or are going to develop from critical discourse analysis (CDA) . On the other side, habitus (plural) and their explications do not explain everything. Much of the projects investigations will be based on established conflict theories and peace-building practices. This interface will be important for all investigations and conclusions; the reference to a peace- and conflict research field on almost recent level is given by the composition of the project team and our methodological foci.

Therefore one of our main research ethics is to shift from “researching about” to “researching with”. Research is conducted in close cooperation and strongly enriched by our local partners in the various societies we are studying. By consulting them during preparation, implementation and writing-up of research projects, as well as including them in field-work teams and advisory projects, we enrich our own horizons.

We are in close exchange with the major networks of peace&conflict studies and with research groups within the target societies and as well as “at home”. We work with leading anthropologists in the field. There is a close link with graduate students who do their doctoral work in the context of societies of Intervention or have started to write their theses.  This close cooperation forms the foundation for our international research network