Round table: Lost in Quantification? Armed Conflict Databases and Humanitarian Practices

Many of the most widely accepted accounts of the causes and dynamics of armed conflict have benefited from quantitative research, including those published in highly ranked academic outlets such as the Journal of Peace Research and the Journal of Conflict Resolution. Indeed, key results of conflict studies that enjoy influence among practitioners, journalists as well and scholars – such as the ‘Democratic Peace’ thesis – have been established after quantitative testing and refinement, while only a small percentage of the most frequently cited articles on the phenomena of peace, armed conflict, and war do not make use of quantitative methods.

Therefore, the main objective of this roundtable is to explore how humanitarian practices, studies, and representations are shaped (or not) by big data and quantitative analysis: To what extent does the quantification of conflict trend affects the humanitarian field? Do practitioners regularly rely on such analyses to inform their thinking on conflict? Does this quantification trend make sense and is useful for civil society actors and crisis-affected people? Can we detect differences in how conflict is understood by those who rely on ‘big data’ as opposed to those who base their assessments on qualitative, expert knowledge of a given region? What impact does quantification have on visions of conflict within the broader NGO community? What possible “futures” of conflict and related normative commitments do quantitative studies help to imagine and justify?

This roundtable is organized by the DATAWAR project from SciencesPo, exploring the impact of research practices in quantitative conflict analysis on perceptions of political violence by NGOs, political institutions, and the media, and the project HUM-GOV from the ISS of Erasmus University Rotterdam, studying how humanitarian governance accountability, advocacy, and ethical alternatives are shaped ‘from blow’ and in the interplay of different types of crisis and state-society-aid relations. This open roundtable seeks to provide an opportunity to bridge the perspectives of academics involved in these projects and practitioners interested in sharing their experiences with these tools and methods. 


Prof. Fredric Ramel & Dr. Rodrigo Mena 

Date and Time

Can be found in the Conference Programme.