How Data Makes Us See And Expect War (DATAWAR)

Scientific Coordination

Sciences Po 
Frédéric Ramel (project coordinator)
- Louise Beaumais 
- Iris Lambert

Ecole Polytechnique (Linx)
- Thomas Lindemann (work package coordinator)
-  Grey Anderson

Sciences Po Lille (CERAPS)
- Eric Sangar (work package coordinator)
- Sami Makki


How are representations of violence influenced by the ‘agency of data’ – that is, the social practices of data collection and analysis in quantitative conflict studies?

Many of the most widely accepted accounts of the causes and dynamics of armed conflict have benefitted from quantitative research, long before the current debates on ‘big data’. The first large n databases ‘measuring’ conflict were built during the behaviourist turn of the 1960s. Since then, publications using large-n datasets have helped to bolster and specify new theoretical propositions such as the decline of interstate conflict since 1990 or the ‘democratic peace’ theses. Furthermore, political institutions, NGOs, and media increasingly rely on insights from quantitative studies to forecast armed conflict and adapt their analytical and normative stances

However, within the community itself, the validity of insights produced by positivist quantitative conflict research is more and more questioned. Criticism concern the validity of collected data, the quality of the mathematical models used for their statistical analysis, and the practices of dissemination through major scientific journals.

But how does the output of quantitative conflict research really influence practitioner perceptions of armed conflict? The existing political science literature mainly analyses how numbers are instrumentalized by governments to control populations and digitalize the battlefield. For example, quantitative data in international security is used for persuasion, (de)politicisation, and standardisa¬tion. What is missing in this literature are in-depth investigations of the ways in which scientific practices themselves, including the internal logics of data collection and academic publication, shape how practitioners perceive, interpret, and ‘predict’ armed conflict. 

The main research question of this project is therefore: how does the ‘agency’ of quantitative conflict data, understood here as the set of research practices associated with the generation, processing, analysis, and scientific dissemination of large n datasets on armed conflict, influence representations of war and resulting predictions and policy proposals in the media, political institutions, and NGOs?  

DATAWAR will realize the first systematic investigation of scientific practices in the field of quantitative conflict studies as well as their impact on practitioners’ representation of war, covering the full lifecycle of conflict data, from their collection over their analysis towards their use and dissemination by journalists, NGO representatives, and officials in three major countries actively involved in international crisis management: France, Germany, and the UK.

The project explores the hypothesis that the scientific output in quantitative conflict studies is less driven by theoretical innovation than by the ‘politics of data’, that is the availability, reputation, and mathematical malleability of numerical observations of conflict. As a result, we anticipate that perceptions of conflict developed by practitioners who use quantitative conflict research are prone to misperceptions caused by the nature of the available data, by the type of mathematical models used to analyse and potentially ‘predict’ conflict, and by the reliance on a selective subset of available theoretical approaches.

Type of project

Septembre 2020 : WEBINAR de lancement de DATAWAR en ligne.

Octobre 2021 : “Lost in quantification ? Armed Conflict Databases and Humanitarian Practices”, panel organisé dans le cadre de la Conférence de l’International Humanitarian Studies Association organisée à Sciences Po Paris.

Décembre 2021 : Workshop « Datawar » organisé par l’École Polytechnique.

Novembre 2022 : Participation au symposium du Centre de crise de l'université de la Bundeswehr à Munich.

Décembre 2022 : Participation à un colloque en tant qu’invités par Sorbonne université sur le thème Data and sustainable development.

Juin 2023 : Participation au Workshop “Practices of Crisis Management”, King’s College London.

Septembre 2023 : “Data on War or Data for War? How quantitative data may change perceptions of armed conflict and influence senses of ontological (in)security”, Panel organisé dans le cadre de l’European International Studies Association Congress (EISA), Potsdam.

Octobre 2023 : Participation à l’IUS Armed Forces and Society, Reston à Washington D.C.

Décembre 2023 : Colloque de clôture du programme DATAWAR à Sciences Po Lille. 


Datawar. (2022). “Bons chiffres, fausses prédictions ? Pourquoi la guerre en Ukraine a pris l’Europe par surprise”, La Vie des idées

Anderson, G. (2023). “Weapon of power, matrix of management: NATO’s hegemonic formula,” New Left ReviewII:140/141 (March-June 2023), 5-34.  

Beaumais, L. (2023). “Les systèmes d’alerte précoce ou l’illusion de l’objectivation”. Cités, (3), 83-96. 

 Beaumais, L. (2023). “Do humanitarian workers really trust numbers? An assessment of the use of quantitative data in the humanitarian field”. Journal of Humanitarian Affairs, 5(1), 24-36. 

Beaumais, L. & Ramel, F. (2023) “Diplomats, soldiers, and armed conflict databases: Another French exception?”, Global Studies Quarterly, 3(2). 

Lindemann, T. (2022). “Vers une dé-réification de « l’intérêt » dans l’analyse des conflits”. Cultures & Conflits, 137-152.  

Lindemann, T. (2023) “Theorising danger or dangerous theories? Positivist data and the making of the China threat”. PARISS: Political Anthropological Research on International Social Sciences, 1-21. 

Lindemann, T. Anderson G. (2023) “Worlds of datawar”, PARISS : Political Anthropological Research on International Social Sciences, 4, 5-22. (Paris 4.1)

Sangar, E. (à paraitre en 2024). “Sécuriser l’avenir pour mieux militariser le présent ? Le projet de la Red Team du ministère des Armées français”, Cultures & Conflits (manuscrit accepté pour publication) 

Ouvrage à paraître 

DATAWAR. Quantifying International Conflicts. Data on War or Data for War. Palgrave MacMillan, Contrat signé en juillet 2023 pour une remise du manuscrit au printemps 2024. 

A destination des praticiens

Policy Briefing - Datawar 2023


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