Visual Peacetech: Digital Visual Images as Security-Building Tools
“What could happen if developments in digital technology, visual art-making processes and security practices were by design directed at achieving sustaining peace? Could we, then, rightfully speak of ‘peace technology’ - or even ‘visual peace technology’ - as enhancing experiences of security for people in conflict-affected communities? What would the role of digital visual images be in such peace work?
These questions, in their first and most basic form, appeared in my head as, partly due to the pandemic, I found myself increasingly immersed in digital technologies in general and, as my interests go, digital visual art-making. The questions eventually turned into a research plan, which is now the basis of my PhD project summarized here...”
Yelyzaveta (Lisa) Glybchenko
While peace technology (peactech) is a new phenomenon in peace work, the Crisis Management Initiative (CMI) is already estimating Finland as having robust potential to become the world’s peacetech leader due to its prominent role in peace mediation and technology innovation as well as the “sufficiently neutral” status on the international arena (1). At its current early stages of conceptualization and operationalization, peacetech is defined as “using digital technology to positively influence peace processes” (2). At the same time, research points to the dubious potential of technology in the realms of international relations and peace work, showing how destructive it can also be (3). Similarly two-sided has been the well-researched role of images in peace and conflict. With a particular interest in the intersections between digitality and visuality in technology for peace, this project explores the more-than-visual qualities of digital images in relation to security.
The project explores the conceptual and practical potential of employing digital visual images as security-building tools within peace processes. Through a series of empirical studies, including development of an original piece of peacetech to facilitate mixed-media artistic transformation of images, the project studies both digital and visual qualities of images to enhance our understanding of what digital visual images can be and what they can do in relation to security as part of peace. With equal fascination and rigour, the project explores the risks which may form at the intersections of technology, art, peace and security if digital visual images were employed as tools to enhance security. Another interest within the study is the so far elusive normative basis of thinking about and using such images for constructive change in the realms of peace and security.
This research project is the first systematic study of digital visual images in peacetech. Both the academic and artistic outcomes of the project will serve to enhance our understanding of digital visuality, security and peace work. The methodologically inclined studies within the project will also be insightful for practitioners looking to include digital images into their practices in the fields of peace work, art, visual communication, politics and social work.
Sources of Practical and Conceptual Inspiration
Thinking about the research design of Visual Peacetech was largely inspired by the Post-Visual Security Project, which “investigates the more-than-visual qualities of digital images, and shows through empirical studies how digital images in contemporary security practice do much more than show things” (project by Rune Saugmann Andersen) (4).
Each study within Visual Peacetech is based off of and inspired by a practical project and presents original transformations of digital visual images, performed by the researcher and possibly/sometimes the studies’ intellectual companions (as research participants are ethically called in the study).
One of the starting points for Visual Peacetech has been the informal visual art-for-peace project Color Up Peace, started by the researcher / contact person in 2016. The project invites participants to submit photos of what peace is to them, which are later turned into coloring pages for others to interact with the visions of peace and transform them. The digital art behind and the lessons learned from Color Up Peace were exigent in developing the research design of Visual Peacetech. Presented below is an example of the concept of the visual transformation as it happens in Color Up Peace (out of ethical considerations, the researcher included below a photo she took, transformed into an outline and partly colored herself):
The next projects Visual Peacetech will build on will also be mentioned here as Visual Peacetech develops.
Project Development So Far:
Some thoughts from Visual Peacetech won the writing contest of the 2021 YATA Nordic Security Conference NorSec "The Arab Spring: A Decade Later". Read “Strategic Non-Violence and Security Constellation through Photographs and Coloring Pages: Ten Years After the Arab Spring” as YATA’s insight of the Month for April 2021 (5).
References and notes:
(1) Klinge, H. (2020). Digital technologies and peace mediation — Can Finland drive peacetech development?. CMI. Retrieved from http://cmi.fi/2020/09/17/digital-technologies-and-peace-mediation-can-finland-drive-peacetech-development/
(2) CMI peacetech manager J. Harlander, CMI & Salesforce l Peace Tech Webinar, 2020.
(3) see e.g. Der Derian, J. (2003). The Question of Information Technology in International Relations. Millennium - Journal of International Studies. 32 (3): 441–56. https://doi.org/10.1177/03058298030320030501.
(4) Saugmann,R. Post-Visual Security. Visual Studies Lab. Retrieved from https://research.tuni.fi/visualstudieslab/projects/post-visual-security/
(5) I originally tried out the collaging exercise with the Youth Peace Ambassadors Network (Peace Webinars Series July 10, 2020) - using mostly other visuals.
ORCID ID: 0000-0002-3875-3054