Trajectories of Conflict: The Dynamics of Argumentation in the UN Security Council

Lead Research Organisation: University of Dundee
Department Name: Computing

Abstract

Conflict is inherently dynamic. Positions morph, contexts change, factions and allegiances realign, and even when everything else appears to be in stasis, there is change in the language used to express conflict - in the framings and nuances and emotions. Our aim is to understand this dynamism and to test that understanding at scale.

We will develop novel, integrative theory and then apply that theory both to understand ways in which conflict is presented linguistically and also how it evolves, not just in terms of its underlying positions but also in its presentation. We eschew domain- or theme-specific conflict, and instead site our study within the foremost venue for conflict of the highest level and greatest import: the UN Security Council. Rather than focus on a single issue or region or period of the Security Council, our goal is to work with the entirety of its activity in which significant conflict is presented: a dataset of almost one million words. Across the 25 years of almost daily meetings, our techniques will offer insight both to geopolitical analysts and to the general public into how conflicts at the Council emerge and evolve, combining analysis of local discourse features such as vagueness and emotionality with structural features such as justification-giving and patterns of reasoning, and finally considering how positions in conflict are framed. Across all of these aspects there are interacting dynamics, which our theory of conflict trajectories aims to understand so that it will become possible for the first time to map the language of conflict simultaneously in great detail and at very large scale.

This is the first time that the techniques of big data have driven the study of the language of conflict. Though we will bring such computational techniques to bear, our focus is on delivering the foundational theory, the analytical techniques and the dataset resources that can subsequently underpin future computational research and indeed into applied innovation delivering value for scholars of political science, international relations and as well as for professionals working in diplomacy and geopolitical analysis and ultimately the general public.

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