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'A culture of prevention': the idea of preventability and the construction of war as a governance object

Rodehau-Noack, Johanna (2022) 'A culture of prevention': the idea of preventability and the construction of war as a governance object. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004423


War and conflict were seen as inevitable, justifiable and productive for centuries, yet today conflict prevention is a core item on the agendas of major international actors. This thesis grapples with how the notion of war as preventable became dominant in international discourse. I argue that for policy to be oriented towards prevention, war needed to be constructed as a problem of international governance. How problems of international politics are constructed matters because such processes determine what a problem is and how it has to be resolved. Using archival material, I show that war was constructed as a problem in three interlocking processes that rendered it undesirable but calculable and, therefore, ultimately governable. This thesis documents these three processes of war’s construction as a governance problem. Firstly, early Christian pacifists designated war as a cataclysmic phenomenon that constitutes the opposite of ‘peace’ and is knowable through science. Secondly, by translating war into statistics, scholars made war comparable across time and space. Thirdly, activists and policymakers problematised war by associating it with existing issues like Christian morality, the civilisational telos, and cost-benefit rationality. From these associations derives the imperative to prevent war because it is both inherently objectionable and has undesirable effects. The representation of war as a governance object is embedded in a broader set of binaries that tied ‘war’ to barbarism and ‘peace’ to civilisation. The argument thus shows how the idea of prevention relies on scientific developments of modernity and its cosmological location in European thought. I close with a speculative discussion of a martial ecological perspective, which abandons the binary conception of war and peace. As it suspends the belief in modernist problem solving and instead advocates to affirm the world as it is, I argue that this approach makes the concept of prevention obsolete. Considering the ethical stakes, I suggest worlding as an ethical alternative to affirmation.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2022 Johanna Rodehau-Noack
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
J Political Science > JZ International relations
Sets: Departments > International Relations
Supervisor: Ainley, Kirsten and Lake, Milli

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