The George and Irina Schaeffer Center for the Study of Genocide, Human Rights and Conflict Prevention

Figuring Memory: Tom Pettinger on Counter-Extremism

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Tom Pettinger

On Tuesday, February 15, 2021, the George and Irina Schaeffer Center for the Study of Genocide, Human Rights and Conflict Prevention held the fifth event in its series of monthly seminars for the 2021–22 academic year, titled “Figuring Memory: Social Practices and Collective Transformation.” The online event was organized in collaboration with Sarah Gensburger and Sandrine Lefranc at France’s national scientific research center, CNRS. Guest lecturer Dr. Tom Pettinger – a research fellow at the University of Warwick studying the intersection of critical security, geography and memory studies – spoke on the subject of “Landscapes of Collective Memory: The Contested Use of ‘Counter-Extremism’ in Post-Conflict Societies.” 

Pettinger’s presentation focused on how physical infrastructures and memories of violence in places affected by ongoing violence or terrorism campaigns result in violence and how this interferes with efforts to create peace. His doctoral research focuses on preventing violence by analyzing terrorism and turning to preemptive politics. He concentrated on the British experience of the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, which led to the creation of the British “Prevent” program. His research consisted of 50 interviews with Prevent officials, as well as Northern Irish peace workers and former combatants. By exploring the memory of the “Troubles” in cities in Ireland, Pettinger’s research shines a light on post-conflict societies being reluctant to accept the idea of countering violent extremism (CVE) programs.  

Pettinger argued that CVE programs are being put into motion across Europe as a quick fix to combat a vague understanding of terrorism. Still, societies that are affected by violence withstand the idea of these programs. Pettinger found that peace workers in particular feel that counter-extremism is “nonsense.” Through closely researching conflict memory, he revealed that the “counter-extremism” and “counter-radicalization” paradigm is not effective in terrorism prevention within societies that are affected by violence. His analysis of the collective memory of violence is crucial to understanding why violence continues today – and how we can make peace.  

Questions that are central to Pettinger’s research include: What does this resistance tell us, both about the places in question and about the utility of contemporary efforts to prevent violence? Can places that remember terrorism so widely (through social practices and physical landscapes) be made peaceable through counter-extremism programs like the UK's Prevent scheme? How is violence remembered? Why is it remembered in particular ways? And what possibilities does that memory produce? 

Significant contributions to this news piece were made by AUP student and Schaeffer Fellow, Michael Justice.