Texas Tech professor Ori Swed works to educate others about conflict, puts together important event to address its varied impacts.
For as long as he can remember, Ori Swed has been interested in conflict. Much of his work has focused on understanding it in hopes of eventually seeing it erupt less around the world.
“Conflict can be a very disruptive force within a community,” said Swed, an assistant professor in Texas Tech University's Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work. “It continuously affects people and their interpretation of the world and themselves long after the shooting stops. It is an important and interesting human phenomenon that affects people all over the world.”
While Russia's February 2022 invasion of Ukraine continues to receive most of the attention from the global community, conflict is upending at least a dozen other countries. From civil wars in Ethiopia, Somalia, Syria and Yemen to terrorist insurgencies and drug wars in Colombia, Mexico, Nigeria and Sudan, swaths of the world are awash in conflict.
“I grew up in Israel and saw firsthand the complexity and impact of conflict on societies, economies and the life experiences of individuals,” he said. “It drove me to explore those social forces and the rationale behind them.”
Toward that end, Swed has organized the War and Society Mini-Conference that will be held in Philadelphia on Aug. 17. The event will be held during the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association and will feature presentations from experts on a wide range of topics. Each year, the ASA meeting draws thousands of people from all around the world for what is considered one of the most important gathering within the discipline.
“It will include a really broad discussion of why humans fight before narrowing to topics such as radicalization and violence in terrorism,” he said. “We will talk about civilians and communities and how they correspond as well as veterans and reintegration into society and human rights. These are experts in the field, and their work translates into actual policy.”
In addition to his work at Texas Tech, Swed is the director of the Peace, War & Social Conflict Lab housed within the sociology department. The lab provides students with the opportunity to sharpen research-related skills and tackle real-world problems.
Prior to transitioning to higher education, he worked as a private consultant in the high-tech sector.
“I specialize in security and work a lot on emerging security trends,” he said. “I have done extensive research in the area of military security companies and the study of drone usage by violent nonstate actors such as mercenaries, militias and terrorists.”
Conflict has become more widespread as people and nations are more interconnected and interdependent than ever before, meaning students today need to understand causes, historical influences and other underlying factors that can spark skirmishes that sometimes mushroom into all-out war.
“I think the war in Ukraine illustrates to us that violent conflict is here to stay,” he said. “Unfortunately, it does not suddenly disappear. We have this war, and we see how it is disrupting the economy, the supply chain and politics. We need expertise that will help us better understand and explain it.”
Swed said this is the same approach he employs with students, working to instill in them an appreciation for huge issues that may seem far away but actually can have local impact.
‘Reality is not black and white,” he said. “It is complicated and has more than one interpretation and one solution. Explaining and discussing global issues is always a challenge. We live in our own little bubbles and often we do not have a relevant reference to events happening on the other side of the globe. The key is greater exposure to world events and processes.”
To some extent, that falls under Texas Tech's responsibilities as a Carnegie Tier One Research University.
“This is one of the biggest events in sociology all over the world,” he said. ‘When you are an R-1, you play internationally. You are not just competing with other institutions in Texas. You are competing with Tokyo, with Berlin, with Tel Aviv. It's a different ball game.”
Likewise, so is war and the toll it can take on a civilization.
“War is a dramatic event,” he said. “The experts coming to this conference are experts in the study of this phenomenon. They explain why it happens, how it happens, how people experience it and what happens in the aftermath.”
The mini-conference will take place in the Friends Center at the Quaker Hub for Peace and Justice.