DFG-Project: Medialised Communication under Pressure

Medialised Communication under Pressure – Cultures of Command, Epistemic Practices, and Distributed Decision-making in Technically Mediated Warfare Communication

The project investigates medialized warfare communication as authentic and immediate practice of the participants involved. To do so it examines modern air support (drone strikes and manned air vehicles supporting ground troops) as well as modern ground combat. The focus is put on the question how in situations of high pressure of action and decision and in two different cultures of command (“mission-type tactics” of European armies vs. “command and control tactics” of North American armies), shared evidence and epistemic plausibility in relation to “the situation” is produced by the parties involved, ultimately leading to professional decisions about military action to be taken. In the pressurized situations of war such decisions must be taken immediately, be it through action or through refraining from action. Both entail vital consequences ranging from existential threats for the own or allied troops to own attacks potentially violating international law. In spite of their consequentiality, decision-making in situations of pressure remain epistemically and communicatively fragile. This is due to the fact that they almost always take place in environments that are hostile to communication (psychological and physiological stress; extreme time pressure; failure-prone technology; loud environment; staff members spread in continental distance; uncomplete information, etc.). The project aims at investigating the emergent micro-situations in which the medially connected personnel involved in attack missions takes decisions. These dynamics and contingencies were until recently regarded a “black box” due to difficulties of obtaining data. The aim of the project is therefore to make the social dynamics of attack missions accessible to science and to critique more generally, e.g. through identifying obligatory points of passage in the interactive negotiation of decisions that precede attacks. This will eventually lead to insights into these practices – thus bearing relevance for legal accounting and for political as well as ethical reflection. Furthermore, the project contributes to establishing the emergent field of micro sociological interaction research on warfare in the German-speaking space and to contextualizing it in social theory. In order to capture the social dynamics of “small decision with big consequences”, the project aims at reconstructing the sequentially of real war occurrences. To ensure encompassing and detailed empirical reconstruction in the highly professionalized and technologized field of military and warfare, the empirical work includes cooperation with professionals and senior researchers of this field.