Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Bousquet on War and Simulation


At the group blog The Disorder of ThingsAntoine Bousquet (Birbeck College, University of London) offers some reflections on “Marshalling the Real: War and Simulation.”

Bousquet suggests that “simulation” can be understood in two, sometimes complimentary, ways. The first is a “signification which refers back to an older understanding of simulation and is a more etymologically faithful meaning of simulation in terms of deception, in terms of pretence, illusion, and false appearance.” The second and more modern sense of simulation is as  “the imitation of processes, situations and systems through the modelling of the internal characteristics and dynamics of that system and the formalisation of the constituent variables,” with which “comes a claim… to capturing some depth to whatever is being simulated, rather than simply its surface.” In this latter respect, he suggests, “the moment at which simulation actually appears, or at least when a crucial forerunner manifests itself, is with the invention of Kriegspiel in the early nineteenth century within the Prussian military corps.” This then grew more sophisticated in the context of modern 20th (and 21st) century military operations research. Technology has taken the process a step further too, such that “it is necessary to conceptualise the relation of simulation to the real beyond notions of pretence and illusion but also how entangled real and virtual have become (or perhaps always were).”

His piece makes short and interesting reading, especially in conjunction with Philipp von Hilgers’ War Games (which traces the evolution of Prussian Kriegspiel and other wargames in the context of the evolution of modern mathematics) and Sherry Turkle’s Simulation and its Discontents.


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