Zentrum für interdisziplinäre Forschung

ZiF Workshop

Small Arms – Big Business. Trading Small Arms: Political, Cultural and Ethical Dimensions in Historical and Global Perspective

Date: 8 - 10 June 2017

Convenors: Dagmar Ellerbrock (Dresden, GER), Angelika Epple (Bielefeld, GER), Felix Brahm (London, GBR)

Small arms are causing more deaths than any other weapon in conflicts today. But due to their relatively low share in the total trade volume of weapons, they have often been overlooked. This makes it particularly important to gain a deeper understanding of the small arms trade. On the invitation of Dagmar Ellerbrock (Technical University Dresden), Angelika Epple (Bielefeld University), and Felix Brahm (German Historical Institute London), experts from different academic fields, from all over the world met at the ZiF to discuss their research on the small arms trade, and its various implications and regulations in a global and historical perspective. The three-day conference aimed at connecting different fields of research but also at initiating an informed debate on this pressing political issue, which is long overdue. Researchers were particularly encouraged 1) to bring together debates on small arms trade not only from their own disciplines, but also the specifics of the arms trade in the regions of their research, 2) to shed light on the global and local entanglements of the arms trade, and 3) to analyze the historical, cultural, and ethical dimensions of the arms trade.

To approach the topic of small arms trade is not an easy task for academics, since it has often been a hidden business performed in backrooms. However, on the five panels of this conference, researchers from various disciplines - with their topics covering a wide range of world regions - shared their insights into this multi-faceted business: the marketing and discursive strategies of arms dealers, the practices of channeling and controlling the trade, as well as the political, economic, and juridical setting of different arms trading cultures. Furthermore, emphasis was put on the moral dimension of the small arms trade. To fuel the discussion, the conference also included an evening program with presentations and discussion of artistic and journalistic approaches to the subject.

The conference has demonstrated that the global small arms trade is a multifaceted issue that needs to be tackled from different methodological angles. Perspectives towards an interdisciplinary approach have been outlined, and the necessity of reliable data sets have been stressed, which might be gained in proceeding cooperation, especially between historians and colleagues from the social sciences. Furthermore, questions of moralizing markets have been identified as a promising field of future research to better understand the asymmetric entanglement of local, national, and global settings that characterize the small arms business.


Michael Brzoska (Hamburg, GER), Brian DeLay (Berkeley, USA), Aaron Karp (Norfolk, USA), Paul-Marie Manière (Hamburg, GER), Nicholas Marsh (Oslo, NOR), Ritu Mathur (San Antonio, USA), Dorothea Möwitz (Dresden, GER), Thomas Müller (Bielefeld, GER), Carlos A. Pérez Ricart (Berlin, GER), Dorothea Schmidt (Berlin, GER), Daniel Stahl (Jena, GER), Christiane Steigel (Dresden, GER), Nobuo Tajima (Tokio, JPN), Stefanie van de Kerkhof (Heidelberg, GER), Klaus Weinhauer (Bielefeld, GER), Alexander Yablon (New York, USA), Katsuhiko Yokoi (Tokio, JPN), Lili Zhu (Bielefeld, GER)

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