University of Pennsylvania Press

The Ethnography of Political Violence

Tobias Kelly, Series Editor

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

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The Ethnography of Political Violence

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Kabul Carnival

Gender Politics in Postwar Afghanistan

By Julie Billaud

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the plight of Afghan women under Taliban rule was widely publicized in the United States as one of the humanitarian issues justifying intervention. Kabul Carnival explores the contradictions, ambiguities, and unintended effects of the emancipatory projects for Afghan women designed and imposed by external organizations. Building on embodiment and performance theory, this evocative ethnography describes Afghan women's responses to social anxieties about identity that have emerged as a result of the military occupation.

Offering one of the first long-term on-the-ground studies since the arrival of allied forces in 2001, Julie Billaud introduces readers to daily life in Afghanistan through portraits of women targeted by international aid policies. Examining encounters between international experts in gender and transitional justice, Afghan civil servants and NGO staff, and women unaffiliated with these organizations, Billaud unpacks some of the paradoxes that arise from competing understandings of democracy and rights practices. Kabul Carnival reveals the ways in which the international community's concern with the visibility of women in public has ultimately created tensions and constrained women's capacity to find a culturally legitimate voice.

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Karaoke Fascism

Burma and the Politics of Fear

By Monique Skidmore

To come to Burma, one of the few places where despotism still dominates, is to take both a physical and an emotional journey and, like most Burmese, to become caught up in the daily management of fear. Based on Monique Skidmore's experiences living in the capital city of Rangoon, Karaoke Fascism is the first ethnography of fear in Burma and provides a sobering look at the psychological strategies employed by the Burmese people in order to survive under a military dictatorship that seeks to invade and dominate every aspect of life.

Skidmore looks at the psychology and politics of fear under the SLORC and SPDC regimes. Encompassing the period of antijunta student street protests, her work describes a project of authoritarian modernity, where Burmese people are conscripted as army porters and must attend mass rallies, chant slogans, construct roads, and engage in other forms of forced labor. In a harrowing portrayal of life deep within an authoritarian state, recovering heroin addicts, psychiatric patients, girl prostitutes, and poor and vulnerable women in forcibly relocated townships speak about fear, hope, and their ongoing resistance to four decades of oppression.

"Karaoke fascism" is a term the author uses to describe the layers of conformity that Burmese people present to each other and, more important, to the military regime. This complex veneer rests on resistance, collaboration, and complicity, and describes not only the Burmese form of oppression but also the Burmese response to a life of domination. Providing an inside look at the madness and the militarization of the city, Skidmore argues that the weight of fear, the anxiety of constant vulnerability, and the numbing demands of the State upon individuals force Burmese people to cast themselves as automata; they deliberately present lifeless hollow bodies for the State's use, while their minds reach out into the cosmos for an array of alternate realities. Skidmore raises ethical and methodological questions about conducting research on fear when doing so evokes the very emotion in question, in both researcher and informant.

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Landscape of Hope and Despair

Palestinian Refugee Camps

By Julie Peteet

Nearly half of the world's eight million Palestinians are registered refugees, having faced partition and exile. Landscape of Hope and Despair examines this refugee experience in Lebanon through the medium of spatial practices and identity, set against the backdrop of prolonged violence. Julie Peteet explores how Palestinians have dealt with their experience as refugees by focusing attention on how a distinctive Palestinian identity has emerged from and been informed by fifty years of refugee history. Concentrating ethnographic scrutiny on a site-specific experience allows the author to shed light on the mutually constitutive character of place and cultural identification.

Palestinian refugee camps are contradictory places: sites of grim despair but also of hope and creativity. Within these cramped spaces, refugees have crafted new worlds of meaning and visions of the possible in politics. In the process, their historical predicament was a point of departure for social action and thus became radically transformed. Beginning with the calamity of 1948, Landscape of Hope and Despair traces the dialectic of place and cultural identification through the initial despair of the 1950s and early 1960s to the tumultuous days of the resistance and the violence of the Lebanese civil war and its aftermath. Most significantly, this study invokes space, place, and identity to construct an alternative to the received national narratives of Palestinian society and history.

The moving stories told here form a larger picture of these refugees as a people struggling to recreate their sense of place and identity and add meaning to their surroundings through the use of culture and memory.

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Liberia

The Violence of Democracy

By Mary H. Moran

Liberia, a small West African country that has been wracked by violence and civil war since 1989, seems a paradoxical place in which to examine questions of democracy and popular participation. Yet Liberia is also the oldest republic in Africa, having become independent in 1847 after colonization by an American philanthropic organization as a refuge for "Free People of Color" from the United States. Many analysts have attributed the violent upheaval and state collapse Liberia experienced in the 1980s and 1990s to a lack of democratic institutions and long-standing patterns of autocracy, secrecy, and lack of transparency. Liberia: The Violence of Democracy is a response, from an anthropological perspective, to the literature on neopatrimonialism in Africa.

Mary H. Moran argues that democracy is not a foreign import into Africa but that essential aspects of what we in the West consider democratic values are part of the indigenous African traditions of legitimacy and political process. In the case of Liberia, these democratic traditions include institutionalized checks and balances operating at the local level that allow for the voices of structural subordinates (women and younger men) to be heard and be effective in making claims. Moran maintains that the violence and state collapse that have beset Liberia and the surrounding region in the past two decades cannot be attributed to ancient tribal hatreds or neopatrimonial leaders who are simply a modern version of traditional chiefs. Rather, democracy and violence are intersecting themes in Liberian history that have manifested themselves in numerous contexts over the years.

Moran challenges many assumptions about Africa as a continent and speaks in an impassioned voice about the meanings of democracy and violence within Liberia.

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Maoists at the Hearth

Everyday Life in Nepal's Civil War

By Judith Pettigrew. Foreword by David N. Gellner

The Maoist insurgency in Nepal lasted from 1996 to 2006, and at the pinnacle of their armed success the Maoists controlled much of the countryside. Maoists at the Hearth, which is based on ethnographic research that commenced more than a decade before the escalation of the civil war in 2001, explores the daily life in a hill village in central Nepal, during the "People's War." It focuses on the way inhabitants managed their everyday activities following the arrival of the Maoists in the late 1990s, exploring their changing social relationships with fellow villagers and the parties to the conflict both during the insurgency and in its aftermath.

War is not an interruption that suspends social processes. Daily life in the village focused as usual on social challenges, interpersonal negotiations, and essential duties such as managing agricultural work, running households and organizing development projects. But as Judith Pettigrew shows, social life, cultural practices, and everyday activities are reshaped in uncertain and dangerous circumstances. The book considers how these activities were conducted under dramatically transformed conditions and discusses the challenges and occasional opportunities that the villagers confronted.

By considering local spatial models and their adaptation, Pettigrew explores the villagers' reactions when they lost control of the physical spaces of the village. A central consideration of Maoists at the Hearth is an exploration of how local social tensions were realized and renegotiated as people supported (and sometimes betrayed) each other and of how villager-Maoist relationships, which drew on a range of culturally patterned preexisting relationships, were reforged, transformed, or renegotiated in the context of the conflict.

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Masking Terror

How Women Contain Violence in Southern Sri Lanka

By Alex Argenti-Pillen

In Sri Lanka, staggering numbers of young men were killed fighting in the armed forces against Tamil separatists. The war became one of attrition—year after year waves of young foot soldiers were sent to almost certain death in a war so bloody that the very names of the most famous battle scenes still fill people with horror. Alex Argenti-Pillen describes the social fabric of a rural community that has become a breeding ground and reservoir of soldiers for the Sri Lankan nation-state, arguing that this reservoir has been created on the basis of a culture of poverty and terror.

Focusing on the involvement of the pseudonymous village of Udahenagama in the atrocities of the civil war of the late 1980s and the interethnic war against the Tamil guerrillas, Masking Terror describes the response of women in the rural slums of southern Sri Lanka to the further spread of violence. To reconstruct the violent backgrounds of these soldiers, she presents the stories of their mothers, sisters, wives, and grandmothers, providing a perspective on the conflict between Sinhalese and Tamil populations not found elsewhere.

In addition to interpreting the impact of high levels of violence on a small community, Argenti-Pillen questions the effects of trauma counseling services brought by the international humanitarian community into war-torn non-Western cultural contexts. Her study shows how Euro-American methods for dealing with traumatized survivors poses a threat to the culture-specific methods local women use to contain violence.

Masking Terror provides a sobering introduction to the difficulties and methodological problems field researchers, social scientists, human rights activists, and mental health workers face in working with victims and perpetrators of ethnic and political violence and large-scale civil war. The narratives of the women from Udahenagama provide necessary insight into how survivors of wartime atrocities reconstruct their communicative worlds and disrupt the cycle of violence in ways that may be foreign to Euro-American professionals.

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On the Doorstep of Europe

Asylum and Citizenship in Greece

By Heath Cabot

Greece has shouldered a heavy burden in the global economic crisis, struggling with political and financial insecurity. Greece has also the most porous external border of the European Union, tasked with ensuring that the EU's boundaries are both "secure and humanitarian" and hosting enormous numbers of migrants and asylum seekers who arrive by land and sea. The recent leadership and fiscal crises have led to a breakdown of legal entitlements for both Greek citizens and those seeking refuge within the country's borders.

On the Doorstep of Europe is an ethnographic study of the asylum system in Greece, tracing the ways asylum seekers, bureaucrats, and service providers attempt to navigate the dilemmas of governance, ethics, knowledge, and sociability that emerge through this legal process. Centering on the work of an asylum advocacy NGO in Athens, Heath Cabot explores how workers and clients grapple with predicaments endemic to Europeanization and rights-based protection. Drawing inspiration from classical Greek tragedy to highlight both the transformative potential and the violence of law, Cabot charts the structural violence effected through European governance, rights frameworks, and humanitarian intervention while also exploring how Athenian society is being remade from the inside out. She shows how, in contemporary Greece, relationships between insiders and outsiders are radically reconfigured through legal, political, and economic crises.

In addition to providing a textured, on-the-ground account of the fraught context of asylum and immigration in Europe's borderlands, On the Doorstep of Europe highlights the unpredictable and transformative ways in which those in host nations navigate legal and political violence, even in contexts of inexorable duress and inequality.

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Political Violence and Trauma in Argentina

By Antonius C. G. M. Robben

For decades, Argentina's population was subject to human rights violations ranging from the merely disruptive to the abominable. Violence pervaded Argentine social and cultural life in the repression of protest crowds, a ruthless counterinsurgency campaign, massive numbers of abductions, instances of torture, and innumerable assassinations. Despite continued repression, thousands of parents searched for their disappeared children, staging street protests that eventually marshaled international support. Challenging the notion that violence simply breeds more violence, Antonius C. G. M. Robben's provocative study argues that in Argentina violence led to trauma, and that trauma bred more violence.

In this work of superior scholarship, Robben analyzes the historical dynamic through which Argentina became entangled in a web of violence spun out of repeated traumatization of political adversaries. This violence-trauma-violence cycle culminated in a cultural war that "disappeared" more than ten thousand people and caused millions to live in fear. Political Violence and Trauma in Argentina demonstrates through a groundbreaking multilevel analysis the process by which different historical strands of violence coalesced during the 1970s into an all-out military assault on Argentine society and culture.

Combining history and anthropology, this compelling book rests on thorough archival research; participant observation of mass demonstrations, exhumations, and reburials; gripping interviews with military officers, guerrilla commanders, human rights leaders, and former disappeared captives. Robben's penetrating analysis of the trauma of Argentine society is of great importance for our understanding of other societies undergoing similar crimes against humanity.

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Remediation in Rwanda

Grassroots Legal Forums

By Kristin Conner Doughty

Kristin Conner Doughty examines how Rwandans navigated the combination of harmony and punishment in grassroots courts purportedly designed to rebuild the social fabric in the wake of the 1994 genocide. Postgenocide Rwandan officials developed new local courts ostensibly modeled on traditional practices of dispute resolution as part of a broader national policy of unity and reconciliation. The three legal forums at the heart of Remediation in Rwanda—genocide courts called inkiko gacaca, mediation committees called comite y'abunzi, and a legal aid clinic—all emphasized mediation based on principles of compromise and unity, brokered by third parties with the authority to administer punishment. Doughty demonstrates how exhortations to unity in legal forums served as a form of cultural control, even as people rebuilt moral community and conceived alternative futures through debates there. Investigating a broad range of disputes, she connects the grave disputes about genocide to the ordinary frictions people endured living in its aftermath.

Remediation in Rwanda is therefore about not only national reconstruction but also a broader narrative of how the embrace of law, particularly in postconflict contexts, influences people's lives. Though law-based mediation is framed as benign—and is often justified as a purer form of culturally rooted dispute resolution, both by national governments such as Rwanda's, and in the transitional justice movement more broadly—its implementation, as Doughty reveals, involves coercion and accompanying resistance. Yet in grassroots legal forums that are deeply contextualized, law-based mediation can open up spaces in which people negotiate the micropolitics of reconciliation.

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The Risk of War

Everyday Sociality in the Republic of Macedonia

By Vasiliki P. Neofotistos

The Risk of War focuses on practices and performances of everyday life across ethnonational borders during the six-month armed conflict in 2001 between Macedonian government forces and the Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA)—a conflict initiated by the NLA with the proclaimed purpose of securing greater rights for the Albanian community in Macedonia and terminated by the internationally brokered Ohrid Framework Agreement. Anthropologist Vasiliki P. Neofotistos provides an ethnographic account of the ways middle- and working-class Albanian and Macedonian noncombatants in Macedonia's capital city, Skopje, went about their daily lives during the conflict, when fear and uncertainty regarding their existence and the viability of the state were intense and widespread.

Neofotistos finds that, rather than passively observing the international community's efforts to manage the political crisis, members of the Macedonian and Albanian communities responded with resilience and wit to disruptive and threatening changes in social structure, intensely negotiated relationships of power, and promoted indeterminacy on the level of the everyday as a sense of impending war enfolded the capital. More broadly, The Risk of War helps us better understand how postindependence Macedonia has managed to escape civil bloodshed despite high political volatility, acute ethno-nationalist rivalries, and unrelenting external pressures exerted by neighboring countries.

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