Accepted paper:

Culture as a continuation of war by other means


Staffan Löfving (Stockholm University)

Paper short abstract:

Through an analysis of the politics of memory and with a focus on 'multiculturalism' and on emerging forms of citizenship in the wake of the Central American wars of the 1980s and 1990s this paper traces the legacies of authoritarian power in current processes of democratisation.

Paper long abstract:

Clausewitz famously observed that wars, instead of representing new beginnings are "continuations" of certain pre-war political practices. In a parallel, one could say that the 20th Century wars of Central America did not exactly end, but were recently transformed into something else, namely a violent post-war condition in which the guiding lights of liberal peace-building - like transparency, marketisation, and decentralisation - coexist both in conflict with and support of authoritarian power. This paper argues that the relation of memory to violence is key to such a sequence. The construction of collective memories through truth commissions and other tools in the internationally monitored processes of national reconciliation rests on discursive forms by which societies become psyches and bodies, subsequently subject to particular forms of "healing." Anthropologists have explored the theology informing such processes, and against the often failing magic of reconciliation they have argued for a restoration of the legal mandates of the state. Less has been said about the longer term outcomes of reconciliation with reference to emerging forms of citizenship. Multicultural citizenship rests on the paradox of turning antagonistic or hegemonic constructs into new spaces for hope and aspirations for marginalised minorities, and at the same time into units of state administration. Reconciliation, thus, does not necessarily provide the means necessary to depart from violence, unless violence is defined within the narrow frames of (combatant) body-counts, but instead it freezes the ethnic categories that emerged as historical legacies of nation-building and became violently essentialized in and by war - in short, culture as a continuation of war by other means. In a focus on Guatemala and El Salvador, and with comparisons from Colombia, this paper asks: What does successful reconciliation do apart from ending vicious circles of violence? And what does unsuccessful reconciliation do apart from not ending violence?

back to panel W022
Violence and memory