Accepted paper:

Violence, empathy, and the ethnography of fakes


Nils Bubandt (Aarhus University)

Paper short abstract:

Conflict and propaganda go together, but how does one approach propaganda analytically and ethnographically? This paper looks at those kinds of propganda that are based on forgery and mimicry, and suggest that they entail a lot of empathy.

Paper long abstract:

This paper is a dip into what might become an anthropology of propaganda. It looks at a special kind of instigation, namely the fake pamphlets and counterfeit letters that often appear in the context of communal violence. These pamphlets and letters provoke to violent attacks by revealing a hidden conspiracy or devilish machination of the part of 'the communal other', in the process constructing the symbolic contours of this other. Based on an analysis of a series of fake letters that appeared in the lead-up to violent conflict in Indonesia, I explore the dynamics of empathy and intimacy that are necessary for the production and validation of fake documents and letters during conflict, and suggest that these fakes reveal how empathy may be closely associated with the eruption of violence. This suggestion goes against received wisdom in accepted theories of violence, which holds that empathy and violence are opposed, even antithetical. It also points towards the possibility of exploring empathy ethnographically as a political and historical phenomenon.

panel W053
Fragile transitions: from coexistence to the emergence of hatred, a comparative approach between Southeast Asia and South-East Europe