EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006


Violence and memory

Location Chem LT2
Date and Start Time 20 Sep, 2006 at 11:30


Katharina Schramm (University of Bayreuth) email
Nicolas Argenti (Brunel University) email
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Short Abstract

Given that traumatic memory is widely acknowledged to lie beyond the reach of verbal exegesis, this panel examines how memories of violent events are produced and transmitted by means of indigenous epistemologies, historiographies and social practices.

Long Abstract

Psychologists have done a great deal of research on the effects of trauma on the individual, revealing the paradox that the most violent experiences are often secreted away beyond easy accessibility, and are often impossible to verbalise explicitly. Comparatively little research has been done on the transgenerational effects of trauma, or the means whereby dissociative experiences might be transmitted from person to person across time and become an intrinsic part of the social fabric. The 20th century in Europe posed a fundamental problem for historians, revealing as it did that regimes of terror are somehow beyond the scope of historical record. World wars and genocides have fragmented knowing and problematised our epistemological models, challenging us to conceive of alternative conceptions of trauma and memory. Previously, the colonial experience of the 19th and early 20th centuries and the preceding period of the transatlantic slave trade exposed those under European domination to violent political upheavals that have generated similar methodological challenges regarding how we research events so far outside normal human experience that they seem to have effaced their own record even as they occurred. This panel seeks to explore ethnographic contributions to the question of how memory is produced and transmitted by means of indigenous epistemologies and historiographies as well as by social and cultural practices that favour experience over knowledge and embodied practices over archival bodies of evidence. How do people remember the past? How does violence affect remembering? What is the relationship of remembering to forgetting? How does individual memory contribute to social memory and vice versa? By addressing these issues, this panel hopes to address the experiential, subjective aspects of violent histories and traumatic memories as well as the wider politics of representation that go along with them.

Chair: Nicolas Argenti / Katharina Schramm
Discussant: Peter Loizos


Culture as a continuation of war by other means

Author: Staffan Löfving (Stockholm University)  email
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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?

The act of remembering and forgetting: traumatic memories and medical pluralism in Chile

Author: Dorthe Kristensen (University of Southern Denmark)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper explores the negotiation of memories in the bodily experience and management of illness among patients in Chile in a context of medical pluralism. Many patients suffer from psychological symptoms (typically anxiety, sadness and lack of energy)and diffuse physical symptoms normally intense pain, which often have a tendency to move location in the body combined with an intense feeling of insecurity and often also the presence of strange smells and beings. Often patients are not satisfied with the diagnosis given by medical doctors (depression, states of anxiety, nerves) and seek indigenous healers. These types of practitioners generally treat the patients' sufferings as an expression of a lack of balance, for instance in the humeral balance, however more often they explain the sufferings as a product of spiritual or/and human aggressions coined as "damages" or due to fright (susto). The aim of the paper is to discuss the articulation and management of these afflictions in relation to the patients' articulations of Chile's political and socioeconomic past/ present.

In the paper illness stories of patients who is treated both by doctor/ psychiatrist and shaman will be analyzed. By drawing on the concept of "embodiment" the aim is to compare respectively the model of traumatic memories of biomedicine/psychiatry and that of shamanistic healing practice. Focus will put on the concept of consciousness and agency in regard to treatment. Subsequently it will be discussed whether indigenous illness categories and treatment might provide a bodily idiom for the articulation and negotiating of distress of a current (and past) socio-economic and political context and as a critique of the modern Chilean State.

'And when I see you, kids…': performing testimony on Israeli youth voyages to Poland

Author: Jackie Feldman (Ben Gurion University of the Negev)  email
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Long Abstract

The significance of testimony of traumatic events is attained through its performance, which is a function not only of the survivors' lived experiences, but also of the listeners, the places, times and frames of testimony, and the social needs which the testimony is designed to accomplish. By investigating the oral witnessing of Holocaust survivors in Israeli youth pilgrimages to Holocaust sites in Poland, I will illustrate how survivors' personal accounts of their pasts are inevitably pulled to a redemptive close, which gives the State a teleological role as the end and antidote to the weakness of life in exile. Through the shared bodily presence and ritual performance of elderly witnesses and masses of youths at the sites of extermination, the youths become "witnesses of the witnesses" and come to appreciate their taken-for-granted life world as an object of desire. National symbols, worn, displayed or performed by the students and witnesses become cathected with emotion. The case study demonstrates how the proliferation of Holocaust memory through mediatized representations, and the rapidity and ease of travel in a global era may actually facilitate the creation of a totalistic ritual world on foreign soil, which strengthens the boundaries of the nation-state.

In a ruined country: the memory of war destruction in rural Argonne (France)

Author: Paola Filippucci (Cambridge University)  email
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Long Abstract

My paper seeks to illuminate the relationship between social memory and violent trauma by focusing on the trauma experienced through the violent destruction of places in war. I base my paper on ethnography that I conducted in two villages in Argonne (Eastern France) in 2005. Both villages were completely destroyed during the Great War, and reconstructed and resettled in the 1920s. Almost a century after their reconstruction, I ask what remains in these villages, if anything, of this arguably traumatic experience. In particular, I compare narratives and material traces in order to analyse the respective roles of words and things in producing memory of this event three generations after it happened, and in incorporating it into representations of history and place. By this I show that while physical reconstruction occurred relatively quickly, the symbolic 'reconstruction' of these villages is still incomplete, in the sense that they continue to be seen as 'ruined' places. In explaining what appears like evidence of the long-term effects of violent trauma on the local population, I argue that the image of a devastated, war-torn place is maintained alive by factors and mechanisms from beyond the village, that keep this image alive and continually reinscribe it onto this area. Firstly, it is perpetuated by the national (and international) memory of the Great War that requires the former battlefields to be perennial material figures of trauma, as monuments to the brutality and violence of the conflict. Secondly, it is kept actual and poignant for locals by their current fears about the loss of places and presence through economic and demographic decline. These wider cultural and material factors must be taken into account in the analysis of the long-term impact of violent events on places and collectivities.

Memories of violence and the arts of living

Author: Urania Astrinaki (Panteion University)  email
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Long Abstract

Urania Astrinaki

Department of Social Anthropology

Panteion University

Memories of violence and the arts of living

Recent anthropological work on violence has shown that violence is not a unitary phenomenon but rather an analytical concept used by researchers to define various types of phenomena and social practices, viewed and experienced differently across as well as within societies and cultures. Personal and collective effects and experiences of violence will also vary according to contexts.

Extensive ethnographic research that I have conducted in communities of mountain Western Crete has shown that violent conduct constitutes a dominant discourse, a valued -occasionally even prescribed- conduct, carefully instilled in people's bodies during childhood and activated through a host of elaborate social practices. These practices are constitutive of local identities and histories, thereby producing their own histories.

Far from being outside normal human experience, then, (the immanence of) violence is a continuous presence, even in its absence, embedded in normal everyday life. It permeates social relations and constitutes an intrinsic part of the social fabric, even as it creates ambiguities and suffering. For local subjects, situated in the context of oppositional, contradictory, but historically articulated and communicating dominant discourses (local, regional, national), dealing with violence, as presence and as memory, amounts to an extremely elaborated art. Incidents of violence form a pool of never forgotten memories that lie dormant, like a volcano, under the surface of everyday life, and that are submerged or resurfaced, concealed, silenced or verbalized, even narrated, according to the context and their own texture. Well archived, these memories are drawn upon to orient present action, being themselves oriented to the present.

Rape and remembrance in Guadeloupe

Author: Janine Klungel  email
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Long Abstract

Based upon ethnography in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe and rape experiences of Guadeloupian women specifically, the common assumption that rape trauma is language-destroying is challenged. Although it is generally proclaimed that raped people "often become living-dead people, refusing to speak of the unspeakable," Guadeloupian women continually speak of it, since rape relations have been routinely part of the island's history that is grounded in colonialism and slavery. In few studies, however, there has been eye for the impact of the constant threat and 'normal' reality of rape on the lives and family relations of slave women and their descendents. In this paper, therefore, this issue will be addressed by tracing a genealogy of memory from slave heroine Mulatress Solitude (1772-1802) to female members of one family today in order to understand the transgenerational effects of rape trauma. It will be argued that rape memories are mainly produced and transmitted by means of storytelling and religion in which women are haunted by rape spirits i.e. 'men with stick'. Moreover, Guadeloupian women bear witness of and keep the memory of rape alive by talking of rape in a religious idiom that permits them to express and accuse rape troubles publicly.

Making sense of a shipwreck: state memorialism versus popular politics in Senegal

Author: Ferdinand de Jong (University of East Anglia)  email
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Long Abstract

In 2002 the Joola ferry shipwrecked on its way from the southern region to the capital Dakar, killing almost 2,000 passengers. In its wake multiple explanations for the disaster were provided. While the President acknowledged the State's responsibility and subsequently memorialised the shipwreck in an annual commemoration, local women's groups interpreted the shipwreck as a result of an intervention by the separatist movement. Their interpretation of the shipwreck inscribed the shipwreck in an ongoing history of civil war in the region, and empowered them in their struggle to stop the civil war. The interpretation of the shipwreck thus turned into an epistemological frame for political action. This paper focuses on how the women "remembered" the event and how this resulted in a distinct course of political action. The paper explores how remembering reconfigures power and politics.

Memories of slavery and ritual performance: reflections on Palo Monte Mayombe in contemporary Cuba

Author: Adelheid Pichler (Academy of Sciences)  email
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Long Abstract

The focus of my research in Havana and in the adjacent plantation zone in Cuba (Matanzas) has been the cultural memory of the traumatic experience of enslavement which has been retained in religious communities with African background.

In this paper I refer to my fieldwork with Cuban practitioners of the African-derived religious group known as the Regla de Palo Monte Mayombe, discuss the significance of its Kongo-derived iconography, and show how this symbolic system and its expression in ritual performance is a representation of historical experience.

Although hardly anyone speaks about slavery in an explicit way, the experience of slave society has been embedded in the elaborate ritual work of paleros mayomberos. Their material culture, and the ritual use they make of it, is a kind of memory archive of slavery. The organization of the community itself recapitulates aspects of the slave gang, and the densely metaphoric texts of its ritual language, "Congo," make constant reference to the world of the plantation.


Adelheid Pichler has studied Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna. Since 1996 she has done long-term fieldwork in Cuba. Since 2002 she has worked as an Associate Researcher at the Commission for Social Anthropology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. Her ongoing research project on "Perceptions of Space and Time in Afro-Cuban Ritual Performance" has been financed by the Austrian Research Fund for Scientific Research (FWF-Austrian Research Fund).

Demystifying memories: the politics of cultural heritage in post-socialist Guinea

Author: Ramon Sarró (University of Oxford)  email
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Long Abstract

Guinean citizens of West Africa have gone through processes of forceful, violent abandonment of many of their religious activities. Among Baga, a group of rice farmers particularly famous in colonial times for their

visible ritual and material culture, an iconoclastic Muslim movement in 1957 was followed by the "campaigns of demystification" deployed by Sékou Touré and his Party-State to forbid religious activity (1958-1984). Today,Baga people keep vivid memories of both their religious past and of its violent destruction by Islam and by the State. These memories are today accompanied by the will to return to practices that were (supposedly) "demystified" by Sékou Touré, in an effort to "re-mystify" the religious landscape. In its turn, these new readings of peoples' past give rise to new forms of violence.

Two temporalities: violent disruption in historical and familial transmission

Author: Stephan Feuchtwang (London School of Economics)  email
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Long Abstract

I am interested in the interaction between what is recognised by state, judicial, and written (documented), or visual (documentary) archives and case narratives on one hand and familial continuity and transmission on the other hand. The same interest draws me to ask about interaction between civic commemoration and ceremony and museum and heritage on one hand and death rituals on the other. Do they recognise and substantiate different social subjects even when both might refer to individuals and families?

The topic through which I shall examine this interaction is the violence a state inflicts on its 'own' people, a shared experience and how it has been transmitted through subsequent political transformations and two or more generations. I shall use the results of fieldwork in China and Taiwan, conducted jointly with a research colleague in each place. In Mainland China, we conducted a local study of how the Great Leap famine (1958-61) is transmitted. In Taiwan, our subject was an Incident of anti-Communist devastation of some mountain hamlets in 1952-3. I have also pursued the same interest in Berlin among families of German Jews, Russian Jews and German Germans. I will endeavour to contrast the three cases.