Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: American Ethnological Society
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Violence
Secondary Theme: Inequality
In the early 20th century, “violence” as a central analytic entered the critiques of modern states, departing fundamentally from Enlightenment social contract theorists (Benjamin 1928, Fanon 1961, Arendt 1970, Mbembe 2003). In recent years, “(non)violence” has proliferated in anthropological scholarship concerning large- and small-scale social phenomena: from historical transformation and trauma (Scheper-Hughes 1992); war and humanitarianism (Fassin 2012); oppression and liberation (McGranahan 2010); to economic alienation and criminalization (Comaroff and Comaroff 2004). Problematizing the use of “(non)violence” as an analytical descriptor, critical theorists have pointed to an Enlightenment dualism that silently privileges the Western liberal subject, again, as conscious, dynamic paragon of reason and gatekeeper of a better, and more peaceful future (Asad 2015, Butler 2009). At the same time, the construction of liberal subjectivity also relies on the recruitment of a ‘violent’ other as an acephalous, unconscious horde - as vortex of unreason and harbinger of an anti-teleological ‘dark matter’ (Browne 2015).
The papers in this panel attempt to rethink the analytic of “violence” not in a singular non-Western context that inevitably imbricates a modern Western audience gazing or witnessing from the other side, forming the matrix of evaluation. Instead, we turn to an intensifying anthropological focus on non-Western encounters and interactions as increasingly prevalent theaters for the contestation of global inequalities. These papers present more than one non-Western groups’ encounters with each other that are typically seen as “violent” - through warfare, massacre, the occult, or animal slaughter. We aim to test as well as push “violence”s analytical limits in contexts where a “nonviolent” future - be it humanitarian, reconciliatory, peaceful, ethical, or modern - is negotiated or aspired to as emerging, rather than presumed upon or imposed. If “violence” fulfills its analytical promise, we ask how does it sideline the West as a teleological destination? If “violence” is inadequate, we ask how do non-Western understandings of violence contribute to a revision of this analytic?