Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Association for Africanist Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students
Primary Theme: Resilience
Secondary Theme: Violence
Resilience has been a humanitarian-development meme for a decade and is closely tied to notions of economic and social capital (eg: Biermann et al., 2016). The image it conveys is of tightly knit, mutually supportive communities sharing diverse assets and in consequence able to quickly adapt to and recover from shocks, stresses, or conflict. This thinking is intriguing: by definition, development is about transformation and change whereas, much like classical functionalist anthropology, resilience focuses on stasis and the ability of the sociocultural ‘body’ to resist or recover from change.
This session focuses on the everyday politics of resilience in the aftermath of war, examining the experiences of internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, and ex-combatants from several regional wars now resident in northern Uganda. Given the prolonged and often repetitive forms of conflict and displacement in this region, northern Uganda – which, through major international intervention, has apparently experienced ‘successful’ post-conflict recovery – offers an important opportunity for learning, a situation heightened with the recent influx of Congolese and South Sudanese refugees.
In much academic and policy literature, the kinds of matters associated with population displacement and return tend to be addressed through paradigms such as ‘disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration’ (DDR), ‘transitional justice’ (TJ), or ‘psycho-social support’ (PPS). These normalised processes are often included in UN and donor peacebuilding packages, attracting considerable funding despite any evidence as to their actual impact (eg: Carayannis et. al. 2014; Macdonald 2014). The papers in this session aim to understand how and if such approaches are relevant those people who negotiate (post)conflict realities on a daily basis. In particular, we wish to investigate those processes persistently set aside by development and conflict practitioners and theorists, such as notions associated with spirit worlds, religious beliefs, customary practices, sexuality and changing kinship structures. These papers will explore these themes through critical evaluation of the concept and practice of resilience.
Observations of the everyday practice and politics of resilience necessarily lead to questions about whether humanitarian-development processes work to advance, transform, or entirely remove resilience: indeed, elements which practically enable resilience often seem embedded in the very same aspects of the sociocultural milieu which normative development practices seek to change. These include patriarchy, witchcraft, unscientific approaches to health and therapy, undemocratic governance, communal land access, and ‘repugnant’ social ordering practices.
Therefore, this session aims to challenge, disrupt, and critique established orthodoxies based on normative assumptions and linear conceptions of what happens to people during and after conflict-related displacement. In doing so it will provide alternative ways of thinking about the long term cultural, social, and political impacts of displacement in terms of communal, individual, and conceptual ‘resilience’, as well as how these effect local, national, and extra-national forms of ‘public authority’. It will do this through on the ground explorations of the lived realities of current and formerly displaced persons and communities, showing that everyday resilience is inherently contradictory and that return is a process of flux and contestation.