A Question of Ruins: Buildings and Persons after Political Violence

Laurie Kain Hart, Stinnes Professor of Global Studies and Anthropology, Department of Anthropology, Haverford College, Philadelphia, PA, and National Endowment for the Humanities Resident Scholar, SAR

Colloquium, SAR Boardroom

Wednesday, February 12, 2014, 12:00–1:00 pm, Free

Laurie Kain HartLaurie Kain Hart2013–2014 National Endowment for the Humanities Resident ScholarLaurie Kain Hart2013–2014 National Endowment for the Humanities Resident Scholar

This presentation explores two interrelated questions concerning the endurance and reconstitution of communities after civil war and “ethnic cleansing.” The first asks how buildings, landscapes, and material property figure in the transmission and mitigation of the "grievous losses" (Feuchtwang) of political violence; the second focuses on how the injuries of conflict are commuted socially and psychically over time. Using ethnography from Greece and Bosnia from the 1990s to the present Hart examines the interrelation of these two questions in two post-war communities. She uses the term “commutation of loss” and not “recovery” to draw attention to the multiple transformations and mutations of catastrophic events in the material and social fabric of life-in-place. Theory in anthropology since the 1980s has emphasized the “social life” and even the “agency” of things-- how the material universe is imbued with social value and how things, in their turn, are crucial elements of social relations. In this presentation Hart critically examines both material-culture theory and trauma theory to document histories of violence as they are manifest in everyday life.

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