Local Perspectives on Military Reorganization, Economic Restructuring and Daily Life

Advanced Seminar

March 21–25, 1999

The theme of this advanced seminar, “Local Perspectives on Military Reorganization, Economic Restructuring and Everyday Life” emerged over a conversation between co-chairs Linda Green and Lesley Gill concerning the transition of countries moving from brutal dictatorships, civil wars, and military repression to democracy, free market policy, and popular elections. “Few of these transitions are as seamless as they have been portrayed,” observed Gill, reflecting on her research in Bolivia, and Green’s work in Guatamala.

The work of the late Eric Wolf, the 1988 J. I. Staley Prize winner who emphasized the importance of examining political economies through the lens of local and global social relationships that are shaped by power and inequality, inspired the co-chairs to question the failure of political scientists and policymakers to consider how broad changes such as demilitarization and economic restructuring affects daily life. “With few exceptions, the complex relationship between a country’s military apparatus and ordinary people has not received sufficient attention. Similarly, the ways that military values and beliefs permeate social relationships and institutions require more exploration,” explained Gill. “We used Wolf’s perspective as our analytic departure point, as well as the iconoclastic work of Cynthia Enloe,” one of the seminar participants.

Initially, three central problems were identified for the participants’ consideration. First, how has the tension between the legitimate use of military power by the state and the social “disorder” created by structural adjustment programs shaped military reorganization? Second, how is the changing nature of military conscription reworking the relationship between states and citizens, and among citizens of different race, class, gender, and ethnic backgrounds? And third, in the aftermath of military repression and civil war, how have severe unemployment, the erosion of social services, and endemic racism contributed to an increase in violent activities by ordinary people against each other?

As the seminar evolved, reflected Green, “we began to get at the contradictions and tensions in this seemingly straightforward process. A question kept coming up in our discussions: Why has it been so difficult for many countries to demilitarize, even after truth commissions and peace accords are put in place?”

Some answers were revealed as the seminar participants scrutinized ordinary people’s lives in the transitioning countries of Africa, the Caribbean, and Central and South America, where both civil strife and structural adjustment policies figure prominently in social life. When demilitarization is not accompanied by plans to address poverty, for instance, men released from military service often turn to delinquent activity such as the arms trade to generate income. In turn, as the social and economic order previously kept by military rule remains largely unchanged in post-war settings, citizens may begin to arm themselves, creating an actual ‘re-militarization’ in the fabric of daily life.

Another issue that surfaced over the course of the seminar included the questionable consequences of peace accords and truth commissions, which sometimes avoid challenging impunity allowing the “intellectual authors of repression to remain in place,” while ostensibly giving voice to those who suffered. In addition, “most peace accords do not address the fundamental paradox between the ideals of a free society’s ‘equality of participation’ and the growing disparity between the rich and poor, or the general intensification of poverty,” commented Green.

“We were seeking to understand how social life is changing in the aftermath of military repression in ways that are not necessarily leading to democracy and demilitarization,” Green continued. This process is further complicated by the new tensions generated by free-market reforms, such influences as the International Monetary Fund, and the privatizing of health care and education.

The process of successful demilitarization, it was agreed, would necessarily accentuate social and economic justice along with the traditional approaches.

Lesley Gill, Chair Department of Anthropology, American University Custodians of the New World Order: The Military and Changing Social Relationship in Neoliberal Bolivia
Linda Green, Chair Department of Anthropology, Columbia University A War Called Peace: Permissible Repression, Counterdemocratic Democracy and Development in Guatemala
Leigh Binford Department of Anthropology, University of Connecticut After the Revolution: Economic Autarky in Northern Morazan, El Salvador
Carolle Charles Department of Sociology, Baruch College “From Tonton Macoutes” to “Attaches”, from FRAP to “Zenglendos”: Obstacles to the Democratization of Haitian Society
Jacklyn Cock Department of Sociology, University of Witwatersrand The Impact of Military Reorganization on Social Relations in Post-Apartheid South Africa
Cynthia Enloe Department of Government, Clark University Patriarchy and the Militarization of Everyday Life
Carolyn Nordstrom Department of Anthropology, Kroc Institute, University of Notre Dame No-Man’s-Lands
Nancy Scheper-Hughes Department of Anthropology, University of California-Berkeley Democracy and Violence: Speaking Truth to Violence: Social Suffering and the Politics of Remorse in the New South Africa
Gerald Sider Discussant, Department of Anthropology, City University of New York Graduate Center

Follow us: