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Edited by Neil L.Whitehead

Can we understand violence not as evidence of cultural rupture but as a form of cultural expression itself? Ten prominent scholars engage this question across geographies as diverse at their theoretical positions, in cases drawn from fieldwork in Indonesia, Cambodia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, South America, Sri Lanka, Spain, and the United States. This research makes clear that within specific cultures, violent acts are expressions of cultural codes imbued with great meaning for both perpetrator and victim. “Unless the perpetrator’s view is part of our own understanding,” editor Neil L. Whitehead observes, “how to address the sources of violence will escape us.” Covering wide-ranging regimes of violence, these essays examine various aspects of state violence, legitimate and illegitimate forms of violence, the impact of anticipatory violence on daily life, and its effects long after the events themselves have passed. In the marginal spaces of global ethnoscapes, violence becomes a form of cultural affirmation and expression in the face of a loss of “tradition” and dislocations of ethnic communities.

This book is dedicated to the memory of Begoña Aretxaga.

2004. 320 pp., 7 black-and-white illustrations, notes, references, index, 6 x 9

Contributors: Begoña Aretxaga, Stephen Ellis, Kenneth M. George, Alex Hinton, Pradeep Jeganathan, Carolyn Nordstrom, Leigh Payne, Mark Seltzer, Christopher Taylor, Neil L. Whitehead

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“It is a pleasure to read this set of essays that attempt to confront the complexities of understanding and conceptualizing practices belonging to the sphere of “violence” in human interactions. They illuminate aspects of the theorization of violence in novel and engrossing ways and give the book a special place in courses on politics, aesthetics, semiotics, the emotions, and cultural analysis more generally.”
—Dr. Andrew J. Strathern, University of Pittsburgh

“This book is a stimulating attempt to understand violence in different places, contexts and times. The breadth of explanations on offer is striking, and it deserves reading. It also provides researchers with a useful source of information they cannot afford to ignore.”
—Egoitz Gago, Peace Conflict & Development 8 (January 2006)

“The volume has much to offer not only to anthropology, but also to other related disciplines. It counters understandings of violence as aberration, and contests media-disseminated and popular perceptions about ‘the inherent savagery of the non-Western world.’ Instead, the reader is offered a more nuanced understanding of conflict as cultural expression.”
—Atreyee Sen, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute Vol. 12, no. 2 (June 2006)

“This volume intends to initiate a conversation on the poetics of violence: why and how does violence take particular forms depending on its relationship to culture? All the collected essays … do this admirably, with both relish and attention to aesthetic detail… The book is an ambitious and overdue beginning to a discussion on the importance of local understandings of violent expression in anthropology.”
—Erik Davis, Anthropological Forum Vol. 16, no. 2 (July 2006)


  1. Introduction: Cultures, Conflicts, and the Poetics of Violent Practice
    Neil L. Whitehead
  2. Violence, Culture, and the Indonesian Public Sphere: Reworking the Geertzian Legacy
    Kenneth M. George
  3. On the Poetics of Violence
    Neil L. Whitehead
  4. Deadly Images: King Sacrifice, President Habyarimana, and the Iconography of Pregenocidal Rwandan Political Literature
    Christopher C. Taylor
  5. Interpreting Violence: Reflections on West African Wars
    Stephen Ellis
  6. Before the Law: The Narrative of the Unconscious in Basque Political Violence
    Begoña Aretxaga
  7. The Poetics of Genocidal Practice: Violence under the Khmer Rouge
    Alex Hinton
  8. Disco-very: Anthropology, Nationalist Thought, Thamotharampillai Shanaathanan, and an Uncertain Descent into the Ordinary
    Pradeep Jeganathan
  9. True Crime
    Mark Seltzer
  10. The Tomorrow of Violence
    Carolyn Nordstrom
  11. Confessional Performances: Perpetrators’ Testimonies to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission
    Leigh A. Payne

There are no working papers for this book at the present time.