4th Bi-Annual Meeting: Crisis and Conflict – Copenhagen 2013

Our 4th Bi-annual PACSA meeting – Peace and Conflict Studies in Anthropology, Copenhagen 28-30 August 2013

Organized in collaboration with DIGNITY – Danish Institute against Torture and Global Refugee Studies, Aalborg University

The initial call for papers 

News on different ‘crises’ dominate our media; we have the ongoing crisis in the Middle East and the crisis at the Horn of Africa, not to mention the global financial crises, and the ecological crises linked to climate change and devastating natural disasters affecting populations around the world. How do we conceptualize and understand these different forms of crisis, and how can a focus on these diverse crises enhance our anthropological understanding of peace and conflict?

For this PACSA meeting we encourage reflections on what it means to live in a state of crisis. How may we understand crises? Is it a motor of change? A catalyst for socio-cultural transformation, or is it merely a gesture intended to frame the abnormal? How do these discussions then affect our conceptualizations of peace and conflict, particularly in situations where crisis is permanent or even normalized? And finally, what happens when individual perspectives meet systemic views of peace, crisis, and conflict?

Whichever way we chose to understand crisis, it is clear that it is located somewhere beyond the homoeostasis of peace, yet prior to the ultimate turmoil characteristic of conflict. Which are therefore the links between crisis on one hand, and the prospects for peace as well as the threats of conflict on the other? How are these zones delineated towards one another?

The Panels: 

Security Privatization and the Crisis of Political Legitimacy

Organizers: Steffen Jensen, DIGNITY Institute, Copenhagen and Rivke Jaffe University of Amsterdam

The various crises that plague different parts of the world – the global financial crisis, various ecological crises – have exacerbated a widespread crisis in political legitimacy. This lack of political legitimacy, whether following dramatic incidents or long-term erosion, is related in various ways to the ways in which states control violence and provide security to their citizens. This panel seeks to explore the relationships between security privatization and the crisis of political legitimacy. In many countries, state failure to guarantee citizens’ physical integrity or their material belongings has resulted in an ongoing process of security privatization. Increasingly, affluent populations rely on private security companies to guard their gated communities and other fortified enclaves. Meanwhile, in many poor communities, vigilante groups and criminal gangs have taken on the role of extralegal private security providers. In addition, state resources are being put to private use, with police services made available in a differentiated fashion in line with political and economic interests. As private actors and privatized state agents become increasingly important in maintaining public order, deterring and punishing transgression, these forms of security privatization and the blurring of notions of the public and the private are likely to further contribute to the crisis of political legitimacy. We invite contributions that combine ethnographic and theoretical explorations of these processes.

Crises – where there is too much to forget yet too little to notice.

Organizers: Henrik Rønsbo,  Senior Researcher, DIGNITY Institute, Copenhagen, Denmark and Lotte Buch Segal, post doc research fellow, Institute of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

How do people give voice to and gesture toward that which is sensed as a crises, but which appear utterly ordinary? By raising this question in relation to ethnographies of violence, crises and war it is our intention with this panel to trace the coordinates of conflict, through the marks they leave on social life in terms of the imponderables of crisis. On this premise it is our hope to calibrate current discussions in anthropology regarding what crisis is.

This way, this panel calls for a hiatus in thinking crisis in a quantitative scale — the bigger the crisis the more important — and instead focus on the temporal and spatial coordinates of sociality where the obvious signs of crises have long evaporated and a sense of the everyday and ordinary have settled in. In such contexts, how do we as anthropologists make sense of the crisis that is somehow felt to be there –- by us as ethnographers as well as by our interlocutors — but seems to be nowhere around? How do we draw the contours of an imponderable crisis? And what are the epistemological implications of work that touches the enigmatic?

We therefore ask participants to think about sites and temporalities where crisis is perhaps not even palpable, but present only through a sense of uncanniness in everyday life? What do these registers look like? And how do we practice co-evalness and create shared experiences (Fabian 1983; Hastrup 1995) in them?

Escalating crisis

Organizers: Andreas Bandak, TORS, University of Copenhagen and Anja Kublitz, Global Refugee Studies, Aalborg University

Within the last decade the world has witnessed a number of escalations that were incited by decisive, yet often unremarkable events: the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor that prompted the Arab spring, the bursting of a housing bubble in the US that catalyzed a global financial crisis, and the publication of cartoons in a Danish newspaper that triggered an international controversy. Escalations are rarely anticipated and their outcomes are almost always unpredictable. Their tremendous effects, however, are beyond question.

This panel aims to explore how the concept of escalation can provide a fruitful framework for examining the transformative potential of crisis. It is our hypothesis that escalations of crisis not only imply a rapid movement between different levels (from small to big) or across different domains (e.g. from religion to politics) but simultaneously involve the potential for something qualitatively new to emerge. We therefore invite papers reflecting the following questions: How can events become triggering points for escalations? How do escalations change while growing? How are people appropriated by accelerating changes? And how do we understand de-escalations as decreasing intensity and potentiality?

We welcome papers – across domains such as political conflicts, climate or finance – that based on ethnographic material aim to understand and theorize escalating processes.

Post-Conflict Security Crisis Management: Discourses, Expectations and Practices.

Organizer: Jairo Munive, Danish Institute for International Studies

This panel proposes to explore empirically the politics of security crisis management in states recovering from conflict. It is specifically looking for contributions examining how do “interveners” and “stabilizers” conceptualize and understand post-conflict crisis management in relation to security and the protection of civilians.

Though the years there has been a specialization of tasks and the development of a myriad of programs to manage crisis and renewed conflict in the aftermath of conflict They range from Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Programs (DDR) Security Sector Reform (SSR), Youth employment programs, to interim stabilization measures just to name a few. Crucial to the development of post-conflict security crisis management is the privilege of expert knowledge, which is not necessarily local and context-specific.

The important point is that the framing of the conflict/crisis shapes how crisis are understood, discussed and responded to (Autessere 2010; McGinty 2012). Rather than being value-free these interventions are characterized by logic of control, securitization and containment. Yet is it worth asking: first if it is possible to manage security and secondly what the results are in an arena where international and locals have different ideas as to what constitutes “crisis”.

Communicating in Crises: Social Networks and Social Narratives of Peace and Conflict

Organizer:Liz Stones, University College London

This panel will provide an opportunity for critical engagement with theories and ethnographies examining social networks, narratives and experiences of peace and conflict. Topics which may be addressed include examinations of the ways social networks provide systems of meaning during crisis situations, engender exclusive spheres of communication and experience, merge (or delineate) the public and private, provide transformative potential and impact broader narratives of peace and conflict. Social networks can provide both the medium and the legitimation for the transmission of rhetoric encouraging violent or non-violent action in different cultural contexts, and are evolving with the increasing penetration of new communications technologies. They provide the potential for anthropological engagement in new terrains, including technologically enabled virtual space as well as more traditional communicative systems. Applicants are encouraged to submit paper proposals exploring these themes.

Ruination and the Politics of Re-emergence

Organizer: Henrik Vigh, University of Copenhagen

This panel looks at the political ideas shaped within situations of long-term conflict and decline. Taking empirical points of departure it calls for papers that investigate political imaginaries from within processes of ruination, as both “a condition to which one is subject and a cause of loss” (Stoler 2008:195). Such social states are often experienced as a sense of social and spatial destruction or dislocation (Gordillo 2011), spurring political visions of regained unity and order. When caught in crisis things, we say, have ‘fallen apart,’ or are ‘in pieces.’ This sense of social fragmentation gives way to ideas and practices of reconfiguration. They generate political ideas and arrangements that are seen as restorative, offering visions of cohesion than counter the disarray of the present. Critical conditions and processes of social ruination spur imaginaries, figure and forms of reinstated or recreated cohesion. These may be religiously, culturally or economically defined, yet seem to share an idea of restoration and renaissance of being and worth, which is anchored in naturalised, sacred and/or ‘pure’ orders, such as, for example, fascism, fundamentalism, millenarianism and nationalism. Such ideas and movements are articulated as paths by which it is possible to regain social states and existential security and offering alternatives to a threatening present and future suffering, social and political collapse. The panel, thus, call for papers that look at political imaginaries from within critical states and processes of ruination.

Societal Violence and the Social Dynamics of Emotions and Memory

Organizer: Centre for the Resolution of International Conflicts (CRIC)

Some societies and cultures appear to be more prone to violence than others, but one should beware of the dangers of essentialising such differences. Propensities for resorting to violence are not a function of race, ethnicity, religion or gender as such, but rather of learning, in the process of which the ways of handling emotions and collective memories of past (perceived) victimisation and humiliation play important roles. In some cases one side’s memories about past confrontations can remain dormant for a long time, but be reawakened in situations of crisis, thus motivating actions that will, in turn, revive other memories on the other side and serve to create or confirm enemy images that can add venom to a conflict—as has arguably been the case in Northern Ireland, Rwanda and Burundi and elsewhere. Symbolic action (e.g. the genuflection of Willy Brandt in front of a Polish war memorial) may sometimes help putting such memories to rest again, and “truth commissions” may contribute to reconciliation—but it all depends on the context.

The organisers invite proposals for papers on these themes which will be reviewed by members of the core group of CRIC, i.e. Ole Wæver, Dietrich Jung, Anna Leander, Sarah  Dybris McQuaid, Poul Poder and Jacob Skovgaard and Bjørn Møller.

Dealing with past crises: memory politics and transitional justice in Northeast Africa and the Middle East

Organizers: Tobias Hagmann & Sune Haugbølle , Department of Society and Globalisation, Roskilde University

How do societies in Northeast Africa and the Middle East that experienced mass violence as part of civil war, state repression or other human rights violations address past injustices and atrocities? This panel invites empirically grounded papers that investigate current memory politics and efforts to address multiple legacies of violence from an anthropological and empirically grounded perspective. Heeding Shaw and Waldorf’s (2010) to ‘localize’ transitional justice, we are interested in papers that shed light on the contested processes of accountability, truth making, reconciliation and forgetting that characterize post-conflict societies. These processes occur at the interface of local, national and transnational norms and discourses. By comparing cases from across the area, the panel will address whether or not there are particular regional dynamics at play in Northeast Africa and the MENA region, and if so, whether they are anchored in cultural norms, including Islamic legal traditions.

Military in Flux: an Anthropological Approach

Organizer: Erella Grassiani, University of Amsterdam

It is not uncommon these days to find reports about militaries around the world in crisis; budget cuts, changing conflicts, and changing attitudes to military missions all ask military institutions, which are often quite inherently inflexible, to make changes and to make these changes fast. This panel will take an anthropological approach to military institutions that find themselves in flux and have to adept themselves to political, social, socio-geographical and technological changes. What for example happens to soldiers who are prepared to perform in peace missions and all of a sudden are expected to fight in combat? Or to those who serve among civilians and who suddenly face more classical types of conflict. What do soldiers experience when after years at the frontline their mission is delegitimized in public debates? What do new technologies mean in terms of ethics, responsibility and training for the soldiers on the ground? This panel then will try to examine anthropological, bottom up approaches to changing militaries and the experiences of soldiers within them and invites paper proposals dealing with these issues.

Crisis in Institutions

Organizers: Nerina Weiss, Fafo Institute for Applied International Studies, and Ivana Macek, Hugo Valentine Centre, Uppsala University

How are genocides administered? How do human beings deal with emotional stress in their everyday work life? How do asylum officers, social workers and bureaucrats relate to the files they have to decide upon? What happens when the moral obligation and empathy for another human disappears; or when the institutional rules, organization, and structures do not take them into account? Zygmund Bauman has argued for the connection between modernity, bureaucracy, rationality and social exclusion. Simultaneously we have become more sensitive to emotional stress and its coping mechanisms. Research on the Holocaust has shown that mistreating humans is an emotionally exhausting work. Drawing on our own coping experiences in the violent anthropological fields, we want to extend our focus to bureaucrats and other professionals. We therefore call for reflections on the emotional stress in academic and institutional life. How are political and economic changes translated into institutional routines and everyday practices of the institutions’ employees? Contributors are invited to reflect on their own academic work but also to extend their focus to the emotional stress their research participants have to deal with at work. Do the anthropology of violence and our own experience as researchers in that field provide us with methodological and analytical perspectives from which to better explore emotional crises in institutions and their consequences?

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