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How do anthropologists explain violence?
Anthropologists study violence through the lens of human cultural development. They usually focus on
institutionalized violence such as warfare and genital mutilation. They also study subcultural violence like
fraternity hazing. Anthropologists see violence as a means of establishing and maintaining hierarchy within
a cultural group. People who undergo violent rituals to become part of a group are likely to invest great
time and energy into protecting that group. They will highly value their group membership group because it
was so painful to become initiated.
One non-anthropological approach to explaining human violence is the psychological approach. The
psychological approach explains violence by describing what happens within the psyche of the individual
perpetrating the violence. A psychological approach to explaining violence emphasizes individual
motivations rather than cultures and institutions.

Violence is a way of communicating. It was used before we had complex language. Anthropologists see
violence as a power struggle. The most powerful person in the tribe is the alpha, or leader. Another way to
look at it is that violence is part of our modern society, even though we like to pretend that it isn't.

Taussig, Culture of Terror RACE and CLASS:
In Michael Taussig's analysis of the Putumayo Report, the white employees of English
owned rubber companies inflicted the most outrageous bodily punishments to the
Indigenous population of the Huitotos in Colombia, including men, elder, women and
children. And precisely, the discourse that legitimized this brutality was that the first
represented civilization, while the latter where presented as savages and cannibals.
Taussig argues that these practices of torture aimed at the establishment of a culture of
terror and cannot be merely explained by the rational logic of capitalism (in which torture
would be a way of obtaining free labour by disciplining a population). offer one or all of the standard rational explanations of the culture of terror is
[similarly] pointless. For behind the search for profits, the need to control labor, the need
to assuage frustration, and so on, lie intricately construed long-standing cultural logics of
meaning-structures of feeling- whose basis lies in a symbolic world and not in one of
rationalism. (Taussig 471)
Beyond market pressure, the use of ritualized violence against the indigenous
population relates then to the cultural construction of evil, and also can be viewed as a
way of male bonding between businessmen. Using Taussig's framework, we can
understand state violence as anchored in its civilizatory project (in opposition to the
savagery of the jungle), in which capitalism is its core content. In fact, Taussig points out
that the resistance of the Putumayo's indigenous people to engage in exchange was
presented by the rubber company owners as evidence of their savagery. But modernity is
a violent project driven not only by the rational of profit, as there is also an element of
mystic fear, hatred and awe towards the savages. Torture and violence would then be a
way not only to obtain labour, but is linked to a culture of terror based on the myth of the

cannibal savage (which we could maybe connect later with the popular image of the
baby eating communists?). In sum, the rubber company owners systematically sought
to inspire terror because they were themselves terrified of the jungle, constructed in
colonial imagination as a space of death.
To an important extent all societies live by fictions taken as reality. What distinguishes
cultures of terror is that the epistemological, ontological, and otherwise purely
philosophical problem of reality-and-illusion, certainty-and-doubt, becomes infinitely
more than a "merely" philosophical problem. It becomes a high-powered tool for
domination and a principal medium of political practice. And in the Putumayo rubber
boom this medium of epistemic and ontological murk was most keenly figured and
objectified as the space of death. (Taussig 492)
The use of violence and torture was an effective way to assert complex hierarchies of
race and class (many of which persist today to some degree in Latin America). Torture as
a systematic and ritualistic practice, in this context, became not only a mean, but a
mode and aim of production of power and meaning. This is all helpful to understand how
ritualistic violence is intrinsic (rather than opposed) to the bureaucratic rationality of the
This paper critically reviews Michael Taussig's essay on the culture and society in which
terror reigns supreme. It isolates Taussig's most important point that no matter how
much we try to understand the psychology of terror or victimization, we can never
satisfactorily reach its core because we have never really experienced it personally. It
discusses exposure to extreme terror, that forces people to escape reality and explores
Taussig's concept of "the space of death". The significance of this "space of death" is
assessed, applied to victims of colonization and the writer gives his/her personal opinion
on this coping mechanism. Taussig's work is compared to that of Eric Wolf, who wrote
"Europe and the People without History", about life in the colonies during imperial rule;
and the authors' differing approaches are highlighted.
"Michael Taussig has conducted a very powerful analysis of the culture and society in
which terror reigns supreme. He has focused on the world of victims and victimizers to
explain how and why their thinking differs from those who fortunately do not fall in either
of the two categories. The strongest point made by Michael Taussig is that no matter how
much we try to understand the psychology of terror or victimization, we can never
satisfactorily reach its core because we have never really experienced it with our own
eyes or flesh. This means that since the stories of terror usually reach us through word of
others, we are simply unable to understand why someone would go to such extreme
lengths to destroy other human beings. He is of the view that Indians or Africans and all
those who suffered under the Imperial rule did not exist in the same world as we do

Boellstorff, Homophobia in Indonesia GENDER and

This paper explores an unprecedented series of violent acts against gay Indonesians
beginning in September 1999. Indonesia is often characterized as tolerant of
homosexuality. This is a false belief, but one containing a grain of truth. To identify this
grain of truth I distinguish between heterosexism and homophobia, noting that

Indonesia has been marked by a predominance of heterosexism over homophobia. I

examine the emergence of a political homophobia directed at public events where gay
men stake a claim to Indonesias troubled civil society. That such violence is seen as the
properly masculine response to these events indicates how the nation may be gaining a
new masculinist cast. In the new Indonesia, malemale desire can increasingly be
construed as a threat to normative masculinity, and thus to the nation itself.

Aretxaga, Dirty Protest SUBJECTIVITY, GENDER and POWER
Aretxaga describes the Dirty Protest that took place in Northern Ireland in the late 1970s
in which prisoners did not wash themselves and did not leave their cells to use the
lavatory. Aretxaga claims that this protest demonstrates how subjectivity, gender, and
power are expressed in situations of political violence. She mainly focuses on two
theoretical approaches; Foucaults theory on power and interpretative Anthropology
acute to subjectivity, which seem contradictory but can complement each
other according to Aretxaga. In the following I will briefly explain the Dirty Protest, which
will be followed by a critical examination of Aretxagas main arguments, to conclude with
some questions and points of discussion.
In 1969 riots in Belfast were followed by a high number of arrests of Irish Catholic
nationalists from the Irish Republican Army and Irish National Liberation Army. Prisoners
achieved a special prisoner status as political prisoners after a hunger strike in 1972.
This status gave them certain privileges but was withdrawn in 1976, exposing them to a
higher degree of disciplinary rules. Prisoners started the Dirty Protest by resisting prison
uniforms and staying in their prison cells but evolved into the use of excrement to make
the cell walls and floors dirty. The protest was imitated by female prisoners in 1980 who
in addition used their menstrual blood in the protest. The outside world had barely any
understanding of this protest and framed it as irrational.
But why did these prisoners engage in the Dirty Protest? One of the answers Aretxaga
provides is by subjectivity and its role in humiliation and violence. Power is exercised by
discipline of subjects in an ongoing socialisation process. With the loss of the political
prisoner status, the prisoners were socialised into mere subjects without any power.
They were subjected to continuous humiliation and violence from prison guards, and
psychological hardship caused by the loss of friends and family outside the prison walls.
The use of excrement is not just used as a detached weapon, but as a personal process
of extreme hate and powerlessness caused by violence. The creation of aversion of
excrement can be seen as the first step in the socialisation process of a child, which
gives the use of excrement the symbolic meaning of anti-discipline.
The protest goes beyond the prison walls, since it symbolises bigger processes and
power relationships in society. The power that is enacted in prison symbolises the power
distinction between Catholics in Northern Ireland and the British state. Britains denial of
involvement with the protest mirrors the denial of historical responsibility in the violence
in Northern Ireland. Jeffrey Sluka (2000) states that the violence of the Republicans
should be understood in the light of continuous oppression and state violence and
Aretxaga argues that this particular protest should also be understood within this
context. Aretxaga also regards the protest as the materialisation of assumptions about
the dirty Irish who have been depicted as savages by Britain for a long time. The Dirty
Protest turns this savagery around states Aretxaga: In Northern Ireland the fiction of

criminality of Republican prisoners ultimately exposed and reproduced the savagery of

state policies (Aretxaga 1995:137). By this protest the prisoners give a critique on British
civilisation and its policies.
Aretxaga states that women initially joined the protest as an imitation of male prisoners,
but that the meaning and implications of the protest were different. Female prisoners
were not regarded as women, since womanhood was not associated with prison. Female
prisoners were desexualised and regarded as girls that were somehow gender neutral
and in a liminal position. The suffering of women in prison as well as society had been
silenced but became materialised in the menstrual blood. While menstrual blood is like
excrement, a primordial bodily material, the taboo on it was connected to an asexual
image of women created by the Catholic church and Irish nationalists. It created a
cultural discussion on the meaning of gender differences in Northern Ireland and the
exclusionary politics of feminism and nationalism. Feminist organisations judged the
protest as a mimic of the male protest, but Aretxaga states that within imitation there is
space for change as this example shows. She states that theyfemale protesters initially
joined the protest as an imitation and that the change of meaning by menstrual blood
was a unintetional consequence. The menstrual blood had an actual political power
which can be understood as performativity.
I think that the strength of this article is that it shows how the deep play of
interpretative anthropology and power in Foucaults theory do not exclude each other.
Others who have criticized Foucault such as Feldman made clear that Foucault reduced
subjects to mere victims of bodily punishment, but Feldman states that the subject can
use their body as a weapon. According to Aretxaga the body is not just as weapon it is
also a symbol and a symptom of violence and power in- and outside of prison. Within this
idea she gives special attention to psychoanalysts such as Lacan and Freud, which shows
the connection between Anthropology and ideas about the subject in other disciplines.
Next to that she pays a lot of attention to the idea of deep play. Clifford Geertzs idea of
deep play (as described in his famous article on the Balinese cockfight) in which he
treats culture as a meaningful text is somewhat a-historical, as becomes apparent in his
disengagement with the colonial history (Geertz:1972). Aretxaga does not fall completely
into the same pitfall by stating that the protest was also a critique on the historical
discourse on the Irish as savages, but she could have paid more attention to the
historical context and make a comparison between the denial of British involvement in
the violence in Northern Ireland and similar denials in former colonies.
The second main argument she makes on gender did not completely convince me. While
I agree that womens involvement gave a different meaning to the protest by the
different symbolic meaning of menstrual blood, I have doubts about the effects on
gender inequality. Aretxaga states that it started the discussion on the feminine subject
and nationalism, but is the current idea about nationalism inclusive to women? I think I
am mainly concerned about this issue since this article is theoretically very strong but I
am not sure if this interpretation is recognised in society: what were the real
consequences of the Dirty Protest in the British and Irish society?

Ben-Ari and Frustuck, Live-fire in Japan CELEBRATION of

In this article we analyze an annual live-fire exercise held by Japan's SelfDefense Forces for the general public. On the basis of our analysis, we suggest
that anthropologists seriously examine the military establishments of

technologically advanced societies. If anthropologists want to understand

violent acts, we need to study the perpetrators of such acts and not only their
victims. In most of the scholarly literature, violence is seen as anomalous and
disruptive-as the reverse of social order. In contrast, we demonstrate how
violence can also be understood as an object of fascination, enjoyment, and
celebration. We show how the link between violence and the military is
variously concealed, naturalized, or blurred in events such as the live-fire

Kaponski, Violence in Mongolia RELIGION

Drawing upon extensive archival research, in this paper I re-examine the relationship
among political violence, sovereignty and the state of exception through the lens of the
question of the lamas, a power struggle between the early Mongolian socialist state and
the Buddhist establishment in the 1920s1930s. I use the Mongolian case to argue for a
revisioning of the state of exception as technologies of exception, to better highlight the
fluid nature of the exception. These technologies of exception were a range of policies,
propaganda and forms of violence that were enacted at various times. It was only with
the failure of all prior technologies of exception that mass killing was taken up. Mongolia
thus offers a useful case study in the relationship among sovereignty, exception and
political violence in contingent states.