The Ethnography of Political Violence

ANTH403B, Department of Anthropology, The University of British Columbia

Tag: everyday violence

Women and Violence

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Algerian Woman, 1960. Photo by Marc Granger. Taken from “Unwilling Subjects in the Algerian War.”

On Tuesday, we’ll begin to examine gendered violence as it impacts of the everyday lives of civilians around the world. Pierre Bourdieu’s “Gender and Symbolic Violence” offers a useful theoretical framework for understanding symbolic violence, in so far as it forces readers to look beyond overt expressions of physical violence against women to consider less visible manifestations of structural violence that, laden with symbolic capital, negatively impacts women’s lives through “the embedding of social structures in bodies” (p. 342). Veena Das’ contribution on “Language and Body” then identifies an important relationship between nationalism, war, and the bodies of Indian and Pakistani women: namely, the tendency for women to internalize suffering so that life can continue in the aftermath of the Partition.

According to Bourdieu and Das, how does gendered violence emerge and take shape within a society? How does it become part of everyday life? And why is it so difficult to combat?


Guest Lecture by Beth Stewart: Research with Children and Young People in Contexts of War

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Art from the bush. Photo by Beth Stewart.

On Thursday, Beth Stewart will discuss her PhD research. Beth works with children who were born into the rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda. These are children whose mothers were abducted as children, forced to ‘marry’ into the ranks of the LRA and forced to bear children. In this guest lecture, Beth will demonstrate the overlooked value of positioning children as agents in research. Doing so challenges dominant narratives about children in contexts of war. Yet if we listen in creative ways to these children, Beth argues that they communicate profound insights into their lives and the social worlds around them.

The readings (Honwana 2006 or Utas 2004; Verma 2012) offer examples of both the importance of creative and careful listening and the agency of young people. In contexts of political violence, even children learn the necessity of strategically aligning with different narratives. Yet, if we don’t ‘listen’, the meanings of such manoeuvrings are lost and the young people remain depicted as helpless victims. Similarly, adult narratives often taint understandings of young people’s behaviours. What may seem like a child’s reckless or hopeless behaviour to an adult, particularly a Western adult, may in fact mean something far more significant to the child. The everyday experiences of children in contexts of political violence are filled with meaning and purpose.

By Beth Stewart

Poverty and Disproportionate Risk


Vancouver’s downtown eastside. Photo taken from

In Thursday’s class, we’ll be taking a more indepth look at poverty as a key factor in the emergence and reproduction of everyday political violence around the world. The readings by Nancy Scheper-Hughes (on the social production of indifference to child death in Brazil) and Philippe Bourgois (on inner city apartheid in the United States) highlight two case studies in which poverty – itself often an expression of everyday structural violence – can be linked to various forms of violence, from sexual assaults of women who transgress traditional gender roles to the willful indifference of bureaucrats to high infant mortality rates. Based on these readings, how does poverty contribute to the emergence and reproduction of violence in the everyday? Who is most at risk? And how can ethnographers contribute to raising awareness of its negative effects within a community?

Also, please note I’ve added a LINKS section to the website that highlights ethnographic (and other) responses to current examples of political violence around the world. Feel free to use this as a starting point for brainstorming for your final project. I’ll continue adding to it over the semester. And by all means, if you come across any examples of political violence that I’m missing, feel free to send me links and I’ll add them to the page.

Political Violence: Approaching the Everyday


Image from the Edmonton Journal

In Tuesday’s class, we’ll begin considering political violence as it manifests in the everyday lives of civilians around the world. We’ll be looking closely at two readings. The first reading – Veena Das’ “The Event and the Everyday” is available online through the UBC library’s ebooks collection. The second reading – Nancy Scheper-Hughes’ “Specificities: Peace-time Crimes” is also available online through UBC’s ejournal subscriptions.

The purpose of these readings is to provide us with a starting point for a possible theoretical framework for understanding more subtle forms of everyday violence as it impacts the lives of civilians everywhere, including our own. Some possible questions for consideration: what does everyday political violence look like? Where does it come from? Who, within a community, is responsible for perpetuating everyday violence? And to what effect? In perpetuating everyday political violence through our actions, do we become complicit, or are we merely an additional category of its victims?