• Mostar bridge, Sarajevo
  • Victims of genocide, Nyamata memorial, Rwanda
  • Parade of coffins, Srebrenica, Bosnia
  • Mountain gorilla twins, Rwanda
  • Mosque, Sarajevo, Bosnia
  • Altar, Nyamata memorial, Rwanda
  • Remembering the dead, Srebrenica, Bosnia
  • Rural life, Rwanda
  • Victims of genocide, Srebrenica, Bosnia
  • Prisoners at work, Rwanda
  • Pigeon square, Sarajevo, Bosnia
  • VIctims of genocide, Ntarama, Rwanda

Guest blog post: Warwick Oral History Network

September 28th, 2016


Last week, I published a brief guest blog post for the Warwick Oral History Network that talks about my forthcoming article in Memory Studies on ‘iconic stories’ in the aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. I won’t republish the blog here, but watch this space for further publication details–the underlying article is due out in 2017!

Call for papers: IAGS Panel on “Genocidal Symbolic Violence”

September 2nd, 2016


Call for Papers: Panel on “Genocidal Symbolic Violence”

For submission to the IAGS Biennial Meeting, ‘Justice and the Prevention of Genocide’, 9 – 13 July 2017, Brisbane, Australia

Organizers: Dr Erin Jessee (Scottish Oral History Centre, University of Strathclyde) and Dr. Annie Pohlman (The University of Queensland)

Since the 1990s, a growing range of scholarship within comparative genocide studies has analysed the role and function of various forms of excessive and often spectacular torture, mutilation and execution that have been observed during genocides around the world. Some of the earliest studies examined acts of ‘excessive’ violence (Feldman 1991; Malkki 1995; Sutton 1995; Taylor 1999; Boose, 2002) to consider how and why such acts were perceived to be necessary during genocide. These early studies gave rise to analyses of the culturally-specific ‘vivisectionist’ logic that is actively communicated through the extreme forms of violence inflicted upon the bodies of perceived enemies (Appadurai 1998), prompting scholars such as Jacques Semelin (2007) to question whether understanding the symbolic meaning inherent in ‘orgiastic violence’ is potentially ‘the key’ to understanding genocide and related mass atrocities in different settings.

To this end, we welcome papers that go beyond voyeuristic or sensationalised descriptions of genocidal symbolic violence to consider the deeper meaning and effect of such spectacular violence in different contexts as a lens for better understanding genocides and their aftermaths. Authors are encouraged to examine any topic that engages with genocidal symbolic violence, including but not limited to the following questions:

  • What are some of the ethical, methodological, and theoretical challenges inherent in research on genocidal symbolic violence?
  • What purpose do particular forms of genocidal symbolic violence serve from the perspectives of survivors, bystanders, and/or perpetrators?
  • Is there a relationship between symbolic violence and genocidal intent?
  • How might genocidal symbolic violence impact victims’ identities in terms of ethnicity, sex, gender, class, and so on?
  • How does the performance of genocidal symbolic violence impact those who are perpetrators or bystanders?
  • To what extent does genocidal symbolic violence interfere with post-conflict transitional justice mechanisms aimed at promoting social vitality and social repair?
  • What role does desecration play the production of ‘bad deaths’, including the interruption of social mourning or remembrance?

As per the IAGS submission guidelines, please include in your submission: a 250 word abstract; 4 keywords; your name, title, position, contact details and institutional affiliation; as well as a short biography of no more than 150 words (no CVs, please).

Please send submissions to: erin.jessee@strath.ac.uk and a.pohlman@uq.edu.au by 1 November 2016.


New Publication: ‘Rwandan Women No More: Female Génocidaires in the Aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide’ in Conflict and Society

December 14th, 2015

Murambi wood carvings

I’m pleased to announce my article, ‘Rwandan Women No More: Female Génocidaires in the Aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide‘ has just been published in the new anthropology journal, Conflict and Society: Advances in Research. Part of a special section that explores the ethical, methodological, and theoretical insights that can be gained from applying ethnographic methods to the study of perpetrators of political violence, this article examines Rwanda’s admittedly dynamic gender norms as they pertain to the alleged criminal activities of Rwandan women during the 1994 genocide.

Since the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the current government has arrested approximately 130,000 civilians who were suspected of criminal responsibility. An estimated 2,000 were women, a cohort that remains rarely researched through an ethnographic lens. This article begins to address this oversight by analyzing ethnographic encounters with 8 confessed or convicted female génocidaires from around Rwanda. These encounters reveal that many female génocidaires believe they endure gender-based discrimination throughout their post-genocide legal journeys for having violated taboos that determine appropriate conduct for Rwandan women. However, only female génocidaires with minimal education, wealth, and social capital referenced this gender-based discrimination to minimize their crimes and assert claims of victimization. Conversely, female elites who helped incite the genocide framed their victimization in terms of political betrayal and victor’s justice. This difference is likely informed by the female elites’ participation in the political processes that made the genocide possible, as well as historical precedence for leniency where female elites are concerned.

As always, I’m grateful for the hard work of the editorial team at Conflict and Society — Ronald Stade, Erella Grassiani, and Alexander Horstmann — as well as the anonymous reviewers and participants in the 2013 AAA panel and 2014 ‘Approaching Perpetrators’ workshop who provided helpful feedback on early drafts of this article. Extra special thanks go to the Rwandan women who are the subject of this article, for sharing their narratives with me.

Special Section of new journal, Conflict and Society, on ‘Approaching Perpetrators’

December 14th, 2015


Congratulations to Ronald Stade, Erella Grassiani, and Alexander Horstmann on the launch of the new anthropology journal, Conflict and Society! As part of its inaugural issue, they have published a special section that includes several excellent papers from the workshop I co-organized in May 2014 with Tal Nitsán on ‘Conflict and Society, Volume 1 (2015)‘. The following is a brief excerpt from the introduction I wrote for the special section:

“The rationale for this special section of Conflict and Society lies in anthropology’s relatively recent and steadily growing application to the study of political violence in its various manifestations, from everyday instances of subtle structural violence to more overt cases of war and mass atrocities. In the late 1990s, Carolyn Nordstrom’s (1997) work among soldiers and ordinary civilians whose lives had been intimately affected by Mozambique’s civil war and Antonius Robben’s (1996) work among survivors and perpetrators of Argentina’s Dirty War enabled an important shift among ethnographers. Whereas in the past ethnographers typically focused on violence and warfare in substate and prestate societies, Nordstrom and Robben emphasized the foundations of political violence in complex state societies. Their work led to the emergence of a small cohort of ethnographers—among them Philippe Bourgois (2003), Nancy Scheper-Hughes (1997, 2002), and Neil Whitehead (2002, 2004)—specialized in what was soon termed “the ethnography of political violence”. Read the rest of this entry »

New(ish) Publication: ‘The Limits of Oral History’ in the new edition of Perks & Thomson’s The Oral History Reader

December 8th, 2015


Robert Perks and Alistair Thomson have just published the 3rd edition of their eagerly anticipated The Oral History Reader. The new edition includes several time-tested favorites found in previous editions, such as Paul Thompson’s ‘Voice of the past: Oral history’, Alessandro Portelli’s ‘What makes oral history different?’, Ann Stoler and Karen Strassler’s ‘Memory work in Java: A cautionary tale’, and Kathleen Blee’s ‘Evidence, empathy, and ethics: Lessons from oral histories of the Klan’. However, it also contains a host of new contributions, such as Steven High’s ‘Mapping memories of displacement: Oral history, memoryscapes and mobile methodologies’ and Sean Field’s ‘Imagining communities: Memory, loss and resilience in post-apartheid Cape Town’. And I’m pleased to announce that the final chapter is excerpted from my 2011 Oral History Review article ‘The limits of oral history: Ethics and methodology amid highly politicized research settings’. It’s truly an honour to have been selected to contribute to such a meaningful and essential oral history text. I’m grateful to Robert Perks and Alistair Thomson for their hard work in bringing this new edition together, and look forward to using it in my ‘Oral History Theory and Practice’ and ‘Advanced Oral History’ classes.


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