• 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

Keynote presentation: “Beyond victims and perpetrators: Complex political actors surrounding the 1994 genocide in Rwanda”

October 27th, 2016


Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the University of Marburg Centre for Conflict Studies conference “On Collective Violence: Actions, Roles, Perceptions.” It included three jam-packed days of presentations by scholars and practitioners approaching the study of collective violence in different settings from a range of (inter)disciplinary backgrounds. In addition to being expertly organized by Kristine Avram, Melanie Hartmann, Miriam Leiberich, Philipp Schultheiß, and Timothy Williams, the overall format of the event resulted in many excellent papers and fruitful conversations between those in attendance.

In addition, I was honoured to be asked alongside my exceptional colleagues, Alette Smeulers and Christian Gudehus, to give a keynote presentation related to my forthcoming book, Negotiating Genocide in Rwanda: The Politics of History. The title of my keynote presentation was “Beyond victims and perpetrators: Complex political actors surrounding the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.” It focused on civilians’ experiences surrounding the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, during which an estimated 400,000 to 800,000 civilians, most of whom were affiliated with the nation’s ethnic Tutsi minority population, were murdered by Hutu Power extremists affiliated with the nation’s ethnic Hutu majority. In the immediate aftermath of the genocide, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF)—much like the governments that preceded it—has invested in a simplistic official history. In the case of the RPF, however, their preferred official history prioritizes recognition of the genocide according to the terms of the 1948 UN Genocide Convention, and categorizes the population as either Tutsi victims and/or survivors, and Hutu génocidaires (perpetrators). Drawing upon nearly a decade of oral historical, archival, and ethnographic research conducted among survivors, bystanders, ex-combatants, convicted perpetrators, government officials, and other parties to the conflict, I discussed how this official history has impacted Rwandan civilians from different sides of the conflict. I spoke about the difficulties many Rwandans face in making sense of their diverse actions surrounding the genocide, as well as those of their compatriots, solely in terms of the false dichotomy of Tutsi victims/survivors and Hutu perpetrators. As a first step toward better understanding and representing the complexity of people’s experiences of the genocide, I suggested—building upon the work of Erica Bouris and Erin Baines—approaching Rwandans as “complex political actors.” This framing better captures the individual circumstances that informed Rwandans’ actions surrounding genocide, and the manner in which people frequently switch between presenting themselves as victims, survivors, bystanders, and perpetrators, for example, at different points surrounding the genocide in response to the broader social, political and historical circumstances that surround them in any given moment.

I am grateful to the conference organizers for the opportunity to speak about my work in more depth, and for the opportunity to engage with such a dedicated group of scholars and practitioners. Congratulations on a wonderful event!

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 has been published online already, and will be appearing in the hard copy of the journal 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. Read the rest of this entry »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »


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