Warfare and Society: Archaeological and Social Anthropological Perspectives

By Ton Otto; Henrik Thrane et al. | Go to book overview

29 Violence and Identification in a Bosnian Town:
An Empirical Critique of Structural Theories of Violence

TORSTEN KOLIND

The aim of this article is to account for some of the consequences of the recent war in Bosnia Herzegovina on matters of identification in everyday life among the Muslims of Stolac.1 Or, to put it a little polemically, the lack of effect the war had.

On the level of experience it has had devastating effects. As ethnographic analyses of war experiences show, war often radically destroys the everyday taken-for-granted world of civilians, which, following the work of Scarry (1985), has been termed the ‘unmaking of the world’ (Das et al. 2001; Nordstom 1997; Povrzanovic 1997; Zur 1998; Maček 2000; Jackson 2002). Or, as one of my informants once said:

Nicolas [TK], you can’t understand what the war has done to
us. At first sight everything may look normal, but it’s not.
Nothing is normal. The war has changed everything.

But on the level of identification the changes have not been that absolute and radical. This came as a surprise to me during my fieldwork, and it also stands in some opposition to structurally inspired anthropological analyses of war and war-related violence.

Such analyses have primarily focused upon the inherent potential of violence and war to create identities. In a condensed form the line of reasoning goes like this: Identity is built on difference, and when differences become too small identity is at risk; violence then recreates or reinforces difference. This is, for instance, Blok’s (2000) argument. He calls it, following Freud, the ‘narcissism of minor differences’ when violent practices are aimed at destroying resemblance and thereby creating ‘the other’. As he writes in relation to the eruption of war in former Yugoslavia:

Once more we see the working of the narcissism of minor dif-
ferences: the erosion and loss of distinctions and differences
result in violence. (ibid.: 41)

Violence as a technique to create others is also present in Olujic’s (1998) analysis of violence in Bosnia and in Malkki’s (1998) study of Hutu narratives of Tutsi violence. As she concludes one of her chapters:

Through violence, bodies of individual persons become meta-
morphosed into specimens of the ethnic category for which
they are supposed to stand. (ibid.: 88, original italics)

Violence creates the structural division on which identity is built: we are us because we fight against them and vice versa. This kind of argument is also present in Knudsen’s (1989a) study of the vendetta

-447-

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