Anthropology of Violence and Conflict. (Book Reviews: Social Anthropology)

Article excerpt

SCHMIDT, BETTINA E. & INGO W SCHRODER (eds). Anthropology of violence and conflict (EASA). x, 229 pp.' bibliogrs. London, New York: Routledge, 2001 [pounds sterling]16.99 (paper)

This very timely collection begins with two theoretical essays defining violence and proposing ways that anthropologists may investigate it. Editors Schmidt and Schroder adopt an earlier definition by David Riches, that violence is 'an act of physical hurt deemed legitimate by the performer and by (some) witnesses' (p. 3). Glenn Bowman, however, asserts that this definition distracts attention from the sources of such 'hurts', and proposes instead that violence be seen as a 'force' that generates 'integral boundaries' (p. 27). Thus where Schmidt and Schroder recommend study of the performance of the act of hurting, Bowman looks towards the conditions under which such acts occur, seeing 'intransitive violence' as serving to 'create the integrities and identities which are in turn subjected to those forms of violence which seek victims' (p. 27). Similarly, where Schmidt and Schroder see a potential trajectory of violence as beginning with 'intergroup competition' (p. 19), Bowman looks at the ways in which confi gurations of identity and of (threatened) performances of hurting reinforce each other, defining the group through anticipation of conflict.

Following these introductory essays are discrete studies of war, vendetta, duels and suicide among the Yupka of Venezuela (Ernst Halbmayer), cannibalism and other violent images of the Caribbean (Bettina Schmidt), Albanian constructions of identity, violence, and power in times of crisis (Stephanie Schwandner-Sievers), intergroup conflict in Ethiopia (Jon Abbink) and in Sri Lanka (Peter Kloos), violence in Apache erhnohistory (lnga Schroder), gender and memories of war violence in Somalia (Francesca Declich), and Sarajevo wartime experiences and ethics (Ivana Macek).

All of these chapters pay close attention to perceptions of violence by perpetrators, victims, onlookers, historians, and anthropologists. Macek's chapter explores the changes in perception of the Bosnian war by one key informant, from his initial rise to the defence of the 'normalcy' of pre-war Sarajevo through a deserter' mode, in which the assumptions of the morality of attempting to defend the prewar normalcy collapse in recognition of the general amorality, at best, of the war. In the chapters of Schmidt, Schroder, and Declich the attention to the ways in which conflicts are remembered is a useful reminder of the ways in which oppositions, once created, are read backwards from conflict to the preconflict past, giving a seeming inevitability to events that may have been much more contingent. …