Death Squad: The Anthropology of State Terror

Death Squad: The Anthropology of State Terror

Death Squad: The Anthropology of State Terror

Death Squad: The Anthropology of State Terror


Death Squad is the first book-length treatment of the anthropology of state terror. It brings together an international group of anthropologists who have done extensive research in areas marked by extreme forms of state violence and who have studied state terror from the perspective of victims and survivors.

The book presents eight case studies from seven countries -- Spain, India (Punjab and Kashmir), Argentina, Guatemala, Northern Ireland, Indonesia, and the Philippines -- to demonstrate the cultural complexities and ambiguities of terror when viewed at the local level and from the participants' point of view. Contributors deal with such topics as the role of Loyalist death squads in the culture of terror in Northern Ireland, the three-tier mechanism of state terror in Indonesia, the complex role of religion in violence by both the state and insurgents in Punjab and Kashmir, and the ways in which "disappearances" are used to destabilize and demoralize opponents of the state in Argentina, Guatemala, and India.

In addressing the anthropology of terror, Death Squad presents a much-needed exploration of a critical yet overlooked topic.


This book is the first collection of ethnographic case studies focused specifically on the anthropology of state terror. It is a positive response to Linda Green’s observation that “Overwhelming empirical evidence demonstrates that state violence has been standard operating procedure in numerous contemporary societies where anthropologists have conducted fieldwork over the past three decades. Despite an alarming rise in the most blatant forms of transgression, repression and state terrorism, the topic has not captured the anthropological imagination” (1995:107). It also reflects her suggestion, after Nancy Scheper-Hughes, that one way anthropologists may overcome this failure of imagination is to construct ethnographies as “sites of resistance,” “acts of solidarity,” and a way to “write against terror” (Green 1995:109). The goals of the book are to bring together contemporary ethnographic studies of state terror and its impact on local-level communities, particularly the occurrence of extrajudicial state killings of political opponents and civilians through disappearances and death squad activities, and to both present and reflect upon the “state of the art” of contemporary anthropological considerations of state terror, including theoretical perspectives, methodological approaches, fieldwork experiences, and ethical dilemmas.

The book brings together an international panel of anthropologists with extensive research experience in areas marked by extreme forms of state repression and terror, who have all studied state terror from the local-level perspective of victims and survivors living in “targeted” communities. The first chapter provides a general introduction to the topic of state terror, an overview of contemporary anthropological approaches to this subject, and the outlines of an anthropological theory of state terror. This is followed by eight ethnographic case studies, exploring aspects of the complex, difficult, and disturbing human issue of state terror in Argentina, Guatemala, the Philippines, Kashmir, Punjab, the Basque Country, East Timor, and Northern Ireland. The volume does not . . .

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