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The State of the Art in Understanding Violence Valery A. TishEov Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Russian Academy of Sciences his paper attempts to analyze existing theoretical approaches to the phenomenon of violence and illustrate their applicability or limita- tions in explaining post-Soviet era conflicts. More importantly, I will attempt to introduce a more complex view of this research topic, where no holistic theory will be able to explain the phenomenon in its entirety, possibly because too many different societal events have been errone- ously labeled under the general category of violence. We are primarily interested in political violence, especially in its group and militant manifestations. This type of violence is currently of the great- est concern to present day society and specialists. One reason for this heightened interest lies in the fact that the twentieth century was marked by an unprecedented increase in killings motivated by racial, class, ethnic, and religious differences. Perhaps no sociopolitical movement, even those pursuing the most admirable goals, has ever escaped what French phi- losopher Michel Foucault called the "paradox of hegemonistic conse- quences of liberation movements." In fact, among modern political move- ments, those aimed at various sorts of self-determination are the most likely to use violent struggle to achieve their goals. The struggle not only takes on a prolonged character, but also develops its own set of subjects and creates its own mitigating arguments. "In search of moral justifica- tion, violence turns death into ritualistic sacrifice, transforming suffering into proof. With death becoming a measure of one's commitment to a noble cause, victims themselves become accomplices, as long as they view it as some historic necessity. This is one way political violence tries to gain 33
34 CONFLICT AND RECONSTRUCTION IN MULTIETHNIC SOCIETIES legitimacy," writes David Apter in his introduction to a collaborative research study of modern political violence. We would like to draw your attention to the possibility of using socio- cultural anthropology to explain violence and its legitimization as a phe- nomenon of human culture. However, we are interested in collective vio- lence as more than merely the sum of individual deviant acts, as discussed in our earlier works.2 The anthropology of modern violence includes a number of issues as complex and difficult to understand as the most complex murder rituals of the past. To date, few studies have been done on the modern ethnography and the choreography of violence. It is suffi- cient to point out the television-style display of violence and death em- ployed by Chechen militants in executing their victims. The events of September 11 in New York and Washington were planned with an eye to their spectacular visual impact value. Compared to an individual act of violence, political (collective) vio- lence cannot exist outside of some form of discourse. In order to plan and commit a violent act, people must first verbalize it. Covert meetings only add significance to this statement. Promulgated in political platforms or religious preaching, the violent message becomes inflammatory in na- ture. It manifests itself in proclamations, works of literature, and even academic lectures. In short, violence involves people, who in turn put their intellectual abilities to work for the cause. "Therefore, political vio- lence doesn't have a purely interpretive nature. It employs intellects reach- ing beyond the scope of ordinary. Violence makes people forget who they are."3 Involving large numbers of people, both perpetrators and victims, violence gains its own momentum where various arguments made by its participants and coparticipants (including scientists) gain a completely different perspective from the victims or those on whose behalf the ac- tions were committed. It is this cultural dynamic that appears to be the most interesting. Anthropologists have traditionally viewed violence as one of the char- acteristics of the primitive or uncivilized societies or as a manifestation of asocial, deviant human behavior. Scientists have attempted to define rules and laws governing the existence and manifestation of violence as an element of human culture. Classical anthropology treats violence as a certain social function. Despite their seemingly divisive nature, this func- ~Apter D. E., ed. 1997. The Legitimization of Violence. New York: New York university Press, pp. 1-2. 2see Tishkov, v. A. 1995. '~Don~t Kill Me, I'm a Kyrgyz!~: An Anthropological Analysis of Violence in the osh Ethnic Conflict. Journal of Peace Research 32~2~:133-149. 3Apter, D. E. op. cit., p. 2.
THE STATE OF THE ART IN UNDERSTANDING VIOLENCE 35 tional approach treats skirmishes and intertribal wars as a unifying func- tion that creates common norms and expectations.4 Violence is often in- terpreted as a given in human life in society, and as such, society must be capable of controlling and suppressing it. This approach lies at the foun- dation of Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis, Emile Durkheim's sociology, and Morselle Moss's anthropology (giving gifts as a means of avoiding war). In fact, the social realities of violence represent one of the founda- tions of the concept of the state as a monopolist of legitimate violence. A more essentialist approach to violence is shared by sociobiologists, who link violence to the genetic nature of humankind. For example, based on ethological studies of violence among animals, some authors have concluded that humans have also inherited some sort of internal aggres- sive drive. Although humans lack the biologically uncontrollable mecha- nisms of aggression present in other living beings, it is this innate aggres- sive drive that is responsible for weapons development and wars. Modern science has almost unconditionally refuted this theory, al- though the sociobiological school of thought still exists in a more refined form. American anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon's classic ethnographic documentary film and accompanying description of the Yanomamo tribe was based on this approach. His work sparked fierce debates among specialists, especially Chagnon's conclusion that reproductive factors are the key to understanding tribal violence, since males who killed tended to have more wives and children than the non-killing men.5 Marshall Sahlins conclusively proved that this theory failed to describe the link between reproduction and violence and failed to offer any insights for understand- ing specific forms of violence.6 Modern science has rejected any attempts to explain human violence in terms of biological parameters. This is especially true when treating collective violence as a common characteristic of human nature.7 As one scholar has pointed out, "history and comparative anthropology illus- trate that people go to war not to satisfy some instinct, but because at some point their interests come into collision with the interests of others. 4For a classical example of this interpretation, see Gluckman, M. 1956. custom and con- flict in Africa. Oxford: slackwell. 5Chagnon, N. A. 1968. Yanomamo: The Fierce People. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. For discussion, see Chagnon N. A. 1988. Life histories, blood revenge, and war- fare in a tribal population. science 239:985-992. Lizot, J. 1994. On warfare: an answer to N.A. Chagnon. American Ethnologist 21:841-858. 6Sahlins, M. 1976. The use and Abuse of Biology. Ann Arbor: university of Michigan Press. 7Hinde, R. A. 1988. Aggression: Integrating Ethnology and the Social sciences. Medicine and war. New York: John Wiley & sons, Inc.
36 CONFLICT AND RECONSTRUCTION IN MULTIETHNIC SOCIETIES The definition, nature, and relative value of such interests are usually determined by cultural factors."8 Another prominent trend among anthropological schools was the eco- logical approach, which attempts to link conditions of human societies with natural resources and their availability. For example, based on his research in New Guinea, the prominent American anthropologist Roy Rappaport suggested that demographic pressures result in conflicts, which serve as a tool for redistributing the population in habitable areas.9 Later, Russian researcher Anatoly N. Yamskov attempted to apply the works of Rappaport to an analysis of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. However, this highly ideological and artificially manipulated conflict can hardly be attributed to rivalry over resources or other natural factors alone, especially given the violent actions of the rank-and-file combatants and the deviousness of the elite. Supporters of the sociobiological and ecological approaches have been engaged in a long-standing debate, particularly with regard to the causes of tribal wars in the Amazon. However, no consensus has been reached. One fruitful outcome of these debates has been a number of ethnographic studies of peaceful communities as another form of natural existence.l° Collective violence and especially wars were studied extensively within the context of the early stages of formation of state and central political systems. In general, it is accepted that violence served almost as a midwife for early states, even in relatively recent history. However, several researchers have justifiably argued that it is far more difficult to accept the notion of violence ensuring the stability of nation-states in the modern world.ll Among other general conclusions, I would like to mention the idea that the nature of violence is primarily collectivist rather than individual- ist, that violence is a social rather than an asocial or antisocial phenom- enon, and that it is constructed and interpreted within a given culture. These statements have been illustrated by a number of scholars who have conducted field research among extremists in Northern Ireland; victims 8Koch, K. F. 1974. The Anthropology of Warfare. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, p. 55. 9Rappaport, R. 1967. Pigs for the Ancestors. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press. 1OHowell, S., and R. Willis, eds. 1989. Societies at Peace: Anthropological Perspective. London: Routledge. 1lTurner, P. R., and A. D. Pitt, eds. 1989. The Anthropology of War and Peace: Perspec- tives on the Nuclear Age. Granby, Mass.: Bergin and Garvey. Foster, M. L., and R. A. Rubinstein, eds. 1986. Peace and War: Cross-Cultural Perspectives. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books.
THE STATE OF THE ART IN UNDERSTANDING VIOLENCE 37 of religious conflicts in India; and war victims in Sri Lanka, the former Yugoslavia, and other countries.l2 Modern approaches have made it possible to look at violence much more comprehensively and to break down this wide-ranging phenom- enon into several important components. The first is the cultural condi- tioning of the norms and definition of violence. Different societies under different sets of circumstances define this phenomenon differently. What unmistakably constitutes violence in one culture could be a completely tolerable and even welcomed norm of behavior in another. Second, vio- lence manifests itself in two different spheres: one pertains to bodily harm and even death, while the second is defined as symbolic violence. Finally, some anthropologists have pointed out the existence of two types of so- cial behavior related to two different concepts of personality. One of these types involves the world of human politics and wars created and sup- ported through ritualistic acts requiring individuals and societies to dis- play violence.l3 Overall, theoretical models of violence are very underdeveloped, which in turn results in much fruitless debate over the theory of war and conflicts. As Simon Harrison points out in the Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology, "an adequate theory of war has to await the emer- gence of a theoretical understanding of the more global problem of vio- lence, which is so far not well developed in anthropological science.''l4 I believe that in order to understand and explain violence we don't need a metatheory instead this goal will be better achieved by conduct- ing ethnographic studies of different cultural (social) environments pro- ducing behavior that we currently classify as violent. This approach en- ables us to answer the question regarding the reasons for some regions of the former Soviet Union suffering from large scale conflicts, even full blown wars as in Chechnya, while others in similar situations (having great numbers of refugees and displaced persons, suffering from eco- nomic crisis, and populated by a number of ethnic groups) enjoy relative peace. Otherwise, we will have to employ simplistic approaches to explain- ing violence in Chechnya and violence against Chechnya, approaches 12Feldman, A. 1991. Formation of Violence: The Narrative of the Body and Political Ter- ror in Northern Ireland. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Das, V., ed. 1990. Mirrors of Violence: Communities, Riots, and Survivors in South Asia. Delhi: Oxford University Press. 13See Harrison, S. 1993. The Mask of War: Violence, Ritual, and the Self in Melanesia. Manchester: Manchester University Press. 14Harrison, S. 1996. War, warfare. P. 562 in The Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology, A. Barnard and J. Spencer, eds. London: Routledge.
38 CONFLICT AND RECONSTRUCTION IN MULTIETHNIC SOCIETIES that are plentiful both in academic work and in the media. In other words, the key to understanding violence and conflict is the concept of a context, which results from the recognition of the primary role of the specific social situation in the interpretation of the human behavior and institu- tions. The key point is an examination of human responses to common existential problems under different social conditions. Only by accepting the diverse spectrum of human abilities and restrictions under a given social situation will we be able to concentrate our efforts on studying specific manifestations of violence in different societies. What prolongs violence? What makes it renewable (or cyclical)? There are several answers to these questions, proving once again the discretion- ary nature of this phenomenon, and therefore the need for discretionary analysis. Certainly, there are several factors attributable to the hard real- ity rather than discourse. Conflict itself can generate not only front lines but also other physical divisions capable of ending violence. Among those are the borders of newly established political entities separating hostile parties (as happened in Yugoslavia). Externally imposed green lines can also serve this purpose, as in Cyprus. A concrete wall with barbed wire was erected in Belfast to separate militant factions. A mud wall with barbed wire was installed at the border between Chechnya and neighbor- ing Stavropol Krai. My observations of these physical dividers resulted in the conclusion that violence cannot be stopped this way. Violence can be suppressed, but it is never completely removed from discourse, and there- fore remains ready to resurface. I conclude that peace and violence, as well as transition from one stage to another, are parts of a certain dis- course, without which none of these three factors can exist, let alone inter- act. Without discussing conflict or trying to explain it, just as without the first violent utterings of the conflict, conflict and physical violence are simply impossible. However, sporadic violence and separate violent acts can still take place.~5 The next stage of collective violence analysis is to determine whether stopping verbal violence can eliminate or reduce political violence and prevent direct (physical) acts. Also, does the cessation of direct violence mean de-escalation of political violence? Or are there no laws governing the transformation of violence from one form into another? The latter appears to be important in light of the 1999 reopening of hostilities in Chechnya. Words can be very important components of violence. Armed conflict in Chechnya started with its legitimization through verbal expressions ~50n sporadic, riot-type violence see: Horowitz, D. it. 200~. The Deadly Ethnic Riot. ser keley: university of California Press.
THE STATE OF THE ART IN UNDERSTANDING VIOLENCE 39 and introduction of such slogans as national revolution and national self- determination, as well as statements about nation-killing and Russian impe- rial domination. Some works by Chechen authors, numerous publications by local and Moscow historians, nationalist brochures from other parts of the former USSR portraying a heroic Chechen history and calling for correcting past injustices, contributed to the outbreak of violence. Scien- tific conferences devoted to the prominent leaders of the liberation move- ment aired not only mythical versions of the past (replacing the heavily censored version of the Soviet era), but direct appeals to complete the mis- sion of liberation.l6 It is important to determine at what point all these words were trans- formed into bullets, that is, direct violence, although the link between verbal and direct violence is rather peculiar. As a rule, those who put forward these appeals or develop moral or ideological justification rarely fight themselves. Fighters are recruited from different groups. Most often they are recruited among young males in rural areas or on urban margins. That is the situation with numerous jihads, liberation movements, revolu- tions, and other collectively violent movements. Different players, often changing the very nature of these appeals, will relay academic and other appeals. With the escalation of violence, initial slogans are not only trans- formed beyond recognition, they quite often are simply forgotten. 16Academic prescriptions and political fantasies on the part of internal and external ac- tors during the Chechen crisis have been analyzed in the author's book: Tishkov, V. A. 2001. The War-Torn Society: Ethnography of the Chechen War. Moscow: Nauka.