To Be or Not to Be a Hero

Recognition and Citizenship among Disabled Veterans of the Sri Lankan Army

in Conflict and Society
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  • 1 University of Copenhagen matti.weisdorf@anthro.ku.dk
  • 2 University of Copenhagen brs@anthro.ku.dk
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Abstract

Based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork in and around a so-called War Hero Village (Ranavirugama) in northwestern Sri Lanka, this article traces the social (un)becomings of Sri Lankan Army veterans injured during the civil war with the Tamil liberation front. It argues that such veterans have long been able to draw on a materially rewarding narrative of sacrifice and carnal capital—epitomized in the honorific ranaviru (war hero)—in order to produce a particular kind of veteran citizenship, let alone subjectivity, and thus to pursue socially meaningful post-injury existences. In the eyes of the veterans themselves, however, this celebratory narrative is eroding and a “collective narrative” characterized by a kind of social forgetting of the injured veteran is emerging. Material benefits notwithstanding, this narrative contestation entails a “struggle for recognition” that threatens to leave them not only disabled but also with no one to be, or become.

Contributor Notes

MATTI WEISDORF is enrolled as a PhD fellow in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Copenhagen, where he looks into religiously inflected experiences of love for or infatuation with nature among self-declared secular Danes and the ethical and political implications hereof. In 2013, he conducted long-term ethnographic fieldwork in northwestern Sri Lanka among war-disabled veterans of the Sinhalese government army, focusing on the veteran as a public figure and the lived experience of the uneven and sometimes contradictory social and religious becomings such figures engender. Email: matti.weisdorf@anthro.ku.dk

BIRGITTE REFSLUND SØRENSEN holds a PhD in social anthropology from the University of Copenhagen. She has conducted research on the everyday impacts of armed conflict and on post-conflict social reconstruction issues mainly in Sri Lanka but also in Eritrea and Mozambique, and she has worked for the United Nations and the Danish Refugee Council on related issues. In recent years, her focus has been on Danish war veterans’ homecomings and post-deployment lives, emergent public images of the war veteran, and civil-military relations and entanglements in public and private spaces. Email: brs@anthro.ku.dk

Conflict and Society

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