The ethnography of state terror is “high risk” research and there are real personal dangers for anyone who conducts fieldwork on this issue. Managing such dangers has particularly become an issue for those conducting primary research with perpetrators of state terror—the “rank and file” who apply the electric cattle prods and pull the triggers—and all of the researchers I know who have taken this path have been threatened in one form or another. Th is article reviews the core literature and latest developments in managing the physical dangers inherent in the ethnography of political violence and state terror, particularly fieldwork or primary research with the actual perpetrators themselves, makes practical recommendations for managing such dangers, and presents some ideas for developing risk management plans or protocols for researcher survival in perilous field sites.
Kathleen M. Blee
Interpretive and ethical frameworks circumscribe how we study the perpetrators of politically motivated violence against civilian populations. This article revisits the author’s studies of two eras of white supremacism in the United States, the 1920s and 1980s–1990s, to examine how these were affected by four frameworks of inquiry: the assumption of agency, the allure of the extraordinary, the tendency to categorical analysis, and the presumption of net benefit. It concludes with suggestions on how scholars can avoid the limitations of these frameworks.
Rwandan Women No More
Female Génocidaires in the Aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide
Since the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the current government has arrested approximately 130,000 civilians who were suspected of criminal responsibility. An estimated 2,000 were women, a cohort that remains rarely researched through an ethnographic lens. This article begins to address this oversight by analyzing ethnographic encounters with 8 confessed or convicted female génocidaires from around Rwanda. These encounters reveal that female génocidaires believe they endure gender-based discrimination for having violated taboos that determine appropriate conduct for Rwandan women. However, only female génocidaires with minimal education, wealth, and social capital referenced this gender-based discrimination to minimize their crimes and assert claims of victimization. Conversely, female elites who helped incite the genocide framed their victimization in terms of political betrayal and victor’s justice. This difference is likely informed by the female elites’ participation in the political processes that made the genocide possible, as well as historical precedence for leniency where female elites are concerned.
Sovereignty, Riots, and Social Contestation
Excess and Domestication
This article explores the enmeshment of sovereignty, riots, and social contestation. Riots have continually marked out the thresholds allowed for exceptions to be declared. As such, they have been the sovereign entity par excellence that produces the moments of politics that need to be domesticated. Interestingly, expressions of sovereignty have always presented themselves in contexts of riots and social contestation. These issues will be explored ethnographically in relation to riots in Mozambique. The relationship between excess and domestication is explored through an analysis of two indices of sovereignty: riots and their close associates “mobs” as excess; and processes of domestication. The first index grapples with t he excesses of riots and mobs, and encompasses, I suggest, all the elements of sovereignty: exception, in- and exclusion, and excess. The second index explores the enmeshment of sovereignty and social contestation from the perspective of domestication, particularly the diff erent forms for control and violence that come into play when the quest for making life and creating order is at stake.
“There Was No Genocide in Rwanda”
History, Politics, and Exile Identity among Rwandan Rebels in the Eastern Congo Conflict
This article analyzes how the 1994 genocide in Rwanda is recalled and described by members of a Hutu rebel group, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) whose leadership can be linked to the 1994 atrocities in Rwanda. The article explores how individuals belonging to this rebel group, currently operating in the eastern territories of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), articulate, contest, and oppose the dominant narrative of the Rwandan genocide. Based on ethnographic fieldwork with members of the FDLR in a rebel camp, this article shows how a community of exiled fighters and second-generation Hutu refugees contest the official version of genocide by constructing a counterhistory of it. Through organized practices such as political demonstrations and military performances, it further shows how political ideologies and violence are being manufactured and reproduced within a setting of military control.
“We Had to Pay to Live!”
Competing Sovereignties in Violent Mexico
Wil G. Pansters
This article examines the emergence of self-defense forces (autodefensas) in Michoacán (Mexico) in the context of relationships between drug trafficking and the state, concentrating on the recent history of fragmentation, disorder, and violence. It traces how these processes generated comprehensive criminal sovereignty projects, which then triggered the emergence of armed defense forces in both indigenous and mestizo communities. Recent developments in Michoacán are described in light of anthropological theorizing about the relations between sovereignty, state-making, and (dis)ordering. The analysis elucidates the triangular dynamics of sovereignty-making among organized crime, the state, and armed citizens. Special attention is given to state interventions to dismantle de facto self-defense sovereignties because these have created an unstable and violent situation. It is argued that sovereignty-making is territorial and historical, and that it is embedded in political, economic, and cultural identities.