This article analyzes the relationship between conflict, social invisibility, and negative potentiality. Taking its empirical point of departure in fieldwork conducted in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Bissau, Guinea-Bissau, it illuminates the manner in which people orient themselves toward precarious prospects and potentialities. Little attention has been paid to the orientational effects generated by long-term conflict—that is, the way that violence, as an underlying possibility, an imagined oncoming event, influences social life. Moving from the empirical to the theoretical, and from the specific to the general, the article compares two areas of conflict and orientation toward negative potentiality before moving on to a more general discussion of invisibility and potentiality in social life and theory.
On Conflict, Social Invisibility, and Negative Potentiality
Cocaine and caustic circuits in Bissau
This article looks ethnographically at the cocaine trade in and through Bissau, Guinea-Bissau. It clarifies some of the less obvious aspects of illegal cross-border trade and ties the minor flow of drugs, often trafficked by the desperate and disenfranchised, to larger global dynamics. While international media and commentators alike frequently depict transnational organized crime as a pathogen attacking the healthy global order, a closer look at the Bissau cocaine trade clarifies that the trade is neither external nor parasitical but integral to it. The trade’s grasp of Bissau is anchored in enduring critical circumstance, stretching from the social to the political, and displays several ironic feedback loops and interdependencies linking misfortune in time and space. The article thus shows how negative conditions may travel and circulate in a manner that ramifies vulnerability across economic and political borders.
Anthropological criminology 2.0
David Sausdal and Henrik Vigh
This introduction seeks to outline a contemporary anthropological approach to crime and criminalization, an “anthropological criminology 2.0.” This anthropological criminology distances the subfield from its social Darwinist connotations and instead etches itself clearly onto a social and political anthropological tradition. In doing so, the introduction moves from Malinowski’s initial functionalist and localist approach to present-day political and global orientations. It offers five distinct propositions for anthropological criminology to engage with in the future, which we believe are essential for future anthropological studies of crime and criminalization. With these as guidelines, we hope to fully revive a much-needed dialogue between criminology and anthropology. As we shall see, anthropological and ethnographic insights are currently in demand as global, yet poorly understood, forms of crime are developing alongside ever cruder and more amplified reactions to them.
The Dialectics of Displacement and Emplacement
Henrik Vigh and Jesper Bjarnesen
Wars unsettle our commonsense understandings of movement and mobility. Simultaneously entropic and inertial, they conjure up images of rampant disorder and chaos as well as strained and crippled formations locked in negative tension. On the one hand, detrimental movement; on the other, deadly stalemate. Both mobility and immobility are, as such, associated with the iconography of warfare and conflicts. They may be presented as out of time through pictures of empty streets, ruins, trenches, and dead bodies frozen in contorted positions, yet, conversely, some of the most archetypical images of war connote speed, flows, and movement, seen in images of troop advances or retreats, rows of traveling refugees, and hauls of humanitarian aid shipped or flown into airports and harbors from afar. In temporal terms, conflict and violence are oft en represented in the lethargy of decay or the entropy of aggression.
Erella Grassiani, Alexander Horstmann, Lotte Buch Segal, Ronald Stade and Henrik Vigh
Violence, defined as the intentional inflicting of injury and damage, seems to always have been a fact of human life. Whether in the shape of raids, ambushes, wars, massacres, genocides, insurgences, terrorism, or gang assaults, socially organized violence, that is, human groups orchestrating and committing violent acts, has been a steady companion of human life through the ages. The human quest to make sense of violence is probably as old as violence itself. Academic conflict research both continues and advances this quest. As long as wars were waged between nations, the research on armed conflicts focused on international relations and great power politics. This paradigm was kept alive even when the asymmetrical warfare of decolonization spread across the world, because by then the frame of analysis was the binary system of the Cold War and regional conflicts were classifi ed as proxy wars. After the end of the Cold War, the academic interest in forms of organized violence other than international conflict became more general in the social sciences, not least in anthropology, a discipline whose long-standing research interest in violent conflict previously had been directed almost exclusively towards “tribal warfare.” But, following their research tradition, anthropologists also began to conduct field studies in contemporary war zones and other violent settings.