She had to carry a bag of heads. Blood was dripping from the bag. The armed men made her laugh about this. When they arrived, the bag was emptied and she saw the heads of her children. This happened in Sierra Leone toward the end of the twentieth century. An account of the event was given by the woman who had been forced to carry the bag. Hers is a story of cruelty and suffering, reminiscent of similar stories told and sometimes recorded over the millennia. It is a story about the twin constellation of cruelty and suffering, perpetration and victimhood. Cruelty is the intentional inflicting of suffering. It is suffering plus agency. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it can also be to delight in or be indifferent to the pain or misery of others and to act in a merciless, hard-hearted fashion. There is, of course, also suffering without cruelty and perpetration: there can be no cruelty without suffering, but there can be suffering without cruelty. Human beings can and do suffer without anyone in particular being responsible for the suffering (although magical and conspiratorial thinking, with their belief in excessive agency, will attempt to identify a perpetrator, someone to hold accountable). Contemporary politics of life, with its focus on the maximization of vitality, is likely to define suffering as an absence of intervention, as an act of omission.
The Social Life of Contentious Concepts
Ronald S. Stade
Concepts have cultural biographies and social lives. Some concepts become social and political keywords that can be both indicative of and instrumental in social and political conflicts. (It might even be possible to speak of conceptual violence.) But they are not just contentious; they also tend to be contested. Contentious and contested concepts have been studied by historians and social scientists from varying temporal and spatial horizons. It is a research area that lends itself to cross-disciplinary approaches, as is demonstrated in the three contributions to this section, the first of which investigates the Russian obsession with the concept of “Europe.” The second contribution to the section explores the military roots of the concept of “creative thinking,” and the final contribution examines the social life of “political correctness” as a fighting word.
The Case of Political Correctness
Ronald S. Stade
Political correctness has become a fighting word used to dismiss and discredit political opponents. The article traces the conceptual history of this fighting word. In anthropological terms, it describes the social life of the concept of political correctness and its negation, political incorrectness. It does so by adopting a concept-in-motion methodology, which involves tracking the concept through various cultural and political regimes. It represents an attempt to synthesize well-established historiographic and anthropological approaches. A Swedish case is introduced that reveals the kind of large-scale historical movements and deep-seated political conflicts that provide the contemporary context for political correctness and its negation. Thereupon follows an account of the conceptual history of political correctness from the eighteenth century up to the present. Instead of a conventional conclusion, the article ends with a political analysis of the current rise of fascism around the world and how the denunciation of political correctness is both indicative of and instrumental in this process.
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.
Timo Kallinen, Michael D. Jackson, Gisela Welz, Hastings Donnan, Jeevan Raj Sharma and Ronald S. Stade
Crude Domination: An Anthropology of Oil Andrea Behrends, Stephen P. Reyna, and Günter Schlee, eds. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2011. 325 pp. Hardcover ISBN 978-0-85745-255-9.
The War Machines: Young Men and Violence in Sierra Leone and Liberia Danny Hoffman. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011. 295 pp. Paper ISBN 978-0-8223-5077-4.
The Make-Believe Space: Affective Geography in a Postwar Polity Yael Navaro-Yashin. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012. 270 pp. Paper ISBN 978-0-8223-5204-4.
The Risk of War: Everyday Sociality in the Republic of Macedonia Vasiliki P. Neofotistos. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012. 216 pp. Hardcover ISBN 978-0-8122-4399-4.
Maoists at the Hearth: Everyday Life in Nepal’s Civil War Judith Pettigrew. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013. 200 pp. Hardcover ISBN 978-0-8122-4492-2.