Spaces of Violent Death Normal Pathological Exceptional

The legal sanctioning of violence in state politics and the merging of violence and the law (Agamben, 1998) has become, according to the surge in publications beginning in the 1990s, a growing focus for anthropological work. Prior to this trend, Taussig (1984, 1987) described the ways in which "terror and torture became the form of life... an organized culture with its systematized rules, imagery, procedures and meanings." (Taussig, 1984, p. 495), in his ethnography of the colonial "heart of darkness" of Colombia. More recently, Desjarlais and Kleinman (1994) note the worldwide rise both in conflicts between and within states and in civilian casualties resulting from nationalist struggles, ethnic rivalries, and political insurgencies. Nagengast (1994, p. 110) reports that since the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, more than 50 ethnic conflicts are in progress, "a veritable explosion of violence with the state lending the force of arms to one side or the other." Robben and Nordstrom (1995, p. 2) state, "if we expand our definition of [war] to include the pressing conflicts in many people's lives—riots, gang warfare, tribal genocide, and forms of terror warfare such as rape and torture—then we find that the number of people directly affected by violence extends into the hundreds of millions." Death and destruction—of lives, homelands, families, identities, traditions, in short, "the death of a way-of-being-in-the-world" (Daniel, 1996, p. 68)—are the fundamental reality in examinations of war, ethnic strife, and their aftermath. They are the ground on which ethnographers stand to write about the lived experience of those who witness, suffer from, and perpetrate violence and massive death and the kind of culture(s) that an unrelenting exposure to violent death creates. Victims and victimizers are not always dichotomous; relations of power and lines of authority are not always clear (Robben & Nordstrom, 1995, p. 8).

A major theme connecting the various anthropological investigations of violence and its ramifications throughout the world is its insidiousness, its enactment in everyday life, and its effects on the routine tasks of living as well as on the personal and cultural meanings imputed to the past and the future. Political, structural, symbolic, and everyday violence are the concepts employed most in critical analyses of the devastating consequences of extreme conflict, mass death, and interpersonal aggression in order to identify particular ways in which the political-economic organization of social inequality is linked to and implicated in individual lives—both in internalized legitimations of hierarchy and in the contexts of family and community disruption and distress (Bourgois, 2001).

The ways in which violence, war, and acts of terror become embodied are of special interest to medical anthropologists (Green, 1998), who have explored the ramifications of massacres, genocides, and oppression along with their associated displacements and deprivations on memory, illness, and the body, as well as the relationship of forms of embodiment to cultural production. In a detailed analysis of a child's wish to die so others might live, Quesada (1998) provides a moving portrait of how a decade of war in Nicaragua is inscribed in the body and life of a 10 year old boy. Quesada (1998, pp. 62-64) writes that his is "a body charged with social and family responsibility... colonized through filial piety and loyalty .to the struggle not to succumb to the extreme social, economic, and physical duress" created by the impact of political upheavals on his very physicality and his rational assessment of what would be best for himself and his family. Quesada's description of one child's desire for death gives voice to the effects of fear, combat, continuous food shortages, inadequate housing, and "the space of death" (Taussig, 1984) on young victims and survivors of revolution and powerful political forces beyond their control.

Everyday violence, in the form of commonplace, expected infant death and maternal practices of passive infanticide and indifference are the subjects of Scheper-Hughes' (1992) work in the shantytowns of Northeastern Brazil, where approximately a quarter of the babies born die in infancy. Scheper-Hughes traces the ultimate sources of the extreme deprivation there to political and economic neglect perpetrated by the post-colonial state, including the police, death squads, and the medical establishment. The institutionalized and normalized practices women employ in that context of scarcity include: the withdrawal of food from babies thought to be too weak to live so that they might die more quickly; and the withholding of emotional attachment from apathetic infants so that their mothers will not mourn their loss.

The dead body is a site for delineating relationships between the person and the state and for representations of social fact. In his study of the 1995 Chicago heat wave, Klinenberg (1999, 2002) discovered how the science of the medical autopsy became the lens through which deaths "caused by natural disaster" were viewed. Journalists focused on the aftermath of the problem—the carnavalesque quality of refrigerating and storing corpses in the city center—rather than on its source—the deplorable housing conditions that endanger frail, poor, isolated elderly, the majority of the victims. The quantity of the dead was important in the public narrative, as was the need for health, esthetics, and order in processing the dead. But the bodies remained nameless, unconnected to specific families and neighborhoods. The politics surrounding the identification and counting of the dead is taken up as well by Scheper-Hughes (1996) in her comparison of how street children in Brazil and "Black" township youth in South Africa come to be known as "dangerous" while they are alive, and how their dead bodies are de-personalized and devalued in social representation.

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