On Collective Violence. Actions, Roles, Perceptions

In recent years and since the micro turn within conflict studies, research on individuals within violent conflict has been increasing. Here perpetrators, bystanders and victims, rescuers, witnesses, mediators, peacekeepers and so forth have been the analytical categories applied to the plethora of actors who can be found in societies experiencing violent conflict. These concepts are mutually constituent of each other, with a victim only being one as such because of the acts of perpetration against it. Likewise a bystander also only becomes a bystander through the action of others. And by extension, the positioning of self and others as perpetrator, bystander or victims frequently becomes an action in itself, during or in the aftermath of collective violence. These conceptual dependencies become more nuanced when engaging empirically with the genesis and dynamics of collective violence, delving into the competing and sometimes contradictory actions which individuals engage in. The capo in a concentration camp who is both victim and perpetrator, bureaucrats who are neither really bystander nor wholly perpetrator, people who save victims of violence but in turn profit economically from their misfortunes, such as human traffickers. It remains unclear using the typologies and definitions prevalent in the literature until now how these actors and their actions can be classified, understood and explained. This becomes even more complicated when the construction of various types of actions and their significance is studied and the actors themselves have their say or the framing and narrating of actors or their actions is politically charged, as is currently the case with the debate on “smugglers” along the EU’s external borders. While empirical and conceptual dealings with the topic have progressed, there are still many nuances of action in collective violence to be discussed.
This conference will attempt to untangle the definitional web of actors such as perpetrators, victims, bystanders, rescuers, witnesses and so on who act within the context of collective violence, looking conceptually and empirically at who these people are, what roles they take on and what actions they engage in. The conference will capture the relevance of various ‘grey zones’ conceptually and empirically, thus forwarding our understanding of the many types of actors and actions. At the same time the conference will discuss the actors’ own constructions of the parts they play as well as the social and political discourses that qualify or disqualify, legitimise or delegitimize actors and/or their actions.
Topics of interest to the conference include, but are not limited to:
Conceptual discussions of various actors and actions in collective violence
– How various actors in collective violence construct their roles and how these constructions are diffused through the violent societies
– How societies negotiate competing discursive claims regarding actor classifications and how these are influenced by power asymmetries
– Which actor roles are taken on to create, perpetuate and break circles of collective violence?
Reflections on justifications and representations of actions/actors in the aftermath of collective violence
– How legal and Transitional Justice institutions frame interpretations of past acts of collective violence and thus structure the relationship between various groups and actors
– How people make sense of their experiences and (discursively) reconstruct their positions, roles and responsibilities during events of collective violence
– How responsibility is ascribed in transitional justice and political processes
– Empirical studies can be from any geographical location and on any form of collective violence, including genocide, civil war, riots, human trafficking and migration, authoritarian political violence, etc.
Prospective participants should please send abstracts (250 words max.) and bios (200 words max.) to violence2016(at)uni-marburg.de by 1 April 2016. Panel submissions should additionally provide an abstract (250 words max.) explaining the rationale of the panel. The conference language is English.
Organisers: Kristine Avram, Melanie Hartmann, Philipp Schultheiß, Timothy Williams