Category Archives: Political violence

Hugh McDonnell – “Tetanus of the Imagination”: Violence, Imagination and Memory

“Tetanus of the Imagination”: Violence, Imagination and Memory. Soldiers’ Testimonies of the Algerian War of Decolonisation. 1954-1962, in Les Temps moderns and Esprit

FLN soldiers (photo in public domain)

For this week’s seminar, Hugh McDonnell presented a paper on the testimonies of soldiers during the Algerian War of Decolonisation, 1954-1962. In this paper, Hugh seeks to capture the relationship between violence, imagination, and memory, with a particular focus on how imagination helps make sense of violence, but also how it is impeded, breaks down, and facilitates violence. He draws on two influential journals of the time, which reproduced these testimonies and played an important role in providing an alternative narrative to the general French disengagement with the cruelties committed in Algeria. For this, Hugh identifies two central strategies, firstly, mobilisation of imagination by connecting the occurrences in Algeria with the painful memory of German occupation for the French population during World War II. Secondly, the production of imagination, by actively analysing and challenging the institutionalisation of a culture where violence became normalised. Hugh is thus able to build a complex picture of the various instances of imagination surrounding the Algerian war on the French side, and thus the limitation and potential of imagination and memory in responding to violence.

The ensuing discussion covered a wide variety of topics and drew attention to many of the insights this paper provides. Questions focused among other things on the broader context of the testimonies considered in the paper and the role of testimony more generally. Further, on the story about imagination it may provide beyond the concrete context of the Algerian war. Lastly, the discussion considered wider methodological questions about approaches to history and the value of comparative analysis.

Written by Gisli Vogler

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Hugh McDonnell is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, working on the Greyzone project.

Nicola Perugini – The Apparatus of Distinction and the Ethics of Violence: On the Construction of Liminal Subjects and Spaces

PTRG seminar series: 14 Dec 2016

Photo: Moyan Brenn

The last Political Theory Research Group seminar of 2016 brings Nicola Perugini and Neve Gordon’s interesting paper The Apparatus of Distinction and the Ethics of Violence into discussion. At the very beginning of the paper, the authors quote that “Enemy Leaders look like everyone else. Enemy combatants look like everyone else” and it is this new reality of modern wars that challenges the notion that we are able to make distinctions between combatant and non-combatant, and military and civilian sites. In this paper, they argue that, due to the introduction of the new technology, a status of liminal subjects and spaces is created to legitimize the violence in war. Continue reading

Catherine Lu – Justice and Reconciliation in International Relations

Political Theory Research Group seminar series: 19 Apr 2016

Slavery monument, Zanzibar Photo: Seyemon

Slavery monument, Zanzibar
Photo: Seyemon

How should we think theoretically and historically about the aftermath of conflicts? In a chapter from her forthcoming book Justice and Reconciliation in International Relations, Catherine Lu argues that two distinct frameworks for rectifying historic injustice can contribute through a fruitful interaction: interactional injustice and structural injustice. In the literature, the focus is usually on an interactional framework, in which a direct line of responsibility and wrongdoing by one party upon another is mapped. For instance, in the Iraq War civilians who lost family members due to US bombings could be given monetary compensation. Continue reading

Bashir Saade – ISIS and Game of Thrones: The Global between Tradition, Identity and the Politics of Spectacle

Political Theory Research Group seminar series: 6 Apr 2016

Photo: Anonymous Iraqi citizens in Iraq

Bashir Saade’s paper offers a far-reaching discussion of issues surrounding identity, authority, and tradition, considered with reference to ISIS. A central objective of Bashir’s paper is to examine the relationship between modern audio-visual technologies and cultural identities, more specifically he looks to address how ISIS combines cutting edge AV practices with repeated attempts to harken back to historical social configurations. Related to this is his attempt to assess the extent to which ISIS can be said to be an Islamic organisation. Here he considers how ISIS ideologues employ highly selective excerpts from scriptural and historical texts in order to legitimise acts of extreme violence. Continue reading

Mathias Thaler – Genealogy as Critique: Problematizing Definitions of Terrorism

Political Theory Research Group seminar series: 16 Mar 2016

Photo: Flickr

Photo: Robert

Mathias Thaler observes how the term ‘terrorism’ is used by individuals and groups to denounce or delegitimise their opponents. These frequent and varied rhetorical uses of terrorism pose a problem for political theorists who want to better understand terrorism and the moral wrongs associated with it. One response to this, from what Mathias terms the ‘moralist’ position, is to abstract away from the complex reality of terrorism and attempt to formulate a definition of it which is independent of politically-charged rhetoric. Such a definition can then be used as a yard stick for measuring real-world cases. Alternatively, ‘realists’ move in the opposite direction, seeing the power-laden usages of terrorism as evidence of its essentially political and manipulative character. Rather than evaluating the appropriateness of different definitions of terrorism realists instead look to better understand how all evocations of ‘terrorism’ are used to further hegemonic interests. Continue reading