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  • EnviroSociety

    Working With, Part II: On the Work of Collaboration in Coastal Alaska

    “Please join me and stand with the bears!” So ends a recent e-mail I received from an environmental organization campaigning to curtail old-growth logging in Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. The Tongass is the United States’ largest national forest and encompasses most of the land in Southeast Alaska. In November, the US Forest Service released a draft of a proposed amendment to the current Tongass management plan, whose ninety-day comment period extends through February 22.1 According to the message in my inbox, written by a wilderness advocate and bear-viewing guide, the draft amendment includes some important provisions to protect prime salmon habitat and forest livelihoods but leaves bears out in the cold. The proposed plan sacrifices the “bears’ necessities” to continued old-growth logging in the Tongass, the e-mail contends.

    In asking sympathetic readers to “stand with the bears,” this campaign mirrors a wave of action across Alaska and beyond, as it urges people to pursue environmental protection by joining forces with diverse and dissimilar others—often those formerly at odds in some way, or imagined to lie on opposite sides of once-seemingly-unbridgeable divides. As the Tongass bears appeal suggests, the goal is typically figured as a forward-looking form of collective environmental caretaking versus an outdated and untenable regime of one-way extraction and expropriation. What do we make of this new mode of collaborative engagement, which calls for intimate exchanges and solidarities across political, social, and species lines?2 Danielle DiNovelli-Lang and I have been pondering this of late in the context of our ethnographic research on the politics of environmental risk in coastal Alaska—research that is itself collaborative in nature.

    On this blog last April, Danielle and I wrote about our recent collaboration, promising a future piece on related themes.3 As Danielle explained, our “working with” one another grew from each of our long-term experiences working with those in our respective Alaskan field sites, much of which involved working with fish and other animals. Yet when we began our latest investigation, we had little sense of the extent to which collaborative work would emerge not just as a feature of our approach but as a central empirical focus of our study as well.

    A few summers back, Danielle and I met up in the Southeast Alaskan town of Sitka to map out our plans for the project, which entailed fieldwork in and across two different Alaskan regions by research teams that included both graduate and undergraduate students. This kind of collaboration was uncharted territory for both of us at the time, each trained as we were in the time-honored traditions of solo ethnography.4 So it caught our notice upon arriving to Sitka that we were hardly alone in our plans for close work with others: collaboration was the name of the game in the region, at least where the environment was concerned. A new collaborative initiative for sustainability seemed to lurk around every corner of the Alexander Archipelago, home to a flurry of recently launched coalitions bringing together long-opposed stakeholders to promote rural resilience, as these were commonly framed.

    One such effort was the Tongass Futures Roundtable, a grant-funded initiative to assemble “a diverse group of stakeholders” representing “all Tongass voices…to create positive dialogue and find shared solutions” for divisive forest management issues. Although timber politics had been splintering Southeast Alaska for decades, the roundtable sought to create exchanges and cultivate consensus to forge “a restoration economy” centered on second-growth logging, responsible stewardship, entrepreneurial investments, and associated efforts to promote community-based and sustainable economies in the region, such as forest and stream restoration projects to repair damaged fish and wildlife habitat. These labor-intensive undertakings in former clear-cut zones rely on the heavy machinery and rural workforce employed in industrial-scale timber production, which drove the region’s economy until the 1990s, though now redirected toward reconstructing the very old-growth ecological conditions that the earlier era of logging destroyed. Like the roundtable itself, these recuperative activities are cast as labors of environmental collaboration and care rather than exploitation.

    It’s not as if this rhetoric of collaboration and its centrality in discourses of sustainability were unfamiliar to us, given our research backgrounds. The impetus for our multisited study emerged in part from my longstanding research in the Bristol Bay region of southwestern Alaska, where a major proposed mine has been met by an opposition movement built from “unlikely alliances” among groups that have not always been so closely meshed, such as commercial and recreational fishing, environmental, and Alaska Native organizations (Snyder 2014; see also Hébert, forthcoming). Moreover, these anti-mining coalitions have tended to position their cause as joining sides with Bristol Bay’s teeming wild salmon, as I’ve been exploring in some recent talks.5 Whether standing with bears, siding with salmon, or joining voices for coastal resilience, green resource futures clearly celebrate collaborative “working with.” It wasn’t until Danielle and I began our comparative, collaborative work in earnest, however, that we were able appreciate just how pervasive this rhetoric of collaborative engagement has become and how powerfully it seems to be reorienting resource development dynamics broadly.

    Our findings to date highlight how the collaborations of the present are forged through new ways of entraining bodies and minds, as rural Alaskans reorient their everyday activities to exhibit more delicate and sustained attunement to one another and to the other species they transform. In pursuing the activities of the restoration economy—such as scientific stream rehabilitation, ecotourism, and artisanal seafood production—coastal residents interact more gently and carefully with fish to facilitate quality salmon sales (Hébert 2010), for example. They also become more intimately acquainted with the wood of younger-growth trees as they seek to mold these challenging building materials into structurally sound green showpieces. Whereas fishers and loggers once competed to use natural resources like salmon and spruce, they now strive to make their skills useful to such species as a means of advancing entrepreneurial ventures and gaining legitimacy in environmental debates. In a similar fashion, the social networks that facilitate these collaborative endeavors also require careful joinings in order to stand. Fastidious attentiveness and intimate interconnections thus emerge as hallmarks of the collaborative environmental care work that we are coming to theorize as a novel form of affective labor (see Hardt 1999; Weeks 2007).

    By interpreting the relational work that collaborative modes of environmental action require as a mode of labor, we draw attention to the forms of exploitation that have accompanied them. For instance, in our own work and in other recent research, we see how environmental care often operates today in a way that that expropriates and even alienates.6 As coastal Alaskans piece together a livelihood out of an uneasy mix of the old extractivism and the new environmentalism, they are compelled to invest increasing amounts of uncompensated energy in building coalitions and associated projects whose success is often predicated on the invisibility of that work. As happens in the creation of highly crafted specialty salmon products that seem to have “leapt straight from the sea onto the dinner plate” (Hébert 2010: 578), or in the brochure-ready demonstration of the eco-friendly construction performance of second-growth timber, the ever-more-intensive demands of new modes of collaborative engagement tend to be simultaneously oriented toward concealing their own transformative interventions. Focusing on the labor that is increasingly compulsory but persistently unrecognized in the restoration economy reveals ongoing forms of violence and exclusion that belie its win-win rhetoric.

    Yet this is hardly all the collaborative turn in coastal Alaska entails. As for Danielle and me, we would like to think that our collaboration is not mostly about violence and exploitation. And many of those we are working with in Alaska have expressed a similar sense of their own strivings. They speak movingly and powerfully about the personal and political significance of the connections they attribute to their recent collaborations, such as the coming together around salmon that has accompanied the fight against the proposed Pebble Mine. In Bristol Bay, the mobilization against the mine appears to have played a role in setting into motion a variety of dynamics that have put its development in doubt (see Hébert, forthcoming). In Southeast Alaska, however, we’ve observed much more cynicism about win-win coalitions for sustainability, and at least some such undertakings have struggled there. Even at the time of our initial visit to Sitka in the summer of 2012, the Tongass Futures Roundtable was already beginning to disintegrate, and it was formally abandoned the following year. Our comparative research suggests that the common push to stand with species and work with others for environmental care plays out quite differently across Alaskan regions and resource issues, contrasts we’ll examine more closely as we continue our analysis. In the meantime, this influential vision persists in setting the terms of environmental engagements we track—shaping yet another round of policy reformulation for the vast lands of the Tongass and focusing our own ongoing collaboration on the forms of labor that build and sustain such efforts.

    Karen Hébert
    studies changing natural resource economies and struggles over sustainability in the subarctic North. She is an assistant professor jointly appointed in the Department of Anthropology and the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale. Currently a scholar in residence at the School for Advanced Research (SAR) in Santa Fe, New Mexico, she will join the faculty of the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, this coming summer.

    Danielle DiNovelli-Lang studies resource politics and human–animal relations in Alaska. She teaches in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario.


    1. For more information, and how to submit comments, see the USFS Land and Resources Management, the Proposed Land and Resource Management Plan, and the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

    2. Note that “collaboration” and “solidarit(i)és” are the themes of the upcoming Society for Cultural Anthropology (SCA) and Canadian Anthropology Society and Society for the Anthropology of North America (CASCA & SANA) conferences, respectively, both to be held this coming May.

    3. We thank the other members of the research team for their work with us, including K. Alexandra Tuddenham, Taylor Rees, Alaire Hughey, Samara Brock, Kendall Barbery, and Austin Lord.

    4. There are noteworthy exceptions to this tradition, past and present, of course—for example, the recent work of the Matsutake Worlds Research Group (2009).

    5. E.g., New Species of Environmental Politics: Taking Sides with Salmon in Coastal Alaska

    6. This was vividly illustrated by the fine papers presented by Alex Blanchette, Mara Buchbinder, Amelia Moore, Elana Buch, and Bridget Guarasci at a panel on care across environmental and medical domains, organized by Bridget Guarasci and Elana Buch, at the 2015 American Anthropological Association (AAA) conference.


    Hardt, Michael. 1999. “Affective Labor.” Boundary 2 26, no. 2: 89–100.

    Hébert, Karen. 2010. “In Pursuit of Singular Salmon: Paradoxes of Sustainability and the Quality Commodity.” Science as Culture 19, no. 4: 553–581.

    Hébert, Karen. Forthcoming, 2016. “Chronicle of a Disaster Foretold: Scientific Risk Assessment, Public Participation, and the Politics of Imperilment in Bristol Bay, Alaska.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute.

    Matsutake Worlds Research Group. 2009. “A New Form of Collaboration in Cultural Anthropology: Matsutake Worlds.” American Ethnologist 36, no. 2: 380–403.

    Snyder, Samuel. 2014. “Bristol Bay Wild Salmon, Pebble Mine, and Intractable Conflict: Lessons for Environmental Studies and Sciences.” Environment 56, no. 2: 17–26.

    Weeks, Kathi. 2007. “Life within and against Work.” Ephemera 7, no. 1: 233–249.

    Cite as: 
    Hébert, Karen, and Danielle DiNovelli-Lang. 2016. “Working With, Part II: On the Work of Collaboration in Coastal Alaska.” EnviroSociety. 10 February.

  • FocaalBlog

    Anna Hedlund: Sharp lines, blurred structures: Politics of wartime rape in armed conflict

    Whenever there is armed conflict, sexual violence and rape, often against women and girls, soon emerge as central concerns in the global public. This is an important topic, as rape is often used as “a weapon of war.” It is a dangerous concern, nevertheless. Opposing war parties commonly develop public relations strategies aimed at exploiting the global concern over sexual violence. Further, “rape as a weapon of war” may be a false assumption, for it may overshadow other atrocities inherent in nearly all armed conflicts and the focus may be on rape as a selective phenomenon separated from the political and economic context.

    Over the past decade, wartime rape has gained increased scholarly attention. Today it is an integral part of media coverage from conflict zones around the world. From being completely ignored or poorly understood as “spoils of war,” the subject of gender-based and sexual violence is now a widely debated topic among researchers, peacekeepers, law and justice sectors, policy makers, and organizations working to combat violence. More awareness of wartime rape has led to the formulation of guidelines to address support for victims as well as legal consequences (Linos 2009: 1548). In the Rwandan and Yugoslav war tribunals, for example, “rape as a weapon of war” was prosecuted as a crime against humanity and a constitutive act of genocide (Buss 2009). While international attention to gender-based violence in war is important and has helped to break taboos, stigma, and the silence attached to rape, social science scholars now argue that dominant global discourses, such as labeling rape as a “weapon of war,” are often inadequate, simplified, sensationalistic, and stereotypical (cf. Buss 2014: 4; see also Washington Post).

    The following should be read keeping in mind that wartime rape is not my primary research focus. However, it has been an inevitable subject in my research on the politics of conflict and armed groups in the eastern territories of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The eastern Congo is known to outsiders as “the rape capital of the world”—an expression Foreign Minister of Sweden Margot Wallström1 coined after a short visit in 2011 (Eriksson-Baaz and Stern 2013). Looking at this on a different scale, wartime rape reoccurred in discussion with individuals I interviewed in the Congo (such as combatants, soldiers, child soldiers, and civilians). Likewise, it was an unavoidable discussion topic with “outsiders” trying to understand why rape is so commonplace in the Congo. The purposes in this short blog post are not to discuss the prevalence or motivations of sexual violence in the Congo conflict but rather to follow up on the current debate, simply asking: what do we actually know about wartime rape? Where is the discussion going? What are the general misunderstandings and misconceptions?

    Until recently, sexual violence in armed conflicts was not considered as a research topic per se, but sexual violence (against women) was often mentioned as context or as a byproduct of other forms of violence. Much of the research available, therefore, has predominantly been carried out by humanitarian organizations, advocacy groups, and policy makers. In these reports, sexual violence is often explained as a result of disorder, the breakdown of governments, and lawlessness and as a consequence of living in violent and chaotic conditions. In the academic debate, a different focus emerged during the 1990s when the international community became aware of “rape camps” set up during the wars in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda as part of ethnic cleansing (see, e.g., Jones 2000). Since then, scholars and advocacy groups have often discussed rape in ethnic terms (e.g., in the case of Darfur, Iraq, East Timor, Ecuador, Rwanda, Bosnia-Herzegovina, India–Pakistan, etc.). Another focus is on rape as a political or military tactic used to destroy communities, to break people and split groups apart. This argues—as opposed to the social breakdown narrative—that rape is a deliberate tactic “having a systematic pervasive or officially orchestrated aspect, emphasizing that rapes are not random acts, but appear to be carried out as deliberate policy” (Buss 2009: 149, citing Niarchos 1995: 658).

    Sharp lines: Beyond critiquing global discourses in the donor and media industries
    This has meant that over the past decade, wartime rape has predominantly—and with a broad stroke and little regard to the political and economic dimensions of global and local warring—been defined as a strategy, a tactic, or “a weapon of war.” Such global discourse has received criticism from a number of scholars arguing, for example, that focusing on rape as a separate phenomenon in war tends to reduce other complexities of violence, such as other types of sexual violence, humiliation, forced recruitment of children in armed groups, forced labor, massacres, or mass killings that often occur simultaneously. Ericsson Baaz and Stern, who are the leading authors in this line of critique, have written substantially about rape in conflict (2009, 2010, 2013) and have sought to disentangle what the global discourse entails—especially in regard to the political consequences and unwanted side effects of a sole focus on rape as the weapon of war. For eastern Congo, they have argued that the dominant framework for understanding and addressing rape has become “so seemingly coherent, universalizing and established that seeing, hearing, or thinking otherwise about wartime rape and its subjects (e.g., perpetrators/victims) is difficult” (2013: 2). This has to do with “outside” actors and agencies and their vested interest in creating a myriad of local replicas of the global narrative.

    Despite reports and figures that show the high prevalence of wartime rape, for scholars working in the Congo the “commercialization of rape” or “rape tourism” is widely known. Many have observed journalists (and researchers) who search in what they themselves declare to be “rape hospitals” or “rape communities” to find victims of rape whose stories are then published as “horror stories” in media or reports made accessible worldwide for the pursuit of funding (Eriksson Baaz and Stern 2013: 2). The critique here, Eriksson Baaz and Stern rightly point out, is not only about the ethical aspect of exploiting victim identities but also that a single focus on rape can contribute to “the recycling and reinforcement of racialized images” and “barbaric stereotypes” of the Congolese population, recalling the “Heart of Darkness narrative” (Eriksson Baaz and Stern 2010: 12). Moreover, the critique emphasizes that for many local and international NGOs working in the region, wartime rape has become a lucrative and fund-driven business (8–9), while other projects are less successful or ignored by the international community and donors.

    Such opposition and mere focus on discourse and the reproduction of a global narrative and its mingling with simplified stereotypical narratives by a donor-dependent NGO and media sector creates new sets of partialities. As Mertens (2013) discusses in a blog post, it is important not to downplay or minimize the severity of rape, which remains—even though statistical numbers might be questionable—a widespread and commonplace phenomenon in the Congo society. A report, to cite some numbers, shows that about a thousand women are raped every month in Eastern Congo (see Palermo et al. 2011 for a detailed breakdown). In contrast, most perpetrators are in fact not military forces or combatants but civilians (Cohen et al. 2013). Further, a report conducted by the Demographic and Health Survey (2015) shows that only 1 percent of sexual violence cases in the DRC has been carried out by soldiers, whereas 80 percent of the cases were carried out by someone closely related to the victim. Further, the study found that sexual violence is commonplace throughout the DRC and not only confined to the conflict-ridden east (see also Congo Siasa for an overview of numbers and figures). Sexual violence, however, was more brutal when it was related to violence generated by the conflicts taking place in the eastern regions (Palermo et al 2011). What is more, there are indications that sexual violence against men is also widespread, a subject that has been less studied and heavily underreported due to stigma and shame (Dolan 2014). As these figures indicate, we must be careful with how we frame “rape as a weapon of war” as well as with what we actually mean when we speak about sexual violence and rape in contexts of conflict.

    Blurred structures: Outlining patterns of variation in wartime rape
    In line with what I said above, several recent studies support the critique of predominant global discourses about wartime rape as a tactic and weapon of war (see, e.g., Cohen and Hoover 2012). There are options to take the analysis further. Although rape exists in almost every conflict, there are many patterns, motives, and variations for and of rape (cf. Buss 2009). In general, an important objection against a universalized understanding of rape is that what rape symbolizes and signifies, as well as how it is lived and acted out in domestic relations and public spheres, is place specific and part of longstanding, ongoing struggles over the social construction of norms. One central theme is the battle over determining the historical, “traditional” gender relations and boundaries between socially accepted violence and inacceptable violence. This has far-reaching implications for how we understand wartime rape, for if wartime rape is regarded as a ubiquitous (male-driven) planned strategy carried out deliberately by military and rebel groups, it may appear as inevitable. Cohen et al. (2013) emphasize instead that while some rebel or military groups encourage rape, other groups follow codes of conduct that prohibit rape. Rape was very rare in the Sri Lankan conflict on the part of the Tamil secessionist group the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) as well as among insurgent groups such as the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) in El Salvador (Wood 2009: 132). Further, wartime rape is largely unheard of in the Israel/Palestine conflict. These observations may well point to the fact that historical, political, and economic contexts of a conflict play a significant role in regard to sexual violence.

    Another misconception is that generally, women are portrayed as victims and men as perpetrators. Even though the majority of rape victims are women, such clear-cut gender divisions emerge as ambiguous when in Haiti (Faedi 2010) and Rwanda (Jones 2002) women perpetrated sexual violence against other women and against men. Examples of female perpetration have actually been central to a case of sexual violence that has possibly had the widest media coverage in recent years. Torture testimonies from the prison in Guantanamo Bay and from sexual violence against detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq had women at center stage. Similarly, during my fieldwork in military and demobilization camps in the Congo, I observed how women took an active part in mobilizing violence and encouraged soldiers to participate in violent acts to achieve the wider political and ideological goals of the group. This forces us to rethink the roles of victims/perpetrators/civilians and whom we actually refer to in the “rape as a weapon of war” discourse. What is more, rethinking these roles is important for overcoming gender and racist stereotypes that would have few remembering as wartime sexual violence in the pictures of female and male US soldiers torturing prisoners in Abu Ghraib.

    Consequently, and against widespread arguments that sexual violence as part of warfare aims to destroy community and tear a prewar social contract of mutuality apart, it seems reasonable to broaden our understanding. An important observation in this regard is that that national armies (that are supposed to protect the population) rather than nonstate armed groups (that are commonly viewed as the threat to stability) are more likely to carry out sexual violence. In cases where rape was obviously intended to serve as a strategic weapon of war, such as in Bosnia-Herzegovina, high-level commanders were often liable and held responsible for the actions (Cohen et al. 2013). Further, Eriksson-Baaz and Sterns (2013) study of the Congolese national army (FARDC) soldiers adds further complexity to the empirical foundations of our understanding of wartime sexual violence. Soldiers detailed in interviews that during conflict rape often occurred as a response to a breakdown of military leadership structures. Thus, while rape in some conflicts, as was the case in Rwanda or Bosnia-Herzegovina, was clearly used as a political and military strategy, according to Eriksson-Baaz and Stern “sexual violence can also reflect the opposite [of strategy], the breakdown of chains of command, indiscipline rather than discipline, commander’s lack of control, rather than their power; the micro dynamics of violent score-settling, rather than decisions of military and political leaders engaged in defeating the enemy” (2013: 5).

    Another pattern of variation, indicating blurred structures, brings me back to my own research site, the Congo. One central explanation to why nonstate armed groups are less likely to carry out rape is that most rebel groups rely on the support from civilians (Eriksson Baaz and Stern 2013). This was also what my own analyses of one rebel group currently operating in the Congo conflict brought to the fore as its members continuously emphasized that close relations with civilians were paramount for economical, political, and military support (Hedlund, forthcoming). Again, not all rebel/civilian interactions are built on what my interviewees invoked as “symbioses” and “good relations.” Mutual trust and collaboration may go side by side with power, dominance, fear, and force—and there is always the possibility of a tipping point. The 2009 massacres in the Kivu regions, for example, show the fragility of rebel/civilian interactions and how rape was used as a deliberate “strategy.”2 Following a military operation launched by the governments of Rwanda and Congo (supported by the UN) with the goal to defeat and disarm a Rwandan Hutu dominated rebel group (FDLR), the rebels responded by “punishing” the civilian population over several weeks. This large-scale violence included mass rape against the civilian population that turned from support group to hostages as a way to communicate a political message “if you try to kill us, we will kill the civilians.”

    The latter example indicates that wartime rape and other forms of violence are still an effective way to instill and spread fear as well as a way to communicate political or military messages through mutilated bodies. Although critical reflection over simplified and universalized global discourses of wartime rape and the NGO and media funding that goes along with this particular depiction of sexual violence is indicated, the prevalence and severity of rape must never be downplayed so as to prepare an analytical ground where discursive dimensions of sociability prevail over the material.

    To understand the root causes of sexual violence and its relationships to other forms of violence, we must move beyond easy labels to avoid that discussions of rape in conflict become counterproductive and that narratives are sometimes wrongly conceptualized. Rather than “interpretations at a distance,” more ethnographic research based on direct encounters with perpetrators (rather than with victims) is still needed. Only in this way can we get a better understanding of wartime rape, its multiple causes, its complexity, why it occurs, when it takes place, and for what reasons. A position of sharp lines and blurred boundaries, as proposed above, might be a good point of departure.

    Anna Hedlund is a postdoctoral researcher with the South African Research Chair in Social Change, University of Johannesburg. Based on fieldwork in the eastern Congo, she is currently working on a monograph on armed groups and conflict dynamics in the DRC (forthcoming, University of Pennsylvania Press).


    1. At the time, Margot Wallström was working as a special representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict (SRSG-SVC).

    2. For a longer reading, see the report “You Will be Punished” by Human Right Watch (2009).


    Buss, Doris. 2009. Rethinking “rape as a weapon of war.”Feminist Legal Studies. 17(2): 145–163.

    Buss, Doris. 2014. Seeing sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict societies: The limits of visibility. In Doris Buss et al., eds., Sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict societies: International agendas and African contexts. New York: Routledge.

    Cohen, Dara Kay, and Amelia Hoover Green. 2012. Dueling incentives: Sexual violence in Liberia and the politics of human rights advocacy. Journal of Peace Research 49(3): 445–458.

    Cohen, Dara Kay, Amelia Hoover Green, and Elisabeth Jean Wood. 2013. Wartime sexual violence: Misconceptions, implications, and ways forward. Special report 323. Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace.

    Dolan, Chris. 2014. Into the mainstream: Addressing sexual violence against men and boys in conflict. A briefing paper prepared for the workshop held at the Overseas Development Institute, London, 14 May.

    Eriksson Baaz, Maria, and Maria Stern. 2008. Making sense of violence: Voices of soldiers in the Congo (DRC). Journal of Modern African Studies 46(1): 57–86.

    Eriksson Baaz, Maria, and Maria Stern. 2009. Why do soldiers rape? Masculinity, violence and sexuality in the armed forces in the Congo (DRC). International Studies Quarterly 53(2): 495–518.

    Eriksson Baaz, Maria, and Maria Stern. 2010. The complexity of violence: A critical analysis of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Stockholm: Sida.

    Eriksson Baaz, Maria, and Maria Stern. 2013. Sexual violence as a weapon of war? Perceptions, prescriptions, problems in the Congo and beyond. London and New York: Zed Books.

    Faedi, Benedetta. 2010. From violence against wome  to women’s violence in Haiti. PhD diss., Stanford University.

    Jones, Adam. 2002. Gender and genocide in Rwanda. Journal of Genocide Research 4(1): 65–94.

    Jones, Adam. 2002. Gendercide and genocide. Journal of Genocide Research 2(2): 185–211.

    Lions, Natalia. 2009. Rethinking gender-based violence during war: Is violence against civilians men a problem worth addressing? Social Science and Medicine 68: 1548–1551.

    Palermo, Tia, Amber Peterman, and Caryn Bredenkamp. 2011. Sexual violence against women in the DRC: Population-based estimates and determinants. Paper presented at Great Lakes Policy Forum, Washington, DC, 2 June.

    Wood, Elisabeth Jean. 2009. Armed groups and sexual violence: When is wartime rape rare? Politics & Society 37(1): 131–161.

    Cite as: Hedlund, Anna. 2016. “Sharp lines, blurred structures: Politics of wartime rape in armed conflict.” FocaalBlog, 22 January.

  • Museum Worlds

    Museum News: January 2016

    The Egyptian Museum of Turin in Italy specialises in Egyptian archaeology and anthropology and houses one of the largest collections of Egyptian antiquities with over 30,000 artefacts. Photograph: ddp USA/Rex Shutterstock


    New York Arts Organizations Lack the Diversity of Their City, via New York Times 

    Step inside the Guggenheim with Google, via CNET 

    Museums and looted art: the ethical dilemma of preserving world cultures, via The Guardian

    Egyptian Museum Officials Face Tribunal for Damaging King Tutankhamen’s Mask, via New York Times 

    Ai Weiwei Withdraws Art from Two Danish Museums in Protest of Controversial Immigration Law, via HyperAllergic

    Boston Museum Acquires First Painting Frida Kahlo Ever Sold, via NPR

    Gigantic Dinosaur, ‘Titanosaur,’ Going on Display at American Museum of Natural History, via Wall Street Journal

    Indonesia’s First International Modern Art Museum to Open in 2017, via New York Times

  • Berghahn Journals Blog

    Solving the Mystery of Nancy Drew

    The following is a guest blog post written by Michael G. Cornelius, author of the article Sexuality, Interruption, and Nancy Drew, which appeared in Volume 8, Number 2 of the journal Girlhood Studies.

    It’s admittedly an odd thing, to be a Nancy Drew scholar.

    Strictly speaking, “Nancy Drew Scholar” is not the official occupation listed on my tax forms. And when strangers ask me what I do for a living—whenever such casual conversations between strangers bubble up, such as on an airplane—I never reply “Nancy Drew scholar.” I usually say “English teacher” or “professor” or even “medievalist” (which raises more than a few eyebrows on its own, trust me.) And, at the risk of sounding like an actor who worries about typecasting, I’m more than a Nancy Drew scholar. I write on a wide variety of subject matter: sword-and-sandal movies; science fiction; sexuality in the premodern and early modern eras—a quick perusal of my CV would reveal books and articles with words like “Chaucer” and “Shakespeare” and “Gawain” in the titles (there’s also one that includes the word “Farts,” but that’s a subject of a whole different blog post.)

    Despite all that, around half my scholarly output involves Nancy Drew, Vicki Barr, Trixie Belden, Shirley Flight, Rick Brant, Christopher Cool, or some other girls’ or boys’ series protagonist. I can’t help it. My obsession started at a young age when a prescient elementary-school librarian pressed a copy of Secret of the Forgotten City (Nancy Drew #52) into my hands at the impressionable age of 9. This book had everything: mystery, adventure, secret codes, archaeology, thrilling discoveries, friendship—safe and sane as these books may be, for a farm-town kid ensconced in an upstate village of 200 people and 8000 dairy cattle, this was heady stuff indeed. I never looked back, and I never outgrew my love of Nancy Drew.

    If you ever need evidence of this, feel free to come to my house. I can show you my collection. I have 900 Nancy Drew books (and growing). Collectible dot shelves here and there; a few pieces of original Nancy Drew artwork adorn the walls. And my CV reflects this: I’ve written about Nancy Drew and primitivism; Nancy Drew and the Awkward Age; Nancy Drew and Shakespeare; Nancy Drew and sacrality; Nancy Drew and teleological perfection; Nancy Drew and illness; Nancy Drew and motherhood; and, for the piece included in the most recent edition of the the journal of Girlhood Studies (8.2, 2015), “Sexuality, Interruption, and Nancy Drew.”

    People sometimes look at me funny when they find out about my obsession with Nancy Drew. I don’t blame them. There are precious few of us out there (though I have always contended there are not nearly enough of us out there.) Many social critics have observed that it is our leisure time, and not our working hours, that truly defines us, whether we obsess over baseball statistics or knitting patterns or growing a pumpkin the size of a Winnebago. I obsess over Nancy Drew and her fellow girl and boy sleuths. I belong to two different girl sleuth societies; I attend Nancy Drew conventions (yes, we have them, and they are spectacular); I re-read the books; I ponder them. And I use them to understand the world. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? What we academics are really doing, each in our discipline, each in our own way? Trying to understand the world—our world, each world, every world. And what better way to do that than through Nancy Drew? Everyone knows her name. She is a cultural zeitgeist—probably the most well-known female literary character of all time. New Nancy Drew books have been produced for the last 85 years, with no signs of stopping. And over the course of hundreds and hundreds of mysteries solved, criminal conspiracies uncovered, and villains locked behind bars, Nancy Drew—directly and indirectly—has confronted nearly every aspect of society, all while remaining a blank slate and a figure of mythopoesis. She is larger-than-life and yet, at the same time, utterly scribe-able to every reader, so that we may place ourselves, not in her shoes (for, indeed, no one is Nancy Drew), but next to her, in her flashlight’s glow, part of her coterie, part of her circle of friends, part of her adventures and part of her world. That is the real power of Nancy Drew. The worlds of characters like Sherlock Holmes and King Arthur are too rarified for us—one has to be extraordinary just to be let in the front door (even Watson, for all his bluster, is a pretty good writer). With Nancy Drew, however, one just has to be curious, and a little bit brave. We can all do that.

    “Sexuality, Interruption, and Nancy Drew” looks, quite literally, at the verbal tactic of interruption in the Nancy Drew books, pondering why it is, whenever the topic of conversation turns to marriage, Nancy abruptly and vigorously changes the narrative, altering the course of conversation away from any hint of romance, marriage, coupling, and dyadism, and back to more important matters—like mysteries. Take, for example, the conclusion to The Mystery at Lilac Inn, where Nancy finds it necessary to interrupt two chums whose conversation dares to veer toward their upcoming nuptials:

    Later, as Nancy, Helen, and Emily were talking, the two older girls suddenly stopped speaking on the subject of their forthcoming weddings. Helen said, “Goodness, Nancy, you must be tired of hearing us talk about steady partners when—” Nancy interrupted. Laughing gaily, she said, “Not at all. For the present, my steady partner is going to be mystery!” (Keene 1961: 180)


    As a scholar, I sometimes feel as Nancy does. I love spying riddles in texts and television shows and trying to ascertain what it all might mean. Of course being a Nancy Drew scholar makes perfect sense in this imperfect world. Who is better at solving mysteries than Nancy? A Nancy Drew scholar? I’m proud to be identified as such.

    Work Cited

    Keene, Carolyn. 1961. The Mystery at Lilac Inn. New York: Grosset and Dunlap.

    MICHAEL G. CORNELIUS is the author/editor of fifteen books, including nancy drew and her sister sleuths: essays on the fiction of girl detectives (co-edited with Melanie E. Gregg; McFarland, 2008) and the companion book, The Boy Detectives: Essays on the Hardy Boys and Others (McFarland, 2010). He has published extensively on Nancy Drew, Vicki Barr, and other girls’ and boys’ series literature. Cornelius is the chair of the Department of English and Communications at Wilson College in Chambersburg, PA.

  • Berghahn Journals Blog

    “Bureaucrats are the evil sisters of ethnographers”: Discussing a new anthropology of bureaucracy

    David Graeber, Laura Bear and Nayanika Mathur were recently in conversation at the London School of Economics (LSE) on the anthropology of bureaucracy. They reflected on the connections between their recent publications that propose a new anthropology of bureaucracy (Bear, Navigating Austerity: Currents of debt Along a South Asian River, Stanford 2015; Graeber, The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy, Melville, 2015; Mathur, Paper Tiger: Law, Bureaucracy, and the Developmental State in Himalayan India, Cambridge, 2015, Bear and Mathur, Remaking the Public Good: A New Anthropology of Bureaucracy, The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology, Spring 2015).

    From a wide-ranging discussion that is available in full here, we present a short summary:

    What can the post-office tell us about bureaucracy? How do postal services and the bureaucrats that serve in them embody particular public goods and their inequalities? It is important to focus on the history of the politics of race and class in postal services across the world. For instance, in the United States the post office was once seen as the realisation of solid public service and middle class respectability. With the systematic dismantling of the welfare state, however, it becomes a space of racialized violence expressed in the phrase “going postal.” In Germany there is a distinct history with different break points. It began as a public good drawing on military codes, to become (as shown in Stefan Zweig’s The Post Office Girl) a site of social ressentiment and Freudian angst associated with the rise of new right and left wing politics in the 1920s-30s. In the UK its recent progressive privatisation tracks a different trajectory of aspiration and inequality defined by shareholder politics.

    How are bureaucracies both moral and military technologies?

    Our comparison of different postal services led us towards a discussion of the technologies that found new bureaucracies. Services such as the railways, postal services, the telegraph are often considered as military technologies – particularly in the context of colonialism. However, these are also moral technologies as they are attempts to shape the legitimacy of rule. The bureaucrat and technician bear the burden of efficiency and of performing a particular kind of ethical self. So bureaucrats and their technologies simultaneously enact utopias and lines of violent force. This is a highly confusing combination for citizens as they interact with them.

    Why does the history of bureaucracy matter?

    Citizens’ encounters with bureaucracies vary across time and space. How can we reflect on bureaucracy through a historical and comparative frame? Our various research sites of the United States, India, and Madagascar offer interesting points of contrast. In India we discuss how, even today, the state and its associated bureaucratic apparatus is believed to embody an abstract vision of justice; one that it is never able to approximate in practice but the ideal is always held out as a promise. In Madagascar, on the other hand, the state was considered akin to a natural disaster – something you speedily get out of the way of. What methods of comparison at a middle range of analysis are possible across these diverse forms? Technology offers an obvious entry point (as our discussions have shown so far), but what about common usages of language and their performative effects?

    What does language reveal about bureaucracy; especially about contemporary financialised bureaucracies?

    All three monographs as well as our special issue on the public good explore the financialisation of bureaucratic structures the world over. In this context, it becomes particularly important to pay attention to the common language that is being deployed in public discourse and the new words that are gaining prominence. David has looked at ‘deregulation’ in the United States while Laura, Nayanika, and the contributors to their special issue study the effects of ‘austerity,’ ‘transparency,’ ‘consensus,’ ‘accountability,’ and ‘efficiency.’ Our attempt here is to recast the study of bureaucracy through an ethnographic tracing of the new public goods circulated by usages of these ethically loaded words; and the forms of precarious citizenship that they generate. Taking efficiency as an example, we discussed how the ends of this efficiency are never considered—the accumulation of more profits for the private sector.

    Is it difficult to study bureaucracy? Is it possible to not study bureaucracy?

    Our conversation lingered on how difficult it remains – despite the recent spate of ethnographies – to study bureaucracy anthropologically. Our 3 monographs and the special issue of CJA are recent attempts to overcome this longstanding anthropological difficulty. We all underlined that it remains impossible to escape bureaucracy, be it in our roles as academics in the UK or ethnographers in India and Madagascar or just residents of our own countries. The bureaucrat is the evil sister of the anthropologist in their techniques; therefore we have to find ways to maintain our position as the ‘good sister.’ It is vital to find new ways through which we can study and articulate bureaucracy as more than ‘boring’ or ‘necessary.’

    How can we articulate the violence of bureaucracy through the study of paperwork?

    A growing ethnography of paperwork has successfully made the violence within bureaucratic procedure visible. David has written of the struggles surrounding his mother’s illness as he encountered the American health system. He makes the point that the supreme idiocy of paperwork is a mere manifestation of the systemic violence of bureaucracy. Our encounter with it is paradoxical; we understand it won’t let us in, yet we still desire to be recognized by it. Laura has written on the tortuous petitions that Anglo-Indian and Bengali railway workers sent to the bureaucracy in colonial India seeking individual recognition (Bear 2007); and Nayanika has looked at how transparency is materially made by documents in contemporary development work in India (Mathur 2012).

    How is contemporary paperwork in financialised bureaucracies different from past forms?

    We all agreed that the new public good of transparency is critical in changing the forms of paperwork. It remains a largely uncriticised public good in the contemporary world even as it does the work of masking new forms of opacity and state control. What is the relationship between secrecy and government today? How does the discourse of transparency change Weber’s idea of the official secret – that most wonderful bureaucratic invention? All of us gave examples of the manner in which transparency and secrecy operate in our experience and ethnography. We agreed that there is a need for a more robust anthropology of secrecy and spying. The doublethink and triplethink that is central to bureaucracy needs to be elaborated and acknowledged.

    Are the bureaucrats conspiring?

    Talk of secrecy led, inevitably, to the way in which the existence of bureaucracies enables conspiracy theories. The analytical problem is that bureaucracies provoke conspiracy theories and accounts of centralised control; so how can we identify the difference between a ‘real’ and ‘imagined’ causal chain in our ethnographic analysis? How can we track both and disentangle the ways in which they mutually support each other? We discussed how Foucault’s decentralised model of state power is not sufficient to capture this complexity. Class inequality is especially important in the study of conspiracy theories; the middle classes and bureaucrats do ‘strategy’ while the working classes are labelled as ‘paranoid.’ We reflected on how states sometimes feed people who are conspiracy theorists with conspiracies to prove that they are ‘insane.’

    What constitutes bureaucratic honour and what is its class politics?

    If we are to think of bureaucracies as animated spaces inhabited by individuals with particular deals then we need to more clearly consider how bureaucratic honour operates. We need in particular (in an anti-Foucauldian move) to explore its class politics. Examples ranged from military honour under apartheid and post-apartheid regimes in South Africa; to the colonial and post-colonial railway bureaucracy to lower-level development workers in the Indian Himalaya.

    How do bureaucracies work in relation to the market now?

    We ended by discussing how bureaucracies enable capital accumulation and greater collusion between the market and the state. The distinction between the public and the private that bureaucracy is so intent on upholding is morally real in the personas of bureaucrats; yet is structurally unreal because of the ways in which state institutions now directly funnel profits towards corporate organisations. A need to expose this process of accumulation as well as the morality that underlies bureaucratic action is absolutely critical. This is an approach that we all take in our published and continuing research.

    Click here to listen to the discussion in its entirety.

    Click here to browse articles in the special issue of The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology on bureaucracy and the public good.



  • Berghahn Journals Blog

    Populist radical right parties and (trans)national environmental issues

    Conversations about “populist radical right parties” (Cas Mudde) in contemporary Europe usually turn to issues such as asylum seekers, ‘foreigners’ and the European Union. What tends to surprise audiences, however, are stories about far-right ecology. Environmental issues are, after all, issues supposedly covered by ‘the left’. However, even if far-right actors across Europe have hardly prioritised environmental protection over the last decades, these actors do intervene in such debates, making the latter meaningful on the basis of their nationalist stance. And maybe, this should not surprise us in the first place given that nature protection, in its beginnings in the 19th century, was often pushed by rather conservative forces.

    In the article The Nature of Nationalism, my colleague Christoffer Kølvraa and I thus ask whether and how different types of “populist radical right parties”, the more mainstream Danish People’s Party and the more radical British National Party, have addressed the topic of the national countryside and the transnational issue of climate change.

    Although differences in the ‘radicalism’ of the position of these actors exist, these differences are not fundamental. Instead, there is a fundamental difference in how national countryside and transnational climate are assessed. With regards to the countryside, both parties are ardent defenders of what they view as a quintessential national space, a position underpinned by what we call a nationalist symbolic aesthetics. That is, both parties frame the countryside in terms of its natural splendour coupled with a claim for historical continuity of the national community in this territory, thereby making manifest the political sovereignty the people enjoy over the land. In relation to the nature of climate too, the British National Party goes much further than the Danish People’s Party, the former voicing strong scepticism (if not denial) regarding the thesis of (man-made) climate change – something the latter rather insinuates. However, both parties share a symbolic materialism via which international bodies, arguably necessary in the fight against an inherently transnational phenomenon, are criticised as they apparently endanger national sovereignty and classical nationalist ideas of self-sufficiency. When nationalists justify their stance on environmental issues and claim that “we all hold our land in trust for future generations” (British National Party), one should not simply dismiss their arguments as strategic in order to attract voters. Instead, their notion of ecology and environmental protection is deeply embedded in their ideology.

    While the topic has received rather scant attention in the literature to date, and thus research charters much previously unmapped territory, the topic has also proven to be challenging – something noticeable in particular in conversations with environmental activists. While the climate politics of “populist radical right parties” are easily rejected by these activists, many of their more subtle positions, for example on invasive species, cannot easily be distinguished from mainstream and even left-wing arguments. Where they exist, these similarities need to be taken seriously! As the modernization of the far-right across Europe does not seem to lose steam, more and more related, counter-intuitive cases emerge. Currently, a group of German neo-Nazis (Balaclava Küche) promotes veganism within their scene. Partly due to environmental concerns, they do so through their YouTube channel but have also offered catering service at neo-Nazi concerts, etc. In a series of interviews conducted after the completion of The Nature of Nationalism, actors (previously) belonging to “populist radical right parties” voiced ‘traditional’ views on a far-right ecology. For example, interviewees lamented about what they perceive as a cultural crisis which ignores the laws of nature. Instead, nations should be viewed as (eco)systems which – if too much alien elements enter – lose their natural equilibrium and collapse. Subsequently, “nomadic cultures and races” were rejected in favor of rooted (“sesshafte”) people who supposedly care for the environment. This can easily take an anti-Semitic twist but definitely contains a rejection of “foreigners” who are not committed to the beauty of ‘our’ country the way ‘natives’ supposedly are.

    What these interviews have shown is that differences between these groups are worth investigating. While our paper foregrounds similarities based on a shared ideological ground, subsequent case-studies should equally focus on differences between various actors within a national space or across boundaries. There is work to do as these actors seem to have a future in, at least European, politics.

    Learn more about the journal Nature and Culture

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