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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 1 .

Dynamics of Violence: Processes of Escalation and De-Escalation in Violent Group Conflicts.
Georg Elwert, Stephan Feuchtwang and Dieter Neubert (eds.)

Sociologus - a Journal for Empirical Ethno-Sociology and Ethno-Psychology, Supplement 1. Berlin, 1999.
ISSN 1438-6895. 98 DM.

"He maintains that war needs to be looked at beyond cultural essentialism and that three sets of ideas allow for a differentiated analyses of violence: war as practice, as performance, and as discourse", Heike Schmidt quoting Paul Richards in her contribution, (Heike Schmidt: Neither War nor Peace: Making Sense of Violence: 212), to this volume's collection of high profile articles on escalating and de-escalating violence in a range of settings around the world.

The whole volume can be read and understood as a collection of differentiated analyses of violence and violent conflicts. Divided into three parts (1. the logic of violence; 2. auto-regulation of violence and escalation; 3. de-escalation and treatment of violence) it contains twelve articles from mostly German and a few English scholars, all of whom are focusing on an anthropological perspective. This provides an essential and important reading and a most valuable addition to any research on peace, conflict and violence.

Far from delivering only political analyses of various conflicts around the globe, these articles explore the basic dynamics of conflicts and violence but always focus on a bigger picture; the understanding of 'why' and 'how' conflicts escalate and lead to (sometimes extreme forms of) violence. Furthermore focus is given to the fact that procedures and strategies to contain violence exist in various societies and social settings. With this focus the authors dispute the notion of violence as random, wild, uncivilized, uncontrollable and somewhat primordial.

Dieter Neubert very clearly shows how in the case of the Rwandan genocide of 1994 the violence didn't just erupt as part of an 'ethnic' and 'backward' tribal conflict, but was manufactured, planned and then acted out. Propaganda played a major role in this event, and it is worthwhile taking a look at the language used in the built up to this mass murder. In this regard I also recommend looking at Victor Klemperers Lingua Tertii Imperii, which is available in English: The language of the 3rd Reich.

The four articles in the theory section provide theoretical approaches to the anthropological (but also general) study of violence. Trutz von Trotha lays out a typology of violence, defining and distinguishing raids, total wars and wars of pacification. Peter Waldmann looks at different societies in civil war, especially Colombia and Northern Ireland, and the development and auto-dynamics during these conflicts. Among the features he discovers are the ritualised and sacred notions of violence and the state's lack of control of the violence. The latter point is very much debatable, as the state in both countries is not lacking any control. Rather they are also major participants in violence and mustn't be seen as helpless third party bystanders in what are falsely labelled as ethnic conflicts (especially Northern Ireland). Georg Elwert takes an economic approach as he looks at conflicts as 'markets of violence' which come into being when monopolies of violence disintegrate and new agents appear on the scene that gain economically from the rising violence and the absence of its control. Elwert stresses the need to look at conflicts from an economical perspective as 'economic imperatives cannot be bypassed' and 'even non-economical loyalty breaks down, if troops are no longer fed' (93). Elwert's arguments are indeed essential for any analysis that wants to look beyond the cliché of ethnic-tribal-primordial labeled conflicts to the background of a global economy with far reaching consequences for what appear to be local conflicts.

These three major contributions, which contain much substance for further discussions and debate, are followed by analyses and accounts from a variety of backgrounds. Among these is Stephanie Schwandner-Sievers' report on the development, history and current state of a feuding system in Albania and Tim Allen's examination of the relation between War, Genocide and Aid in the Rwandan genocide.

The volume is surely an outstanding collection of articles on the topic of violence and of immense importance beyond anthropological circles. It will provide many researchers with valuable information and discussion material and will enrich any debate or indeed research on these issues. Its focus on the mechanisms and dynamics behind the often-misleading politics and well meaning but often wrongly applied reconciliation strategies makes it important. It is to be hoped that despite the (somewhat inconceivable) high price, it will find many readers, especially outside the anthropological community.

Nils Zurawski
University of Münster

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