Violence as an Object of Anthropological Study

Just as violence has long been viewed as a sign of the primitive, the wild, or the uncivilized, or alternatively the deviant, the individual, and the unsocialized, anthropology has long been concerned with showing that violence obeys to the rules, it is part of the culture and even fulfills certain social functions. Classical functionalist accounts of institutions such as dispute (eg Gluckman 1956) emphasize that disputes unite people, through the shared norms and expectations that participants invoke, even when they seem to divide them. But, despite this well-used interpretive path, violence retains its ability to disturb and disturb.

Theoretically, violencelurks behind many important anthropological conceptions of the human and the social. Violence represents “natural” impulses that society must tame and suppress in order to survive: this broad idea is found in Western political philosophy (classically in Hobbes), as well as in Freudian psychoanalysis, in Durkheim’s notion of humans as ” homo duplex ”, in Mauss’s implicit argument in his essay on The gift that gifts are the means of society to overcome the inevitability of war. From these perspectives emerges the linked notion of society, or more often of the State, as a monopolist of “legitimate” violence. The place of violence as a sign of the natural and not socialized is even more marked in its prominence in the sociobiological arguments about human nature and genetics, like those employed by Chagnon in the complex controversy over Yanomamo violence in the lowlands of South America (Chagnon 1988; Lizot 1994). It is not surprising that such accents have generated a counterliterature in which ethnographic examples are used to suggest that peaceful sociability is the “natural” condition (cf. Howell and Willis 1989).

Anthropology’s most useful contribution has probably been its documentation of the fact that violence is pre-eminently collective rather than individual, social, and not social or antisocial, generally culturally structured and always culturally interpreted. This was already implicit in functionalist interpretations of violence, but in recent years it has spread enormously as anthropologists have reported the experience and interpretation of violence from the point of view of paramilitaries in Northern Ireland (Feldman 1991 ), the victims of the riots in India (Das 1990) and the survivors of torture in Sri Lanka (Daniel 1994). Here the anthropology of violence becomes part of a new anthropology of the body,

What is more difficult to escape is the assumption that questions about violence are inevitably questions about human nature. Simon Harrison (1989), writing about the Avatip of the Sepik River area of ​​New Guinea, argues that the Avatip distinguishes between two types of social bond

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