Virtual War and Magical Death: Technologies and Imaginaries for Terror and Killing

Duke University Press
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Virtual War and Magical Death is a provocative examination of the relations between anthropology and contemporary global war. Several arguments unite the collected essays, which are based on ethnographic research in varied locations, including Guatemala, Uganda, and Tanzania, as well as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and the United States. Foremost is the contention that modern high-tech warfare—as it is practiced and represented by the military, the media, and civilians—is analogous to rituals of magic and sorcery. Technologies of "virtual warfare," such as high-altitude bombing, remote drone attacks, night-vision goggles, and even music videoes and computer games that simulate battle, reproduce the imaginative worlds and subjective experiences of witchcraft, magic, and assault sorcery long studied by cultural anthropologists.

Another significant focus of the collection is the U.S. military's exploitation of ethnographic research, particularly through its controversial Human Terrain Systems (HTS) Program, which embeds anthropologists as cultural experts in military units. Several pieces address the ethical dilemmas that HTS and other counterinsurgency projects pose for anthropologists. Other essays reveal the relatively small scale of those programs in relation to the military's broader use of, and ambitions for, social scientific data.

Contributors
. Robertson Allen, Brian Ferguson, Sverker Finnström, Roberto J. González, David H. Price, Antonius Robben, Victoria Sanford, Jeffrey Sluka, Koen Stroeken, Matthew Sumera, Neil L. Whitehead

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About the author

Neil L. Whitehead (1956–2012) was Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. His books Dark Shamans: Kanaimà and the Poetics of Violent Death and In Darkness and Secrecy: The Anthropology of Assault Sorcery and Witchcraft in Amazonia (coedited with Robin Wright) are both published by Duke University Press.

Sverker Finnström is Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Uppsala University. He received the Margaret Mead Award for Living with Bad Surroundings: War, History, and Everyday Moments in Northern Uganda, also published by Duke University Press.

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Publisher
Duke University Press
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Published on
Mar 28, 2013
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Pages
304
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ISBN
9780822379041
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Language
English
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Genres
Social Science / Anthropology / Cultural & Social
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Since 1986, the Acholi people of northern Uganda have lived in the crossfire of a violent civil war, with the Lord’s Resistance Army and other groups fighting the Ugandan government. Acholi have been murdered, maimed, and driven into displacement. Thousands of children have been abducted and forced to fight. Many observers have perceived Acholiland and northern Uganda to be an exception in contemporary Uganda, which has been celebrated by the international community for its increased political stability and particularly for its fight against AIDS. These observers tend to portray the Acholi as war-prone, whether because of religious fanaticism or intractable ethnic hatreds. In Living with Bad Surroundings, Sverker Finnström rejects these characterizations and challenges other simplistic explanations for the violence in northern Uganda. Foregrounding the narratives of individual Acholi, Finnström enables those most affected by the ongoing “dirty war” to explain how they participate in, comprehend, survive, and even resist it.

Finnström draws on fieldwork conducted in northern Uganda between 1997 and 2006 to describe how the Acholi—especially the younger generation, those born into the era of civil strife—understand and attempt to control their moral universe and material circumstances. Structuring his argument around indigenous metaphors and images, notably the Acholi concepts of good and bad surroundings, he vividly renders struggles in war and the related ills of impoverishment, sickness, and marginalization. In this rich ethnography, Finnström provides a clear-eyed assessment of the historical, cultural, and political underpinnings of the civil war while maintaining his focus on Acholi efforts to achieve “good surroundings,” viable futures for themselves and their families.

On the little-known and darker side of shamanism there exists an ancient form of sorcery called kanaimà, a practice still observed among the Amerindians of the highlands of Guyana, Venezuela, and Brazil that involves the ritual stalking, mutilation, lingering death, and consumption of human victims. At once a memoir of cultural encounter and an ethnographic and historical investigation, this book offers a sustained, intimate look at kanaimà, its practitioners, their victims, and the reasons they give for their actions.

Neil L. Whitehead tells of his own involvement with kanaimà—including an attempt to kill him with poison—and relates the personal testimonies of kanaimà shamans, their potential victims, and the victims’ families. He then goes on to discuss the historical emergence of kanaimà, describing how, in the face of successive modern colonizing forces—missionaries, rubber gatherers, miners, and development agencies—the practice has become an assertion of native autonomy. His analysis explores the ways in which kanaimà mediates both national and international impacts on native peoples in the region and considers the significance of kanaimà for current accounts of shamanism and religious belief and for theories of war and violence.

Kanaimà appears here as part of the wider lexicon of rebellious terror and exotic horror—alongside the cannibal, vampire, and zombie—that haunts the western imagination. Dark Shamans broadens discussions of violence and of the representation of primitive savagery by recasting both in the light of current debates on modernity and globalization.
In Darkness and Secrecy brings together ethnographic examinations of Amazonian assault sorcery, witchcraft, and injurious magic, or “dark shamanism.” Anthropological reflections on South American shamanism have tended to emphasize shamans’ healing powers and positive influence. This collection challenges that assumption by showing that dark shamans are, in many Amazonian cultures, quite different from shamanic healers and prophets. Assault sorcery, in particular, involves violence resulting in physical harm or even death. While highlighting the distinctiveness of such practices, In Darkness and Secrecy reveals them as no less relevant to the continuation of culture and society than curing and prophecy. The contributors suggest that the persistence of dark shamanism can be understood as a form of engagement with modernity.

These essays, by leading anthropologists of South American shamanism, consider assault sorcery as it is practiced in parts of Brazil, Guyana, Venezuela, and Peru. They analyze the social and political dynamics of witchcraft and sorcery and their relation to cosmology, mythology, ritual, and other forms of symbolic violence and aggression in each society studied. They also discuss the relations of witchcraft and sorcery to interethnic contact and the ways that shamanic power may be co-opted by the state. In Darkness and Secrecy includes reflections on the ethical and practical implications of ethnographic investigation of violent cultural practices.

Contributors. Dominique Buchillet, Carlos Fausto, Michael Heckenberger, Elsje Lagrou, E. Jean Langdon, George Mentore, Donald Pollock, Fernando Santos-Granero, Pamela J. Stewart, Andrew Strathern, Márnio Teixeira-Pinto, Silvia Vidal, Neil L. Whitehead, Johannes Wilbert, Robin Wright

Since 1986, the Acholi people of northern Uganda have lived in the crossfire of a violent civil war, with the Lord’s Resistance Army and other groups fighting the Ugandan government. Acholi have been murdered, maimed, and driven into displacement. Thousands of children have been abducted and forced to fight. Many observers have perceived Acholiland and northern Uganda to be an exception in contemporary Uganda, which has been celebrated by the international community for its increased political stability and particularly for its fight against AIDS. These observers tend to portray the Acholi as war-prone, whether because of religious fanaticism or intractable ethnic hatreds. In Living with Bad Surroundings, Sverker Finnström rejects these characterizations and challenges other simplistic explanations for the violence in northern Uganda. Foregrounding the narratives of individual Acholi, Finnström enables those most affected by the ongoing “dirty war” to explain how they participate in, comprehend, survive, and even resist it.

Finnström draws on fieldwork conducted in northern Uganda between 1997 and 2006 to describe how the Acholi—especially the younger generation, those born into the era of civil strife—understand and attempt to control their moral universe and material circumstances. Structuring his argument around indigenous metaphors and images, notably the Acholi concepts of good and bad surroundings, he vividly renders struggles in war and the related ills of impoverishment, sickness, and marginalization. In this rich ethnography, Finnström provides a clear-eyed assessment of the historical, cultural, and political underpinnings of the civil war while maintaining his focus on Acholi efforts to achieve “good surroundings,” viable futures for themselves and their families.

What happens to people and the societies in which they live after genocide? How are the devastating events remembered on the individual and collective levels, and how do these memories intersect and diverge as the rulers of postgenocidal states attempt to produce a monolithic “truth” about the past? In this important volume, leading anthropologists consider such questions about the relationship of genocide, truth, memory, and representation in the Balkans, East Timor, Germany, Guatemala, Indonesia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sudan, and other locales.

Specialists on the societies about which they write, these anthropologists draw on ethnographic research to provide on-the-ground analyses of communities in the wake of mass brutality. They investigate how mass violence is described or remembered, and how those representations are altered by the attempts of others, from NGOs to governments, to assert “the truth” about outbreaks of violence. One contributor questions the neutrality of an international group monitoring violence in Sudan and the assumption that such groups are, at worst, benign. Another examines the consequences of how events, victims, and perpetrators are portrayed by the Rwandan government during the annual commemoration of that country’s genocide in 1994. Still another explores the silence around the deaths of between eighty and one hundred thousand people on Bali during Indonesia’s state-sponsored anticommunist violence of 1965–1966, a genocidal period that until recently was rarely referenced in tourist guidebooks, anthropological studies on Bali, or even among the Balinese themselves. Other contributors consider issues of political identity and legitimacy, coping, the media, and “ethnic cleansing.” Genocide: Truth, Memory, and Representation reveals the major contribution that cultural anthropologists can make to the study of genocide.

Contributors. Pamela Ballinger, Jennie E. Burnet, Conerly Casey, Elizabeth Drexler, Leslie Dwyer, Alexander Laban Hinton, Sharon E. Hutchinson, Uli Linke, Kevin Lewis O’Neill, Antonius C. G. M. Robben, Debra Rodman, Victoria Sanford

In Darkness and Secrecy brings together ethnographic examinations of Amazonian assault sorcery, witchcraft, and injurious magic, or “dark shamanism.” Anthropological reflections on South American shamanism have tended to emphasize shamans’ healing powers and positive influence. This collection challenges that assumption by showing that dark shamans are, in many Amazonian cultures, quite different from shamanic healers and prophets. Assault sorcery, in particular, involves violence resulting in physical harm or even death. While highlighting the distinctiveness of such practices, In Darkness and Secrecy reveals them as no less relevant to the continuation of culture and society than curing and prophecy. The contributors suggest that the persistence of dark shamanism can be understood as a form of engagement with modernity.

These essays, by leading anthropologists of South American shamanism, consider assault sorcery as it is practiced in parts of Brazil, Guyana, Venezuela, and Peru. They analyze the social and political dynamics of witchcraft and sorcery and their relation to cosmology, mythology, ritual, and other forms of symbolic violence and aggression in each society studied. They also discuss the relations of witchcraft and sorcery to interethnic contact and the ways that shamanic power may be co-opted by the state. In Darkness and Secrecy includes reflections on the ethical and practical implications of ethnographic investigation of violent cultural practices.

Contributors. Dominique Buchillet, Carlos Fausto, Michael Heckenberger, Elsje Lagrou, E. Jean Langdon, George Mentore, Donald Pollock, Fernando Santos-Granero, Pamela J. Stewart, Andrew Strathern, Márnio Teixeira-Pinto, Silvia Vidal, Neil L. Whitehead, Johannes Wilbert, Robin Wright

On the little-known and darker side of shamanism there exists an ancient form of sorcery called kanaimà, a practice still observed among the Amerindians of the highlands of Guyana, Venezuela, and Brazil that involves the ritual stalking, mutilation, lingering death, and consumption of human victims. At once a memoir of cultural encounter and an ethnographic and historical investigation, this book offers a sustained, intimate look at kanaimà, its practitioners, their victims, and the reasons they give for their actions.

Neil L. Whitehead tells of his own involvement with kanaimà—including an attempt to kill him with poison—and relates the personal testimonies of kanaimà shamans, their potential victims, and the victims’ families. He then goes on to discuss the historical emergence of kanaimà, describing how, in the face of successive modern colonizing forces—missionaries, rubber gatherers, miners, and development agencies—the practice has become an assertion of native autonomy. His analysis explores the ways in which kanaimà mediates both national and international impacts on native peoples in the region and considers the significance of kanaimà for current accounts of shamanism and religious belief and for theories of war and violence.

Kanaimà appears here as part of the wider lexicon of rebellious terror and exotic horror—alongside the cannibal, vampire, and zombie—that haunts the western imagination. Dark Shamans broadens discussions of violence and of the representation of primitive savagery by recasting both in the light of current debates on modernity and globalization.
Despite recent political movements to establish democratic rule in Latin American countries, much of the region still suffers from pervasive violence. From vigilantism, to human rights violations, to police corruption, violence persists. It is perpetrated by state-sanctioned armies, guerillas, gangs, drug traffickers, and local community groups seeking self-protection. The everyday presence of violence contrasts starkly with governmental efforts to extend civil, political, and legal rights to all citizens, and it is invoked as evidence of the failure of Latin American countries to achieve true democracy. The contributors to this collection take the more nuanced view that violence is not a social aberration or the result of institutional failure; instead, it is intimately linked to the institutions and policies of economic liberalization and democratization.

The contributors—anthropologists, political scientists, sociologists, and historians—explore how individuals and institutions in Latin American democracies, from the rural regions of Colombia and the Dominican Republic to the urban centers of Brazil and Mexico, use violence to impose and contest notions of order, rights, citizenship, and justice. They describe the lived realities of citizens and reveal the historical foundations of the violence that Latin America suffers today. One contributor examines the tightly woven relationship between violent individuals and state officials in Colombia, while another contextualizes violence in Rio de Janeiro within the transnational political economy of drug trafficking. By advancing the discussion of democratic Latin American regimes beyond the usual binary of success and failure, this collection suggests more sophisticated ways of understanding the challenges posed by violence, and of developing new frameworks for guaranteeing human rights in Latin America.

Contributors: Enrique Desmond Arias, Javier Auyero, Lilian Bobea, Diane E. Davis, Robert Gay, Daniel M. Goldstein, Mary Roldán, Todd Landman, Ruth Stanley, María Clemencia Ramírez

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