Post-conflict - A meditation
The term Post-Conflict Cultures attempts to accommodate multidisciplinary dialogue on, and interrogation into, the reciprocal relationship between conflict and cultural systems. Names like Rwanda, Somalia, Palestine, the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and, not least, Iraq, suggest that we can no longer describe current crises in terms, simply, of war, as a state-administered military confrontation between two or more sovereign nations. Shifting the emphasis towards conflict at least testifies to the chaotic instability of international power relations in a globalised world, one in which the modes of sovereignty appropriate to the modernist conception of war have given way to partially deterritorialised and de-regulated forms of governmentality.
In approaching conflict situations from a cultural perspective, one is struck by two dominant processes: firstly, the ways in which a cultural system successfully reproduces and even consolidates itself by inscribing conflict into its dominant practices and, secondly, the ways in which a conflict constitutes a symbolic encounter that threatens to deeply affect, even to transform, the meanings that make up the fabric of any culture. Thus, conflicts lay bare the normative mechanisms of a cultural system and the vulnerable, incomplete and provisional character of that normativity. It follows that conflicts – their regulation, repression and particularly their representation – constitute privileged loci for cultural analysis.
By their very nature, conflicts challenge and rearrange pre-existing systems of cultural control, not only in the first explosive moments of violence or spontaneous civil disobedience but also subsequently, when they encounter modes of historicisation linked closely to unifying discourses of (gendered) national identity.
In view of this interplay between culture and conflict, it is clear that the dazed aftermath of a conflict, when a community is given a moment to 'pick up the pieces', becomes all important. For it is in this process of the picking up of the pieces, of consciously rebuilding and repairing a riven community, that the tensions between cultural continuity and discontinuity make themselves felt. The Centre for the Study of Post-Conflict Cultures is therefore committed to addressing questions such as the following …
POST - When do the effects of a conflict end? How is the violence of conflict subsequently represented in the media, in journalism, in literature, in all forms of cultural expression? How is a past conflict inscribed into a community’s vision of its future, and how does this consolidate its identity? How do conflict portrayed as post-conflicts nonetheless continue to simmer at a subterranean level?
CONFLICT - Has the concept of ‘war’ been exceeded by such ‘interventions’ as those into Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo/a, and by the so-called ‘war on terror’? What previous conflicts stored in a national imaginary come to frame current conflicts? Is there a battle for hearts and minds on the semiotic level? Is it possible to distinguish between conflicts that truly challenge systems of power, and those that are carefully regulated precisely to justify increasing levels of power?
CULTURES – How are conflicts inscribed into cultures, cultures into conflicts? How does the representation of conflict compound, but also confuse and even reconfigure, cultural identities? Is a different kind of cultural mapping required to locate conflicts which may be historically distant, yet discursively close to hand? How do cultures become militarised in times of persistent and enduring conflict?