Feelings of hurt and hate in post-partition South Asia: A Conversation with Neeti Nair

In the book, Hurt Sentiments, historian Neeti Nair traces a political history of secularism, one which made a virtue out of hurt in twentieth-century India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Nair asks how a religious sentiment of hurt come to define the place of law, culture, ideologies, and belonging in this region. In constituent assembly proceedings, courtroom accounts, media debates, and hate speeches Nair finds tangible answers to this extrasensory claim to hurt. Hurt acquired prominence in sacred-secular politics, Nair argues, not as opposing elements but as co-constitutive forces to the extent that sacred religious thought became paramount to secular imagination. By paying attention to critical events and recurring discussions on the ideas of secular-sacred Nair reveals the slow processual erasure of the place of minorities in majoritarian assertions. An inquiry in history of hurt in Hurt Sentiments eventually explains how the political mobilization and weaponization of this sentiment prompted intolerance, harm and neglect felt most by the religious minorities in these nations.

Neeti Nair teaches History at the University of Virginia and is the author of two books, Hurt Sentiments: Secularism and Belonging in South Asia (Harvard University Press and HarperCollins India, 2023) and Changing Homelands: Hindu Politics and the Partition of India (Harvard University Press and Permanent Black, 2011, pbk 2016). She is also Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. I had the opportunity to speak with her about her latest book, Hurt Sentiments.

Saumya: Thank you for your time, I really enjoyed engaging with your work. I wanted to start by asking how did you come about to study the history of hurt sentiments? In the process if you could explain what you mean by the phrase, hurt sentiments?

Neeti: I was inspired to work on a book-length project because of the huge amount of interest that was generated by an article that I wrote in 2013. This article, on the making of section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, examined the enormous support for a law that would protect the founders of religions, and “the religious feelings of any class” of British subjects, from insults or even attempts to insult their religion. It was a very broadly-worded law, passed in late colonial India in 1927, that remained a part of the post-independence penal codes of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

My 2013 article was discussed in both India and Pakistan, among legal scholars, because this law was being used especially frequently in India to censor the writings even of academics. In Pakistan, there was renewed interest in another incarnation of this law, 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code, commonly referred to as the blasphemy law, in the wake of the 2011 assassination of Punjab’s governor Salman Taseer, who was opposed by his assassin for having recommended the amendment of this law.

Saumya: A striking feature of hurt in this book is its extent. From the 1947 manifestation of hate speech in India about who belonged where; the rise of Savarkar’s Hindutva in the 80s; to 1955-56 discussions in Pakistan’s parliament about the egalitarian place of minority Hindus in the ideologies of a Islamic state; a consistent disregard of the Bengali Muslim culture in East Pakistan; Bangladesh’s precarious implementation of secularism in 1971; to subsequent violence around blasphemy laws, and so on. In writing this political historiography, how did you think with the question of scale? When did you come to realise how huge and consequential was this production of hurt in the political realm?

Neeti: I realized that if I limited myself to reported case law on section 295A, I would not get a grip on the phenomenon of hurt sentiments. So I decided to examine cases of censorship, more generally. That led me to try and understand why Godse’s defence statement was censored in 1949, and to a broader discussion of hate speech at the time of Partition. Section 295A had had its utility, and I wanted to underline this at a time when there was talk of reforming this law. In more recent decades, the law has been weaponized by religious majorities, but this was not always the case.

I also wanted to learn more about Hindus and Christians in Pakistan since this was a common right-wing stick with which to beat the secular left. What might a turn to the archives, necessarily always fragmentary, reveal? So I read old issues of the Organiser alongside Pakistan Constituent Assembly debates. All this was new to me, so I supposed it would be new to my readers. I wasn’t in a hurry to write this book – I already had tenure – and I did want to cover a broad swathe of time, not focus on only one or two decades. Only then could I reflect on change through different eras. But then the Citizenship Amendment Act that amended the law to fast-track Indian citizenship to all religious minorities from neighbouring countries except Muslims was passed in December 2019, and as city after city witnessed huge crowds of Indians chanting the preamble and holding seminars on secularism, I was motivated to finish writing the book. I do feel that there are two books rolled into this one book, and that it will take time for readers to fully absorb my arguments. It took me a long time making them!

Saumya: Your work pays attention to Gandhi and his Hindutva assassin, Nathuram Godse’s India as two completely opposing ideologies. While Gandhi emphasised multifaith India, Godse created fear about the Other. One would think Gandhi’s death by Godse, and the propagation of Hindutva violence would reinstate trust in Gandhi’s acceptance of multiple faith. Yet in the chapter on Gandhi’s assassination and the rise of hurt sentiments you write, ‘Some amount of bigotry seeped into the soil, became acceptable. With Gandhi’s death died an idea of India.’ (p. 34) Could you elaborate on this, especially in the context of the rise of Hindutva magazine, Organiser and the 1979 ironic claim in it that, the Hindutva cultural group “RSS is more Gandhian than any other mass organisation” (p. 57)?

Neeti: Well, the chapter goes on to explain why I think some amount of bigotry became acceptable. Look at the debates in the Constituent Assembly after Gandhi’s assassination!

As for the claim that the RSS is more Gandhian than any other mass organization, this was made in numerous articles and editorials in the Organiser, and also in a biography of the RSS authored by K R Malkani, long-time editor of the Organiser. I think it stems from a fundamental misreading of Gandhi, of reducing his philosophy to one or two messages about which he wrote earlier in his career. Gandhi had a very long tenure in public life, over forty years. It is natural that he changed his views on matters such as a common language for India or on cow slaughter (being abolished by statute). The RSS worked by convenient cut-copy-paste, selectively choosing which of Gandhi’s messages, enunciated in an earlier time, it would reproduce in independent India and then claim to be Gandhian. Critical reading is not an RSS trait; indeed, it cannot be.

Saumya: The Hindutva ideology was not just attacking Muslims in India but also subversive thoughts that did not play by the rule book of Brahminical ideologies in 1954. A portion on the Riddles of Rama and Krishna in B.R. Ambedkar’s Riddles in Hinduism ‘received sustained protests’ by the Hindutva elements such as the Shiv Sena, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Patit Pavan, and so on. They demanded that the portion be ‘deleted for offending Hindu religious sentiments’ (p. 124), and subsequently Dalits were attacked. This conversation arises again in early 1990s when Hindutva political party, the ‘BJP made a bid for Dalit votes.’ How did Hindutva ideologues at once claim to be Ambedkar’s ardent supporters, yet reject his work for hurting Hindu sentiments on Valmiki’s Ramayana? What kind of historical and legislative imagination on hurt was enabled by these (/similar) incidents of Orwellian doublethink, something that has become a characteristic feature in today’s political realm?

Neeti: Selective appropriation of icons happens all the time, and the Hindu Right has done so with Ambedkar. It had to, in the context of Mandal – wherein reservations were extended to Other Backward Castes (OBCs) in jobs in government and public sector undertakings – and its need to mobilize a Hindu constituency for the cause of the Ram temple.

My book’s focus on censorship allows us to clearly track some of these landmark cases and how they contribute to a general sentiment of accumulating hurt, against an alleged perpetrator, howsoever many centuries ago. The charge of Muslim appeasement would be hilarious, if it weren’t so deadly and tragic.

Saumya: In your narration of the 1956 draft Constitution debates in Pakistan on what entailed an “Islamic state,” among many other things, I was most struck by how the sentiments on naming Pakistan by Mian Abdul Bari of the Muslim League and the like were drawing from the history of naming of Hindustan and Bharat further arguing that Islam should be the grounding principle for East Pakistan and West Pakistan. And then we have Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as well as Basanta Kumar Das reflecting on the sentiments of Jinnah that true Islamic thought of Quran and Sunna should not make distinctions between Muslims and non-Muslims (p. 169, 196). We see ideas of secularism vernacularised in this interpretation of Islam as a sacred place of all religions. I was wondering if you could comment a little on how and in what ways your research speaks with/departs from earlier theoretical framings of secularism as a Western import?

Neeti: I haven’t come across an appreciation of how meanings of secularism have evolved, in practice, and in tandem with political developments across the border, for and in South Asia. There is a very large literature on what secularism has been in the West—such as A Secular Age by Charles Taylor —and how it ought to be understood in India—such as Rajeev Bhargava’s Secularism and its Critics, but these are typically reflections on secularism in theory, or on certain developments in legal doctrine – on the maintenance of temples, or on laws against religious conversion, such as in Ronojoy Sen’s Articles of Faith: Religion, Secularism and the Indian Supreme Court and Sumit Sarkar’s Beyond Nationalist Frames: Postmodernism, Hindu Fundamentalism, History. I have tried to situate debates on censorship and hurt in a broader discussion on state ideology, because my archives led me in that direction. Others will ask different questions of the same archives, and different archives, and that is how it should be.

Saumya: It was really intriguing to see the delicate shift you make from historical records to interview (/oral history) as method/source where you spoke with Bangladesh’s first law minister, Kamal Hossain, ‘who had been under arrest and in solitary confinement in West Pakistan for the duration of the war, when secularism became relevant to the Awami Leaguers’ (p. 219) Could you shed some light on how did you decide to include this as part of your methodology and in what ways did this help you advance your thoughts on secularism’s place in Bengali Muslim Bangladesh that was deeply immersed in cultural practices of Bengal (a geographical place) more so than elite politics of West Pakistan?

Neeti: The interview with Dr Hossain happened almost by chance. I was speaking about his recently published memoirs to a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Ambassador William Milam, where I had a fellowship, when the ambassador suddenly offered to put me in touch with him as he would soon be visiting the US. It was only when I met Dr. Hossain and he firmly credited the late prime minister Tajuddin Ahmad with including secularism as one of the four founding principles that I began to search for more writings by Mr Ahmad. That led me to a close reading of old issues of the Bangladesh Observer that carried daily proceedings of the Constituent Assembly and to a two-volume set of press statements brought out by the Ministry of External Affairs in 1971, and to speaking with Ahmad’s daughter and biographer Sharmin Hossain. I gradually gained a deeper understanding of how secularism in Bangladesh evolved as a response to the misuse of religion in politics, not as in any way implying a separation of religion from state or being misconstrued as “anti-religion.” These misinterpretations were deliberate, strategic, political interventions that developed a bit later in the history of Bangladesh.

I find oral histories a hugely significant resource, though I didn’t have as much of a chance to do as many for this book as I did for my first book, Changing Homelands: Hindu Politics and the Partition in India. Still, I learned a lot from each interview, regardless of whether I directly quoted from transcripts of these interviews.

The Impossible Wait.

On Unsustainable Refugee Livelihoods and the Politics of Time in Humanitarian Governance.

Estella Carpi with Amina al-Halabi[1]

In this short article, in an attempt to question the politics of time that humanitarian governance implicitly rests upon when managing refugee lives, we question the contradiction residing in imposing long waits on refugees who are selected for resettlement. Amina’s account will highlight the paradox of a humanitarian system that asks people, implicitly, to count on means they do not own, while the lack of those means is often the primary reason for applying for resettlement.

Amina is a Syrian woman who has been living in an informal tented settlement (ITS) in a hamlet of northern Lebanon since April 2011, after governmental shelling began to target opposition areas across Syria. Along with her husband and her three children, she is now waiting for resettlement in France. After 12 years in the same ITS, the French humanitarian corridors invited her for a series of face-to-face interviews, and she was eventually selected for resettlement.

Through corridors, refugees can legally enter Europe by being granted humanitarian visas and are given the possibility to apply for asylum afterwards. Normally, once relocated, the selected refugees – mostly women with their children, entire families or (more rarely) single men – reside in facilities or apartments paid by the organisations in charge. While waiting for asylum, refugees can take language classes and navigate future job opportunities, while children can register in schools.

In the history of human displacement, humanitarian corridors have been organised and negotiated by the United Nations or by other NGOs that, at a later stage, require approval from foreign governments. Corridors have also been used during displacement from Syria. In addition to France, Italy has been a common destination for Syrian refugees who aspire to relocate overseas through the corridors. Generally, such relocations happen through complex bureaucratic arrangements in relatively long timeframes. Amina and her family will only be able to leave Lebanon for France after nine months of waiting. The wait is due to facilitators trying to guarantee accommodation and other related arrangements in the country of resettlement.

What livelihoods can Amina and her family rely on while waiting for the long-awaited departure? And, more broadly, what are people supposed to rely on in this timeframe, if the dire living conditions that impede their sustainability – and even their survival – are the ones they need to live in until departure?

Such ways of operating have long taken these ‘impossible waits’ for granted. Corridors are only one example where the impossible wait is presumed. When I was researching livelihood programs in northern Lebanon throughout 2016 and 2017, my interviews with practitioners from the International Rescue Committee pointed to cash for work programmes,through which refugees, especially men, are employed for a period of time (typically six months) – after which they become ineligible for any new temporary job in the following six months. This policy was meant to enable a larger number of low-income refugees to access the same, albeit temporary, job opportunities. In this framework, NGOs act as temp agencies. Local practitioners working through cash for work programmes often voiced their perplexity concerning this policy. Some of them stressed how providing people with precarious sources of livelihoods can, paradoxically, unsettle the ways in which a household has developed their tactics of survival. Over the years, many NGO practitioners have questioned the effectiveness of such policies and practices, with most refugee households being unable to develop alternative means of economic sustainability after completing their period of employment offered through humanitarian programs.

Lebanon is officially a country of transit, having never signed the 1951 Convention for Refugees. Nonetheless, it has ended up hosting nearly one million refugees from Syria and thousands more from Iraq, Sudan and Palestine, to mention only a few. Amina emphasises how everything has become unaffordable. ‘The diesel (mazut) to warm up the house, food, medications for chronic diseases, the cost of rent and of schooling material for the children… The United Nations only help you with some of these expenses, such as food; but, most of the time, you are the one that needs to find strategies to overcome such hardships. Over the last few years, NGOs in Lebanon have been providing less and less aid, and discontinuously’. Economic collapse in Lebanon, aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the massive destruction ensuing from the August 2020 port explosion in Beirut, triggered a large-scale downturn in the country. Humanitarian providers, in this context, sought to tailor their aid and support to a rapidly worsening economic context, but their attempts at readjusting programmes to a severe economic crisis did not go very far.

In this context, the refugees who are selected by humanitarian corridors are viewed as ‘the luckiest’ in a historical moment in which there is no alternative to day-by-day survival. However, the politics of temporality of such resettlement programmes rests on the tacit assumption that people are capable of surviving while waiting for their opportunity to rebuild their lives elsewhere. Refugees in countries where legal resettlement is not possible (like Lebanon) often lack temporal perspectives and struggle to establish their right to permanence. As scholar Cathrine Brun incisively wrote years ago, ‘this emptying of the future [of refugees] – or the rendering of an abstract future – shows that the emergency imagery decontextualizes and ‘de-situates’ the lives of people experiencing a crisis’. Moreover, it is not merely displacement per se that unsettles people’s ‘ownership’ of any temporal perspective; it is the specific way that displacement is managed: blurring the future and even, as mentioned, the immediate present. Often embedded between economic unsustainability in the receiving countries and the unfeasible return to the countries of origin, refugees tend to be deprived of the right to temporalitytout court

While their means of everyday survival are at an all-time low in today’s Lebanon, Amina and her family still have nine months ahead before their departure to France. Other refugees do not even have a departure date, until which they are asked to survive by relying on their own means. For all of them, tomorrow cannot be a certainty.

[1] A pseudonym has been used on personal request.  

Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) in time of crisis. Observations from ethnographic fieldwork on board LNG carriers  


November 2022, somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. I am sipping evening tea with Dario, an electrician from Ukraine, one of the 25 seafarers working on board a the liquified natural gas (LNG) carrier I have been living and conducting ethnographic fieldwork on for almost a month. During this time, I have been following and observing the daily life and work routines of Dario and the rest of the crew members as well as having conversations with all of them. This evening Dario and I are talking about LNG. I am asking if and how it is different for him to work with this type of cargo than with other liquid bulks like oil, which he has worked with earlier. Dario is eager to answer my question, and he starts talking generally about his role in the transport of LNG. Enabling the transport of LNG over long distances gives him indeed a sense of pride. First, Dario is proud of his own expertise in working with LNG carriers which are different and more technically advanced than other bulk carriers. He did not gain this expertise in maritime school, but through work experience within the developing sector of gas transport in the shipping industry. Secondly, since LNG is difficult to control because it can shift from liquid to vapor and gas and back to liquid,[1] those in charge of its transport must be very good at monitoring and controlling these changes. However, what is making Dario most proud is that through his work, he argues, he is helping make Europe energy independent on Russia and so he is contributing to democracy. 

We live in a time of energy crisis

The last words of Dario stuck in my head. They did make a lot of sense. In fact, we live in a time of energy crisis. Energy markets have been shrinking already since 2021 due to higher competition, overconsumption, production cuts, insufficient storage capacity, and poor redistribution systems.[2] The crisis also means that the price of natural gas has reached a record high pushing for inflation and overall impoverishment of citizens and a forced re-definition and re-dimension of common people’s basic needs. This situation is worsening due to the dragging conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the weaponization of energy infrastructures by Russia, the redistribution of international resources to support Ukraine’s military, and the tightness of regulations around using hydrocarbon revenues for the greater good. In the years to come, energy prices and inflation will keep growing, governments will adopt drastic rationing measures, many smaller industries will have to close, thus giving more power to larger producers that will influence legislation to their interests. The situation will exacerbate power imbalance and social inequality across countries.

In the Western world, Europe is particularly vulnerable. The European Commission’s strategy to decarbonize Europe and its vision for a climate-neutral economy by 2050,[3] fully supported by governments and policy makers is creating serious obstacles to negotiate long-terms contracts with large energy suppliers around the world. Since Europe is unwilling to open new gas extraction sites at home,[4] it is highly dependent on foreign supplies and vulnerable to market fluctuations. This is why a key objective of the EU is to ensure stable access to liquid gas markets for energy independence and security.[5] In this context, LNG is seen not only as a solution to enhance the diversity of gas supply and improve energy security, but also to ensure a smoother transition to a greener economy and to the full use of renewable forms of energy (Lindstad et alii 2020).[6]

LNG, a controversial energy resource.

LNG is indeed a strategic key source of energy. Considering Europe’s current decarbonization strategy, people are made to believe that LNG is the best transitional form of energy, a “greener” non-renewable alternative form of energy. Indeed, LNG is very efficient – in comparison with coal and oil[7] – and can be used in most of the existing infrastructures running on fossil fuel, in contrast to renewable energies which need ad hoc infrastructural apparatus. However, the destructive practices by which most of the natural gas is extracted, like hydraulic fracturing (fracking), are often left out of the picture.[8]

Nevertheless, LNG is indeed an appealing and valuable energy resource as it can to a certain degree enable a “smoother” shift into renewable forms of energy using existing infrastructure and, in addition, can make Europe more energy secure and independent. LNG is a controversial energy resource used in practices of “green politics”. Bruno Latour talks about “green politics” in vision of the new climate regime and the many strategies materialized in legislations, fiscal regulations, and infrastructural projects many countries in Europe are adopting to make energy transition possible. What makes politics “green”, according to Latour, is the pervading, repetitive, almost formulaic statements about green shift, green technology, and green energy in the broader discourse of climate change and energy transition.[9]

In fact, whether LNG is really green, a little green or not at all green, everybody is crazy about it right now, competing for its access and making the energy market implode. Since Russia’s historical export to Europe has been heavily sanctioned and the gas flowing into Europe via pipelines has been drastically reduced,[10] the only way to get gas into Europe is through shipping of LNG in tanker ships from other-than-Russia[11] exporting countries around the world.

Automated shifts in the maritime: LNG carriers, LNG technology, and its carers.

Tanker ships that transport liquified natural gas are called LNG carriers. The number of these ships has boomed in the last 10 years. Major and middle size shipping companies specialized in the transport of hydrocarbons and other liquid bulks are now investing in LNG carriers. They are constructing new ships with safer, more efficient technology. As part of my postdoctoral project,[12] which investigates how the fast automation and digitalization of systems on board LNG tankers change perceptions of work, identity of the seafarers, and create at the same time possibilities but also challenges in many aspects of everyday labor and life on board ships, I had the privilege to conduct ethnographic fieldwork on board two LNG carriers in 2022. The 300-meter ships were sailing across the Atlantic Ocean from regassification plants in Europe to Storage facilities in the USA.[13]

LNG is different from other cargoes as it is “invisible”. Locked into tanks that are never opened unless every 5 to 7 years at dry dock, LNG is unequivocally present and pervasive. In relation to the world of freight and container shipping, other scholars have conceptualized shipping containers as “material objects whose embedded properties change not only depending on the cargo they are carrying, but also through encounters with different climatic conditions” (Leivestad, 2022: 206). The constantly fluctuating properties of LNG under the uncontrollable forces of nature, like sea, weather, and temperature, create a special engagement between the crewmembers and this form of energy.

Since LNG is shifting properties all the time – from liquid to vapor to gas to liquid -, it comes with instruments that monitor these changes on its tanker ships. These are innovative machines, like for instance the reliquification plant, which is a large system of machines able to reliquefy vapor from boil off (BOG) of LNG in cargo tanks. LNG carriers also come with kilometers of piping system, thousands of sensors, and several hybrid engines, which can use different types of fuels and can be powered by electrical batteries. These hybrid ships are considered and labeled “greener” in the maritime world. Even though LNG technology is exciting, is sensitive and vulnerable to unpredictable factors, like weather conditions or updates installed to computer systems. The seafarers working with LNG machines are aware of all these problems. In fact, the special engagement, care, and responsibility they have for LNG extends to the instruments they use to monitor, transport, discharge, and load LNG. Under the pressure to complete operations more efficiently and in the shortest time possible, seafarers must also obey the new environmental regulations – like those under SOLAS –[14] and satisfy cargo owners who require cost-efficient fuel usage. 

Most LNG ships today are classified by IMO according to MASS (Maritime Autonomous Surface Ship) definition, as level 1 (out of 4) autonomous, which means that while some systems and processes are automated, seafarers are still needed on board to operate, control, and maintain them. Nevertheless, fast automation of systems is calling for a drastic reduction of personnel on board ships. For instance, on most ships today you find the Electronic Chart Display and Information System, called ECDIS which has almost totally replaced the use of paper charts and has made many navigation functions automatic. Sensors and alarm and software systems make cargo operations, loading and unloading, fuel usage, berthing, emergency systems, air, and water supplies systems self-regulating and automated to a degree. This automation shift in the maritime industry has drastically reduced the number of seafarers on board ships to 17-30 today compared with the 1950s where you could find cargo ships with up to 80 crewmembers (Stepien 2023).

Still, a ship is not a very complicated or advanced machine besides all the sensors monitoring performances and algorithms rendering operations semi-automated. The basic mechanical principles of marine propulsion have remained the same for 200 years and so do the basic machines that run and keep a ship floating. What has really changed over the years is the type of fuel which a ship uses and the rate at which the ship, or better put, the ship’s crew, carry on operations, like loading and discharging cargo. In the face of accelerated capitalistic needs (Eriksen and Schober 2018), the quantity of cargo per ship has also grown enormously, creating unsustainable monsters (Latour 1996; 2021) like the Ever Given, 400-meter long and 22000 TEU, one of the largest ship containers in the world which was stuck in the Suez Canal for 6 days in 2021. 

Even though technology has developed enormously enabling huge volumes of LNG to be shipped across continents, marine officers, machinists, and engineers remain the main carers for LNG machines. Their responsibilities are structured in such a way that the vast number of machines and systems on board the ship – and the responsibility for them – are redistributed among single individuals by rank, expertise, and level of experience. This organization constitutes partly but fundamentally the hierarchy on board ships. Nevertheless, due to the “novelty” of working with carrying LNG,[15] no matter how individuals are expert or ranked, it is often through teamwork and mutual help that problems are solved. LNG and its machines are indeed catalysts for the establishment of new social relations which involve collaboration, support, and mutual help.

In fact, for seafarers, relating to human experiences is easier than relating to manuals and standardized procedures on how to conduct “optimal” reparations. Crewmembers working both on deck or in the machine department would agree on the fact that both LNG and its machinery are unpredictable and that there is still not yet enough knowledge about the behavior or this mutable form of energy and the consequences it has on the technology and machines it uses. In fact, they experience fluctuations every day. Sensors and automated functions monitoring the cargo often do not give a reason why LNG is expanding, contracting, boiling off, or behaving the way it does. Therefore, learning happens by means of human communication and the exchanging of experiences. Sharing past experiences on similar or different LNG carriers with same or different machines helps broaden the spectrum of possible solutions to problems which might not be recorded in the user manuals, for instance. 

Conclusion: Conducting ethnographic fieldwork on board LNG carriers

Ships are contained, isolated, self-sufficient, highly hierarchical, and very organized villages. This containment makes them into attractive sites for ethnographic observations. Since the shipping world is difficult to access and relatively little known, there are many understudied yet revealing ways in which seafarers relate to the cargo they monitor, care for, transfer and transport it around the world. These relationships between crew members, ship and cargo open an investigation of unexpected social dynamics that can be at the same time conflictual, generative, and contradictory. Borrowing from Latour, ships can be conceived as “cultural objects” (1996) because they break down the object-subject, nature-culture dichotomies. In fact, ships are both technologically advanced material things which are highly dependent on humans but also unpredictable and respondent to often unforeseeable and sometimes invisible factors. They have in a way their own defuse agency and they are often object of anthropomorphizing practices that give them strong individuality and agency. 

In addition to being by nature unpredictable, a ship carrying LNG is even more unruly because of the constantly changing nature of the cargo that triggers unexpectedly all infrastructural systems -mechanical and digital – around it. LNG is an “alive cargo”, the captain of one of the ships told me, this is why Dario was particularly proud of being able through his work to control and contain the behaviors of LNG. In practical terms, the complex relationship between all the crewmembers and LNG is manifested in the way the seafarers monitor the cargo, maintain and repair the machines, the way they plan time and space around the navigation routes, the way they perform safety procedures, and the way they incessantly record and log performances and parameters of the behavior or the LNG. How seafarers talk about and perceive the energy cargo they are responsible for constructs a picture around their lives so entangled with LNG and gives another powerful narrative around LNG. In addition, seafarers play a fundamental yet invisible role in the global and politically loaded LNG discourse today. 

LNG as world demanded, market inflated contested resource, obtained by destructive extraction practices, and used in transitional semi- green energy narratives, fits very well in highly political and contradictory discourses. The controversial impacts of LNG are not only ecological (increasing of hydraulic fracking for the extraction of gas) and not only political (making LNG poor countries more dependent to LNG exporting countries, like the US, and thus more vulnerable and politically controllable).[16] On a micro level, on a level of social relations, LNG can also have controversial impacts on the nature of work on board LNG carriers where innovative technology draws more attention than humans, expectations and workloads are becoming strenuous, and traditional hierarchies are reshuffled making conflicts arise. So far, one of the greatest paradoxes of LNG is reflected in the role seafarers working on LNG carriers play. In face of the global importance of LNG, when so much depends on them right now, they yet remain uncredited, unspoken of and invisible. 


Blanchard, R. L. (1978, January). An LNG cargo system simulator for crew training. In Gastech 78 LNG-LPG Conf. Pap.;(Monaco) (Vol. 2).

Latour, B. (1996). Aramis, or the Love of Technology. Harvard University Press.

Blanchard, R. L. (1976). An LNG Cargo System Simulator for Ship Crew Training. In Proceedings of the 2nd International Ship Operation Automation Symposium, Washington, DC, August 30-September 2, 1976. Proceedings expected to be available about December 1976. (Vol. 5, No. Proceeding).

Eriksen, T. H., & Schober, E. (2018). Economies of growth or ecologies of survival?. Ethnos83(3), 415-422.

Klein, N. (2020). On fire: The (burning) case for a green new deal. Simon & Schuster.

Latour, B. (1996). Aramis, or the Love of Technology. Harvard University Press.

Latour, B. (2007). To modernize or to ecologize? That is the question. Technoscience: The Politics of Interventions, 249-72.

Latour, B. (2011). Love your monsters. Breakthrough Journal2(11), 21-28.

Leivestad, H. H. (2022). The shipping container. History and Anthropology33(2), 202-207.

Lindstad, E., Eskeland, G. S., Rialland, A., & Valland, A. (2020). Decarbonizing maritime transport: The importance of engine technology and regulations for LNG to serve as a transition fuel. Sustainability12(21), 8793.

Stępień, B. (2023). Can a ship be its own captain? Safe manning of autonomous and uncrewed vessels. Marine Policy148, 105451.

[1] LNG is natural gas, predominantly methane, converted to liquid form for ease of storage or transport. The liquefaction process happens at around -162 °C. As a liquid, LNG takes up around 600 times less volume than gas at standard atmospheric pressure, which facilitates its transportation over long distances without the need of pipelines, generally in specially designed ships or road tankers.

[2] Aksjekaffe podcast Episode 94  Øystein Kalleklev «Flex LNG» 18.01.2022.

[3] In line with the European Green Deal and the EU’s 2030 energy and climate targets. https://climate.ec.europa.eu/eu-action/climate-strategies-targets/2050-long-term-strategy_en

[4] Except for Norway who is one of the largest gas exporter countries in the world and the most important source of pipeline gas imports to Europe right now.

[5] Energy union (europa.eu)https://www.lr.org/en/insights/articles/lng-uptake-demands-energy-security/

[6] In fact, countries that have access to LNG import terminals and liquid gas markets are far more resilient to possible supply interruptions than those that are dependent on a single gas supplier, cargoes of LNG are available from many different supplier countries worldwide and finally, the global LNG market is undergoing dynamic developments.

[7] Produces 40% less CO2 than coal and 30% less than oil. Methane burns also more efficiently than coal. 

[8] For some of the many examples of destructive outcomes of gas extraction see: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/fracking-boom-tied-to-methane-spike-in-earths-atmospherehttps://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/14/fracking-causing-rise-in-methane-emissions-study-findshttps://news.cornell.edu/stories/2019/08/study-fracking-prompts-global-spike-atmospheric-methane

[9] Opposition and critique, in turn, use the term green washing (Latour 2007; Klein 2020). 

[10] Around 40% of all pipeline imports to the EU have been controlled by Russia in the past years.

[11] USA, Qatar, Australia and Nigeria to name a few most important exporting countries. 

[12] My postdoc project is part of a larger collaborative project with title “Automation shift in the maritime sector of the oil and gas industry: assessing risk and safety, protecting labor” ASMOG. https://www.uib.no/en/asmog

[13] Each segment of the journey from destination to destination, including time for loading and discharging, takes about two weeks.

[14] Safety of life at sea (SOLAS) is an international treaty that regulates all aspects of commercial ships with focus on safety for all ship operations  https://www.imo.org/en/About/Conventions/Pages/International-Convention-for-the-Safety-of-Life-at-Sea-(SOLAS),-1974.aspx

[15] Even though studies on simulation training on board LNG have existed since the late 1970s (Blanchard 1976 and 1978), there is surprisingly still a lack of training on LNG shipping machines and simulations at maritime schools (https://safety4sea.com/cm-addressing-training-requirements-on-lng-fueled-ships/

[16] The role of the United States is increasingly important in the EU gas supply. Imports from the US are increasing enormously. As part of the Russia-Ukraine war and the related weaponisation of energy supply, the Russian share of pipeline imports has fallen dramatically. Between January and September 2022, the largest LNG exporters to the EU were the United States (44%), Russia (17%) and Qatar (13%).

‘I’ve seen things …’ and other pleasures of war

This blog post is part of the Experience of War conference, March 24, 2023, funded by the WARFUN project.

“The world is not in your books and maps. It’s out there”, Gandalf noted turning his glance towards the moonlit window. “You’ll have a tale or two to tell of your own when you come back”, he added. “You can promise that I will be back?”, Bilbo Baggins anxiously inquired. “No. And if you do, you won’t be the same”, Gandalf replied in a serious, even ominous, voice. 

– The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain”. 

– Roy Batty’s death soliloquy, Blade Runner (1982)

Flares, Camp Viking, Bastion. Photo: Author © 

Why do ‘we’ fight? For freedom? For democracy? For peace? You name it, and so politicians readily do. There are justifications of war in plenty. Still, is that really why ‘we’ fight? What about power? What about resources? What about greatness? Surely, these are credible explanations of war. Yet, is that really, really why ‘we’ fight? The answer must depend upon who ‘we’ are, and which fight ‘we’ have in mind. For instance, are we talking about Russians invading a neighbouring country, about Ukrainians defending their homeland, or about ‘foreign fighters’ volunteering for Ukraine’s International Legion? In any event, the dominant political discourse on why the ‘national we’ fight is often radically different from the demotic discourse among those who do the actual warfighting. At least that is the case of those Danish combat troops with whom I, as an ‘embedded researcher’, have conducted ethnographic fieldwork – before, during, and after deployment to Al Anbar, Iraq, and to Helmand, Afghanistan, respectively. 

It’s the adventure, stupid!

Once more, why do ‘we’ fight? Why do ‘our’ troops fight? This question is one I have endeavoured to get to grips with since the heyday of the Danish Helmand campaign. Back then I had a defining moment of ethnographic wonder when I one day, comfortably seated in my armchair, read my newspaper and came across a series of short portraits of Danish soldiers, all deployment-bound for Afghanistan. Particularly one mugshot caught my eye. The caption stated that the young man, depicted in his ‘desert uniform’, had signed up for the coming tour of duty because of the adventure. I almost spilled my coffee. Wait, what? The adventure? Not anti-terrorism? Not good governance? Not women’s rights and girls’ schools? Not even God, Queen, and Country? I carefully scrutinised the soldier’s portrait – a private in his early twenties. He looked perfectly sane and normal. But if he was not somehow retarded how then could he be willing to risk life and limb for the sake of an adventure? How could he be willing to cause death and destruction, not in the name of a greater course, but on the contrary merely in the name of what he seemingly expected to be an exciting experience? I was shocked. I was dumbfounded. I was puzzled. Above all, my curiosity was kindled as if by magic. What was going on? What was at stake? And so, my journey began into worlds of military and warfighting. 

In retrospect, of course, my initial wonder strikes me today as rather naïve. My then modest insight into ‘things military’ (Mohr, Sørensen & Weisdorf 2021) had made me expect the portrayed soldier’s war participation to be in line with the dominant, political discourse on why ‘we’, the Danes, fought in Afghanistan. Instead of recognising the adventurous soldier as one who, however unintentionally, ‘spoke truth to power’ and gave voice to what I, with inspiration from Brown & Lutz (2007), have elsewhere called a ‘subjugated warrior knowledge’ (Pedersen 2017b), my first reaction was one of disbelief. Clearly, I found it hard to accept that the soldier in the news did not fit my discursively informed preconception of ‘our’ troops as a heroic breed of patriots and humanitarians, more noble and more altruistic than the rest of us. All the same, the discursive spell was broken: It is the adventure, stupid! 

The rookie and the veteran

What then is in an adventure? Why is an adventure worth dying for? One place to start looking for answers is in the margins of the battlespace, yet right under our noses, namely in cinema or popular culture more generally. Take, for example, The Hobbit’s Bilbo Baggins and Blade Runner’s Roy Batty. Of course, Bilbo and Roy are fictional characters, still each of them embodies a widespread cultural figure: ‘the rookie’ (Bilbo) and ‘the veteran’ (Roy). The adventurous rookie is dying to see the world and is happily facing the unknown once the existential bargain has been settled in favour of going into the danger zone rather than staying in the zone of comfort. The seasoned combat veteran, on the other hand, has seen their fair share of extraordinary things in life and may thus die with peace of mind. 

‘The rookie’ and ‘the veteran’, I contend, prime ‘our’ young people for going to war in search of happy-ending adventures. ‘The rookie’ and ‘the veteran’ socialise ‘our’ young men and women into war as a place of adventure, a place where there might be a price to pay, yet also a prize to win. Now, it goes without saying that war involves the risk of death and (self-)destruction, yet it is not often said that war also harbours the chance of life and (self-)creation. On this, the ‘bright side’ of war, ‘the rookie’ and ‘the veteran’ enchant the world of war as a place of potentialities and possibilities; a place where one goes in search of experience and pleasure, of feeling alive and undergoing transformation, of self-discovery and self-improvement, of existential well-being and self-becoming (cf. Pedersen 2017a, 2017b; 2019). Indeed, the quest for adventure entails that ‘our’ troops seek out war in the pursuit of happiness, hedonic as eudemonic (ibid.). That is at least so in the case of those Danish ‘grunts’ I have followed. 

War happy

Drawing upon Walker and Kavedžija (2015), I conceive ‘hedonic happiness’ as an inner state of feeling good, a state of satisfaction and enjoyment. ‘Eudemonic happiness’, on the other hand, I understand as a matter of doing good and living a life of human flourishing (ibid.). In short, hedonia emphasises pleasurable sensations and eudaimonia a life of virtue. Yet, as Walker and Kavedžija (2015) remind us, hedonia and eudaimonia need not necessarily to be in conflict: you might feel good by doing good. In a similar vein, Lutz calls attention to a variety of war pleasures, including “the thrill of feeling like a moral victor [and], the pleasure of feeling like you are a good person” (Johais & Lutz 2022: 9). 

In my earlier work with Danish ISAF troops, I have explicitly explored eudemonic happiness in the case of my interlocutors’ struggle for becoming what I have described as ‘virtuous warriors’ (Pedersen 2017b). By contrast my interrogation of hedonic happiness has only been implicit, namely in the case of the ‘desire for the real’ – real combat, that is (Pedersen 2017a). However, the current, reinvigorated focus of a major research project (WARFUN) on the relationship between war and fun (De Lauri 2022; Johais & Lutz 2022; Mogstad 2022) has encouraged me to revisit my empirical data on contemporary Danish expeditionary forces and look at them through the analytical lens of hedonic pleasure. Accordingly, what has materialised is a range of pleasures, including what we may call ‘the thrill of destruction’, ‘the fun of a gun’, ‘the excitement of fighting’, ‘the love for being one of the guys’, ‘the pleasure of feeling like a hell of guy’, and ‘the satisfaction of having been there, done that, and bought the T-shirt’. I will look further into these pleasures in a different context (The War and Experience Conference). 

Tales and spectacles

For now, I restrict myself to attend to what we may refer to as ‘pleasures of tales and spectacles’, thus taking us back to Bilbo and Roy, that is, to the pleasure of having stories of one’s own to tell, and to the pleasure of seeing remarkable things. In the case of my OIR material, these pleasures are voiced, among others, by Private First Class ‘Larsen’,[1] then serving with the Jutland Dragoon Regiment’s Viking Coy, a mechanised infantry company. Larsen was deployed as Guardian Angel providing force protection to a Company Training Team stationed at Al Asad Airbase. A few months into the tour, which was his first, Larsen shared his thoughts on the deployment, while we enjoyed the cool night breeze outside Larsen’s quarters in Al Asad’s Camp Tripoli: 

“If this should have been an adventure, which I would have loved it to be, then we should have been doing like the Norwegians who get out [of the camp] and get to see more … Surely, that sounds considerably more exciting. Then you do also have that as draw: You get to see Iraq. Then you can say, ‘I’ve been driving round in Iraq for half a year and seen what it looks like’.”

Inquiring into what extent he had signed up to OIR for the sake of the deployment bonus, Larsen promptly replied:

“I would have done it for less money as well. After all, it’s because of the adventure, although there is not much adventure in it. But one does always set off hoping. Surely, we have seen things. It is a funny place, right?  We are never going to see anything like this anywhere else. So, in that sense, there has been a very tiny adventure in it. Surely, we have seen something that resembles a ghost town … Once it was a huge camp [nicknamed ‘Camp Cupcake’ (2003-2011)] with swimming pools and all sorts of things built by the Americans. We were out having a look at it. It’s almost like Chernobyl where things have just been deserted … It’s special. It’s very strange. You return home with that. At least you get to see those things.”

HESCO barrier, ‘The Twilight Zone’, Al Asad Airbase. Photo: Author © 
Normandy Can City, ‘The Twilight Zone’, Al Asad Airbase. Photo: Author ©  
‘Camp Cupcake’ no more, ‘The Twilight Zone’, Al Asad Airbase. Photo: Author ©
Indoor swimming pool, ‘The Twilight Zone’, Al Asad Airbase. Photo: Author ©  
Bunker, Al Asad Airbase. Photo: Author ©

As for my ISAF material, the pleasures of tales and spectacles are expressed, for example, by Gunner Private ‘Lyngby’.[2] He served with the Guard Hussar Regiment’s 1st Light Recce Squadron and deployed with the Force Protection Section ‘Fenrir’. It was Lyngby’s first tour of duty; a tour that would take him into the Helmandi ‘theatre of operations’ at the time when ISAF’s war was drawing to a close. Shortly prior to the deployment, a sunny summer afternoon at Almegaard Barracks, home of the 3rd Recce Battalion, Lyngby let me in on his anticipations of the coming tour:

“I’m just looking forward to experiencing it all; experiencing being deployed to Afghanistan … What is it actually like down there? … I’d be lying if I returned and didn’t say it was awesome to be part of it … Then you’re just a little more. After all, it’s not that many who have been down there. Then you can say you’ve tried it … It will also be exciting to see Camp Bastion. What the heck is that? It’s quite a monstrosity, right? … It is bloody well not kid’s stuff. It’s huge. The outer perimeter equals the distance of a Marathon race. It’s quite impressive.”

Enroute from the Cook House to Camp Midgaard, Bastion. Photo: Author ©
In the ‘sandbox’, Fox Range, Camp Bastion. Photo: Author ©

Lyngby and Larsen might not have any fantastic tales of trolls and dragons to tell, and they might not have seen anything as spectacular as space combat. Nevertheless, they did seem to find pleasure in the not quite so dramatic tales and spectacles that their deployment was offering them after all. But what then is so pleasurable about such pleasure? First, to judge from the interview snippets above, tales and spectacles, I suggest, harbour the pleasure of seeing things with one’s own eyes, the pleasure of ‘being there’, the pleasure of learning for oneself what it is like ‘for real’ (Pedersen 2017a), whether that be Iraq, or Afghanistan, or simply a tour of duty. Second, tales and spectacles, it appears, involve the pleasure of feeling awed in the presence of large-scale war infrastructures like Al Asad and Bastion; the pleasure of feeling one’s sense of self enlarged through attachments to ‘things miliary’ among one’s own or allied forces. Third, tales and spectacles seem to entail the pleasure of having rare experiences and becoming remarkably experienced; the pleasure of becoming a ‘who’ by virtue of the ‘what’ one has experienced at war (cf. Jackson 2013); the pleasure of feeling special, like a somebody (a veteran) rather than a nobody (a rookie); the pleasure of having tales of one’s own to tell and perhaps, however wishful, even becoming ‘the most interesting person in the room’. 

More than meets the ear and the eye

To be sure, the study of war pleasures calls for further elaboration elsewhere, empirically as theoretically. Here, I conclude this reflection by noting that my preliminary investigation into pleasures of tales and spectacles tends to be collapsing the distinction between hedonic and eudemonic happiness. There is more to the adventurous longing to see the world than pleasurable sensations of war wonders: Existential well-being and human flourishing, for instance, and thus the pleasure, with Jackson (2013), of experiencing oneself as acting upon the world rather than being acted upon by others; and, as I add, the pleasure of imagining, or even experiencing, oneself as self-transforming and coming into one’s own as an experienced individual and seasoned veteran.        


Brown, Keith & Catherine Lutz. 2007. Grunt Lit: The Participant-observers of Empire. American Ethnologist 34(2): 322-28. doi.org/10.1525/ae.2007.34.2.322

De Lauri, Antonio. 2022. The Experience of War: The WARFUN project. WARFUN Diaries 1: 2-4. Bergen: Chr. Michelsen Institute. 

Jackson, Peter, director. 2012. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Warner Bros. Pictures. 2 h, 49 min. https://www.warnerbros.com/movies/hobbit-unexpected-journey

Jackson, Michael. 2013. The Politics of Storytelling: Variations on a Theme by Hannah Arendt. 2nd edition. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press.

Johais, Eva & Catherine Lutz. 2022. Is There a Place for Fun and Pleasure in War Research? A Conversation between Eva Johais and Catherine Lutz. WARFUN Diaries 1: 8-11. Bergen: Chr. Michelsen Institute. 

Mogstad, Heidi. 2022. ‘Are You Heading to the Fun Zone?’: Notes from the Polish-Ukrainian Border. Allegra Lab, November 22. https://allegralaboratory.net/are-you-heading-to-the-fun-zone-notes-from-the-polish-ukrainian-border/

Mohr, Sebastian, Birgitte Refslund Sørensen & Matti Weisdorf. 2021. The Ethnography of Things Military – Empathy and Critique in Military Anthropology. Ethnos 86(4): 600-615. doi.org/10.1080/00141844.2019.1687553

Pedersen, Thomas Randrup. 2017a. Get Real: Chasing Danish Warrior Dreams in the Afghan ‘Sandbox’. Critical Military Studies 3(1): 7-26. doi.org/10.1080/23337486.2016.1231996

Pedersen, Thomas Randrup. 2017b. Soldierly Becomings: A Grunt Ethnography of Denmark’s New ‘Warrior Generation’. PhD dissertation. Dept. of Anthropology, Copenhagen: University of Copenhagen.

Pedersen, Thomas Randrup. 2019. Ambivalent Anticipations: On Soldierly Becomings in the Desert of the Real. The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology 37(1): 77-92. doi.org/10.3167/cja.2019.370107

Scott, Ridley, director. 1982. Blade Runner. Warner Bros. Pictures. 1 h, 57 min. https://www.warnerbros.com/movies/blade-runner

Walker, Harry & Iza Kavedžija. 2015. Values of Happiness. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 5(3): 1-23. doi.org/10.14318/hau5.3.002

[1] ‘Larsen’ is a pseudonym. 

[2] ‘Lyngby’ is a pseudonym as well.

Winner of the Public Anthropologist Award 2023

The winner of the Public Anthropologist Award 2023 is Gwen Burnyeat for her book The Face of Peace. Government Pedagogy amid Disinformation in Colombia

Gwen Burnyeat is Junior Research Fellow in Anthropology at Merton College, University of Oxford. The Face of Peaceis an engaging journey into the complexity of Colombians’ peace efforts and challenges. Moving between different scales of inquiry, Burnyeat explains the intricacies of the government-public relationship and the dynamics and failures of liberal peace-making. A great ethnography and a precious reference for comparative analyses on peace processes.


Antonio: Would you like to share with us the personal and professional trajectories that brought you to the publication of The Face of Peace?

Gwen: The questions that led to this book came out of a long trajectory of living and working in Colombia, and of being embedded with sectors of Colombian society who were trying to find ways to end the country’s fifty-year armed conflict and build a more peaceful future. I spent six years in Colombia before starting a PhD, initially as a practitioner in human rights and peacebuilding organisations, then as a scholar. My background was in literature; I retrained as an anthropologist at the National University of Colombia after working as a conflict observer in the north-west region of Urabá, really to try to understand the Colombian conflict that I had been experiencing on the ground. 

My first research project, which I did for a Masters at the National, was about the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, a grassroots community of cacao farmers in Urabá who, trapped between left-wing guerrilla, right-wing paramilitaries and state armed forces, declared themselves neutral to the conflict as a strategy of self-protection. This project led to my first book, Chocolate, Politics and Peace-building: An Ethnography of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, Colombia (Palgrave Macmillan 2018), which argues that the community’s everyday farming work illuminates their political identity as a peacebuilding organisation, and my documentary, Chocolate of Peace (2016). The Peace Community were victims of state violence, as most of the violations carried out against civilians in that region were done by state armed forces in alliance with paramilitaries, and a third of that book is about the way the community perceive the state. This made me interested in the state itself, because for the community the state was the ultimate other,so for my PhD I turned from victims of the state to studying the state itself. 

When I was studying at the National and living in Bogotá, I joined Rodeemos el Diálogo (ReD), literally “Let’s Embrace Dialogue,” a nonpartisan civil society organization founded in 2012 to support the peace negotiations which began that year between the government of Juan Manuel Santos and the FARC guerrilla. We held hundreds of “peace breakfasts” and other events to inform ordinary people about what was going on in the negotiations, bringing experts from all sectors (government, guerrilla and paramilitary ex-combatants, victims, academics, artists, activists, journalists, and others) to share their perspectives on peace and create a culture of dialogue across difference, as a way of peacebuilding from civil society. 

In retrospect, it was a very innovative and important thing to do, because peace-making at a national level brings up all sorts of emotional quagmires at the societal level. Wars, especially long-lasting ones like Colombia’s, engender all sorts of divides in society: political, social, economic, regional, and between people with different experiences of the conflict. The only way these differences can be processed is through spaces of dialogue: slow, repetitive, exploratory, calm, safe. The opposite of politics, which happens fast, in the public eye, often superficial rather than deep.

The peace talks took place amid staunch opposition from the right-wing Democratic Centre party, who complained the government was negotiating with terrorists. Anyone trying to explain the peace process, as we were in ReD, had to contend with their disinformation campaign. They told people that the peace process would turn Colombia communist, end private property, and impose “gender ideology” on schoolchildren, turning them gay and destroying families. Then, when the peace deal was signed in 2016, President Santos decided to hold a referendum on it, and this disinformation intensified. On 2 October 2016, Colombia voted ‘No’ by just 50.2% to a peace deal which was celebrated internationally as the most complete peace accord in the world, as it promised not only to disarm the FARC but also to address various structural reforms to prevent future violence, such as land reform, tackling the drug trafficking which has fuelled the conflict, and providing redress to the over 8 million victims of the conflict. This happened just a few months after the Brexit vote in my own country, the UK – and a few months before the election of Donald Trump. 2016 was the year that ‘post-truth’ became the Oxford Dictionary ‘word of the year’ – and since then, global concern over disinformation has spiralled.

I started my PhD two days after the referendum, and the referendum came to dominate my research. While lots of people were wondering how the ‘No’ vote had been so successful, I was more interested in how the “Yes” had lost. I became interested in the role of the government in the referendum, the way that they had tried to counter disinformation using rational explanations, which they called peace pedagogy, and the role of government-society relations in the peace process. 

I spent 13 months embedded in the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace (OACP), the branch of the presidency in charge of peace talks, observing their everyday work and life in the office and travelling with them to peace pedagogy sessions around the country. My book is a study of an attempt to do what many people say that governments around the world should be doing more of –education to counter disinformation, for people to know “the truth.” It focusses on the experiences of the government officials in charge of this peace pedagogy strategy and the challenges they faced in translating the peace accord for public opinion. As is now increasingly obvious, and as neuroscientists and psychologists have been telling us for a long time, people don’t form political opinions based on rationality but emotions, identity, culture, and history. I explore the problems of liberal fantasies about using rationality as an antidote to disinformation. There are many wonderful scholars working on populism, but fewer on the way liberalism reacts to what it perceives as post-truth politics. I’m convinced that we have to look harder at this, and in particular, I think we have to question our assumption that explaining is not political.

Antonio: What is exactly peace pedagogy?

Gwen: As the peace process in Havana progressed and more information and disinformation circulated publicly, ReD and other civil society groups began to do peace pedagogy, a term that emerged organically to describe the act of giving talks to different audiences to explain what was being negotiated. When the referendum was announced, peace pedagogy gained the emphasis of encouraging people to make an informed decision with their vote. The term filtered into government discourse, and a designated peace pedagogy team was created in 2013 in the OACP, the office that provided technical support to the government negotiating team in Havana, led by Sergio Jaramillo Caro, Santos’s High Commissioner for Peace, and chief negotiator Humberto de la Calle. My book is about government peace pedagogy, but many civil society organisations did peace pedagogy in their own way, and continue to do so.

Essentially, government peace pedagogy involved officials from the OACP travelling the country giving talks in-person to different audiences: from rural communities in village sports halls in conflict zones and students at universities, to the business sector in local chambers of commerce, personnel in state institutions, and local and national media. Through the four years of negotiations, government peace pedagogy evolved, and they developed myriad creative strategies, from workshops with local NGOs and online webinar courses to booklet summaries designed for specific groups, such as women, ethnic communities, conflict victims and religious organisations. This is a world first in peace processes: there is a sub-field of Peace Studies called Peace Education, but this refers to educational processes to solve conflicts non-violently. Peace pedagogy, as it was referred to in the Colombian context at that time, was defined by an emphasis on dissemination of official information. This is why I think it’s so important to learn from it, as it’s clearly only going to get more important in peace processes worldwide, as spoilers use disinformation more and more as a strategy to derail negotiations.

But one of the most important findings in the book is the problem of distrust. In speaking as the government, OACP officials had to contend with a historic distrust in the state, which is pervasive in Colombia, due to the state’s role as a perpetrator in the conflict, and to widespread narratives about state “abandonment” and “absence,” referring to a perception of lack of state presence in certain regions of the country. In speaking from the government, the officials were already at a disadvantage. Additionally, they believed they were trying to counter disinformation with facts, and that this was a purely technocratic exercise in explaining – but speaking from the government is always a priori political, because citizens project onto them all the complex emotions and imaginaries they have around national politics. Peace pedagogy was always-already political because it took place in a context of problematic state-society relations.

Antonio: Can you tell us more about the ethnographic and multi-scale research conducted for this book?

Gwen: The government officials I worked with often talked about the difficulty of “giving face,” in Spanish dar la cara, a common Colombian idiom meaning both to be present in physical encounters with someone, and to assume responsibility for something. The officials would say things to each other like, “it’s not our fault the peace process is falling apart, but we’re the ones who have to go and dar la cara, give face to people in the regions.” Giving face as the government means being on the receiving end of the many perceptions that Colombia’s diverse audiences have of the government, in a context of historic distrust in the state. For me, multi-scale research has to do with taking the micro-level observations which anthropology is so good at and connecting this up with macro-level politics, and looking at how the two intersect and produce each other.

In the book, I connect the experiences of individual officials which I documented in my fieldwork with the production of the idea of the government in the public eye. I do this by taking the emic category of “giving face,” to explore how all governments “face” society, and I propose a related analytical concept, “the face of the government,” as a framework for thinking through government-society relations. As Santos’ central policy was the peace process, I argue that the “face” he sought to “give” from his government was a face of peace, hence the book’s title. But the face of the government isn’t just created by Santos and his public relations efforts, but rather by a whole ecosystem of people, institutions, policies and actions. The face of the government is a construct, but “facing” is also a process, in the sense of coming face-to-face with people in personal encounters, and in that of assuming one’s responsibility, as in “facing the music.” 

I use this framework of the face to highlight the role of government-society relations in the Colombian peace process. Overall, I argue that while Santos dedicated great efforts to negotiating with the FARC, his government failed to invest the same efforts into building a government-society alliance for peace, and that this was the fatal flaw in the peace process.

Antonio: What were the main challenges in your research?

Gwen: When I approached the OACP about the possibility of doing fieldwork within the institution, I was followed the idea of “studying up,” Laura Nader’s idea of turning the anthropological gaze to the study of the powerful. This is a challenging positionality. It is easier to identify with, and to feel sympathy for, the marginalised or the oppressed, and anthropological research commonly focusses on experiences of inequality, exploitation, and local forms of critique and resistance. In many ways a government trying to make peace is more other to an anthropologist than a victim. Studying the powerful does not imply agreeing with them; it means recognising them as human beings, product of and reproducing Colombian culture. I had to apply the same openness, the same critical but non-judgmental eye, the same empathy in my approximation of the OACP as I had with the Peace Community, while not losing sight of the responsibility of the institution and its members in Colombia’s destiny.

The OACP generously accepted my proposal to spend a year embedded with them, partly because they saw international academic expertise as a source of knowledge and support to the peace process, and partly as they saw my experience with the Peace Community and ReD as relevant and useful. My embedded engagement was possible because I was ultimately supportive of the OACP’s overall objective to consolidate the gains of the peace process. I would have been unlikely to receive the same access under the subsequent Duque administration, especially given my trajectory with pro-peace and left-wing organisations. Likewise, being embedded in the institution under an administration I politically disagreed with would engender more complex ethical challenges to fieldwork. Participant observation inside governments is therefore deeply contingent.

Antonio: What are your future plans?

Gwen: I’m very lucky to have a three-year research fellowship at Merton College, University of Oxford, which gave me the time to turn my PhD into the book, and also develop my new research agenda. My new work is on the role of stories in political divisions in Colombia and the United Kingdom. Both countries held referendums in 2016 (on the peace accord and Brexit), leaving enduring identity divides, and fostering widespread narratives about each society being more divided than ever. Four months of pilot research in 2021-22 in Colombia exploring experiences and perceptions of polarisation among people from across the social and political spectrum made clear to me how lived experiences of political divides are integrated into everyday life and sociality through stories, from anecdotes over dinner tables and narratives shared in WhatsApp chats to politicians’ speeches. I now want to apply questions generated by my work in the conflict context of Colombia to the non-conflict but increasingly divided context of the UK, transcending traditional thematic categorisations such as north/south, conflict/non-conflict, to learn lessons on peacebuilding in divided societies by studying the two together. 

Combat Sex: Pleasure of War in Africa

This blog post is part of the Experience of War conference, March 24, 2023, funded by the WARFUN project.

Traditional war practices, such as killing are not easily linked with sexual intimacies in war. The image of a soldier is that of a rough-ridding macho-man driven by the desire to kill characterised by bigotry. While this is somehow true, this is not the image presented in this text. The blog post is interested in an intimate and romantic soldier in the context of war in Africa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo war, fought between 1998 and 2002. The focus is on intervening forces, the Zimbabwean soldiers, whose stories of war were embedded with intimate sex with civilian Congolese women in war. This Democratic Republic of Congo war has been referred as the “Great War” in Africa and/or the “Africa World War” (Reyntjens, 1999; Rawlence, 2012). This is premised on the number of intervening countries and forces in the war: Rwanda and Uganda countries supporting the rebel forces fighting against the Democratic Republic of Congo government, supported by Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia. This was fought for five consecutive years, and millions of civilians lost their lives, including soldiers and rebels. 

The burgeoning scholarship interest on war continues to present war as always a social, economic and a politically destructive experience. This is real. However, war has intimate moments. Thus, while the dominant discourse on and about war is that it is about killing and decimating the perceived enemies, sex in war makes our understanding of war and being in combat as a pleasurable experience. Thus what makes sex pleasurable is not just the act of doing sex in war, but how an exciting experience is made possible in the face of adversity and the certainty of death. Soldiers are not just instruments of killing, rather they do establish long term and intimate relationships with civilians in the context of war. The strong academic and policy position is that sex in war is rape, yet soldiers do establish sexual romantic relationship with civilian women in the context of war. The social processes involved in the context of war is quite similar in the context of peace. Such practices help us to understand that even though soldiers’ intention in war is to fight and kill, killing in war is inextricably linked with moments of intimate sex. 

The idea here is not to refute the presence of rape in war by soldiers against civilians, and or civilian against civilians, but to have a discussion on a grey area about war, which even scholars skirt around, and the media included. The question on intimate sex in war, by soldiers, reveals to us issues about soldiering in its totality in the context of war. Oftentimes, soldiers, and men are presented as perpetrators of sexual violence, without an understanding that they are law abiding citizens even in spaces in which they can act otherwise. Infantry soldiers are often accompanied by the military police in war. The military police enforce discipline on soldiers fighting in the war. The military police do represent the arms of the state, which can arrest, detain, and ensures that the due process is followed in prosecution, even in war. Thus, apart from soldiers being moral agents, they abide by the laws which guide them in the context of war. It is not entirely true that soldiers are left rogue in war, instead, military commanders, and military police prepare ‘standing orders’, which guide and control soldiers to act within the specific confines of the law. Any soldier who goes against the ‘standing orders’, is heavily punished and corrected. 

War is a window of opportunity for soldiers to meet and establish intimate relationships which sometimes goes beyond the context of war. Soldiers do understand and make a distinction between rape, other forms of sexual violence and intimate sex. The ability to make a distinction between rape and intimate sex, is drawn from them being humane. Thus, having guns and carrying them does not easily cause men to lose the morality of sexual relations. Soldiers in war do go out and beyond the trenches, dressed in civilian clothing, meet civilian women and date. In turn, soldiers bring-in civilian women in the trenches of war, as part of wartime companionship. 

It is therefore important to understand that sex in war is a social practice in the context of war which is characterised by emotions of being humane. War does not completely eradicate the ways in which intimacies are understood both in theory and in practice. 


Rawlence, B. (2012) Radio Congo: Signals of hope from Africa’s deadliest war, One World, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

 Reyntjens, F. (1999) Briefing: The second Congo war: More than a remake, African Affairs, 98, 391: 241-250 

Come for the war, stay for the swimming pool: the Green Zones of Baghdad and Mogadishu as heterotopic spaces

This blog post is part of the Experience of War conference, March 24, 2023, funded by the WARFUN project.

There has been significant scholarly interest in the militarised and enclaved spaces of international intervention and war(Chandrasekaran, 2010; Fisher, 2017; Weigand and Andersson, 2019). Afghanistan’s “kabbuble”, Baghdad’s ‘Emerald City’, or Mogadishu’s airport ‘green zone’, are among the most well-known examples. Yet from Bamako to Juba, sprawling networks of fortified international compounds have proliferated, providing full-spectrum ‘life support’ facilities to international staff (Duffield, 2010; Autesserre, 2014). Indeed, the fortified enclave seems to be an integral facet of contemporary western intervention in war zones and post-conflict societies across the globe. 

The literature has importantly criticised this bunkerisation for undermining the stated aims of liberal intervention and/or humanitarian aid, the radical inequality it produces and sustains, the coloniality of these spaces, commodifying intervention, attributed it to remote warfare, or as a physical manifestation of the ‘forever war’. Less attention, however, has been given to the lived experience within these so-called green zones, to what the military personnel actually do within them. In particular, the overlooked yet – we argue – salient role that leisure, entertainment, and recreation play in how soldiers and military contractors negotiate the frustrations and boredom of life within the “bunker”, and thus, ultimately how the continuation of Western remote warfare and liberal interventionism are enabled.

Drawing on comparative insights from fieldwork in the green zones of Mogadishu and a week-long stay at the US operating base Union III in the heart of the Green Zone in Baghdad, as well as over 80 interviews with soldiers, security contractors, military advisors and trainers, this blog post will explore the tensions, pleasures and frustrations of contemporary life in the green zone. Whilst green zones tend to be thought of as sterile, austere featureless ‘non-places’ (Auge, 1996), we argue that they may rather be seen as distinctive, heterotopic social worlds (Foucault, 1986). They are alternate spaces both unreal and absolutely real, near utopias where palm trees, swimming pools and continuous electricity set them apart from the war-torn societies they are ostensibly part of, while the watchtowers, checkpoints, T-walls and container homes simultaneously create prison-like spaces of confinement. As heterotopias they uncannily combine incompatible spaces such as the exotic holiday destination and the prison camp. We argue that in these heterotopic sites significant energy and investment is expended on keeping up the excitement and routinize recreational activities to stave off the boredom and frustration that results from the bunker condition. Leisure facilities and activities have thus expanded to the extent that bunkerised spaces have, for some, become not just tolerable, but even fun or comforting to be in. 

Bunkerised life

Danger. Combat. Explosions. All things that do not typically happen in the green zone. Many soldiers and military contractors deployed to Baghdad and Mogadishu’s green zones, at first had strong expectations about life in a war zone and were disappointed to find themselves confined behind blast walls with minimal contact with the outside and limited opportunities to travel. At Union III in Baghdad’s Green Zone about 75 % of the military personnel are not even allowed to exit the military camp – i.e. entering the wider Green Zone – and the camp is generally referred to as “the open prison”. As the dreams of adventure recede, the frustration that they will not get to ‘experience’ Mogadishu or Baghdad or any form of ‘real’ warfare sets in. In Mogadishu, the blame often lands on risk-averse or inept bureaucracies in their home countries, or in the case of Baghdad the very conservative US intelligence evaluations that the Coalition forces are dependent on.   

Green zones are not only populated by soldiers and military contractors. They are crammed with people working for different organisations, under different mandates, bureaucratic responsibilities and risk thresholds. In Mogadishu, for example, security contractors enjoy far more freedom to move within the green zone and outside of it, relative to many military contingents who have stringent force protection protocols on mobility and security. In Baghdad any trip from the military base to the wider Green Zone requires four armoured vehicles and 12 men from the Force Protection Team. It is evidently extremely resource-demanding and very few -often the most senior commanders – are therefore allowed to enter the wider Green Zone. Life within Union III has become so bunkerised that even the Green Zone is considered going “outside”.

Negotiating the confinement 

For many, the gap created by the disjuncture between expectation and reality is filled by routine. You circulate from one compound to the next, eat in the same canteen, with the same people, stay in the same air-conditioned container. In Baghdad, cleaning is on Sundays and movie nights on Thursdays. In Mogadishu, ‘make your own pizza’ night is Friday evening’s entertainment. Hard physical training also offers a way to fill time. In Mogadishu, there are regular touch rugby games and on weekend afternoons, the beachfront is packed with runners, who jog up and down like hamsters in a cage. At Union III in Baghdad, most of the military personnel spend the evening jogging in circles along the outer walls of the small camp. There are competitions over who can run the most kilometers during their six months deployment. “You get your name on the board if you reach 500 kilometers”, explains a Croatian soldier from the Force Protection team, “I’ll get there, and maybe I’ll go for the next level of 840 kilometers, there is really nothing else to do”. Working out may also offer a substitute for ‘real action’ and a way to engage the hyper masculinity of the military. At the intermittent quarters of the force protection teams, young men were spending hours pumping iron in front of the mirror – and each other. Even the Lieutenant General commanding the Mission, despite being close to the age of retirement, was known to do heavy weightlifting every morning with his team.

Telling war stories from other conflict zones, or – if you can –  about journeys ‘outside of the wire’ can similarly act as substitutes for “action” and as meaning creating practices. At Union III every week the military advisors of the coalition forces would meet for an informal talk in the evening.  The Finns for instance would share a story of the famous sniper Simo Häyhä fighting the Russians, and the Danes would relate the notorious “Operation Bøllebank” a Danish led battle against Serbian forces in the Balkans in the 1990s. Their present rather uneventful deployment could thereby be linked to a continuous history of heroic war-making and humanitarian interventionism. Others had stories of the occasional missile attacks from Shia militias into the Green Zone, at times countered by exciting noise from the American C-Ram. 

Those dreaming of getting outside the walls would need to come up with creative exit plans. A flyer on a bulletin board in Union III ironically asked “Tired of life in the open prison? Come teach at the Iraqi Ministry of Defense”. Over time, the desire to transgress the boundaries of the green zone may diminish. One individual who had been circulating in and out of Mogadishu’s green zone, boasted of having been there for almost a year and having never spoken to a Somali. Many questioned why they were even here, sat in a container, when they could be doing exactly the same job in Nairobi. A Canadian lieutenant in Baghdad similarly revealed that he was offered a trip outside (i.e. the Green Zone) by his commander “but why should I” he shrugged. Yet many were longing for a bit of light and a glimpse of the outside. They were going to the rooftop of one of Saddam Hussein’s former government buildings in the heart of Union III to escape the darkness and confinement of the T walls. Here they would get a peek of Baghdad city, the clocktower and Saddam Hussein’s two famous crossing swords. This would be the closest most would ever be to Baghdad. 

Can camp life be entertaining?

The problem of frustration and boredom – and simply having too much time to spare in a confined space – is of course nothing new to the military. As Meredith Lair has observed in her book on consumerism and soldiering in Vietnam, the US war machine went to great lengths to provide entertainment and recreation in an effort to stave off dissent and trouble-making. 

In present Baghdad, the US military similarly provides mainstream American entertainment for the coalition forces, from a sneak premiere of a Star Wars movie to a concert with the country singer Toby Keith. In Mogadishu, entertainment is mainly provided by market forces. It has now become a business with strong parallels to (war) tourism (e.g. Lisle, 2016).In one securitised hotel, container homes are organised into carefully arranged ‘streets’ named after famous London roads, such as ‘Covent Garden’ and ‘Baker Street’, invoking a caricatured ‘Britishness’ reminiscent of colonial bourgeois cultures, or British tourist enclaves in Spain. The number of swimming pools, gastro-pubs and hotel bars has also proliferated in Mogadishu’s green zone. A common quip was that you could now do a pub crawl around the green zone, due to the proliferation of drinking establishments – in a Muslim country, where alcohol is strictly forbidden. One side of the green zone is a seafront that has become a private beach for the international community. A liminal space of leisure and escapism, the beach is where UN staff may be found barbecuing imported Italian meats, security contractors might go spear fishing, or peacekeepers paddle in the water. Outside the airport, one can buy shark jaws and other curios to take home as souvenirs. In Baghdad diplomats and government officials still meet at al Rasheed hotel overlooking the palm trees and the Tigris river, as they have ever since the US-led invasion in 2003.  

As bunkerisation has fortified, entertainment and routinization seem no less important than during the Vietnam War. As heterotopic spaces the green zones enfold multiple imaginaries of place into one compressed space, thereby juxtaposing seemingly incompatible lived experiences – close to both tourism and prison life – yet sufficiently tolerable to make the denizens remain. This shows how war – often seen as an exceptional and radically contingent event – is in fact a part of everyday life. Boredom and pleasure-seeking are as much aspects of contemporary war as the thrill of combat is. Many may have come for the war, but most stayed on for the swimming pools.


Augé, M. (1996). About non-places. Architectural Design, 66, 82-83.

Autesserre, S. (2014). Peaceland: Conflict resolution and the everyday politics of international intervention. Cambridge University Press.

Chandrasekaran, R. (2010). Green Zone: Imperial Life in the Emerald City. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Duffield, M. (2010). The liberal way of development and the development—security impasse: Exploring the global life-chance divide. Security dialogue, 41(1), 53-76.

Fisher, L. D. (2017). “Why shall wee have peace to bee made slaves”: Indian Surrenderers During  and After King Philip’s War. Ethnohistory, 64(1), 91-114.

Foucault, M., & Dreyfus, H. (1986). Mental illness and psychology.

Lisle, D. (2016). Waiting for international political sociology: A field guide to living in-between. International Political Sociology, 10(4), 417-433.

Weigand, F., & Andersson, R. (2019). Institutionalized intervention: The ‘bunker politics’ of international aid in Afghanistan. Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding, 13(4), 503-523.

War things in the bed

This blog post is part of the Experience of War conference, March 24, 2023, funded by the WARFUN project.

War and waring are extremely playful events. Warriors playfully lighten the burden of brutalities that either their anticipation hunts them or they are exposed to in combats. However, warriors’ playfulness is considered intensely transgressive fun by civilians and those disengaged from wars. For instance, brutal hazing among military personnel depicted in movies such as Full Metal Jacket (1987), G.I. Jane (1997), and Jarhead (2005) or documentaries such as Lohaamim (20121) has evoked moral judgment among civilians. They overlook these brutalities, and the hazing are funacts that pale away brutalities and inhumanities seen or expected to see in combat. In other words, one’s fun is brutality for another. Of course, this relative approach to brutality and inhumanities is not to approve or express sympathy but rather to highlight perspectivism in militancy. 

I never took the fun seriously enough while researching Shia militias and following the everyday lives of Shia men who volunteered and joined the so-called resistance groups across the Middle East. Fun was deeply obvious and integral into their everyday lives at the fronts, training, and deployments. I took fun for granted. Two different academic encounters turned fun into serious anthropological inquiries. The first instance was when a female Dutch-Moroccan Muslim student who was a practising Muslim furiously walked out of my class because of the video clips I showed. She complained they seemed ‘fun, and the resistance fighters were not seriously engaged with their ideologies during combat’. I showed real-life recorded clips of Sunni Lebanese militants fighting Shias in the street of the city of Saida. They laughed, joked and took turns in shooting at the other side. My student did not have fun watching them have fun. The second instance was when I collaborated with Lara Stall (a Dutch dramaturge) to organise an anti-conference which made fun of the Munich Security Conference, where high-level statesmen talk about global security issues. Professor Nandi Sundar, who spoke at our anti-conference, explained that activists should not lose their sense of humour and ‘fight the oppression while having fun.’ These two instances lingered in my head but sharpened my attention to the word fun and instances of fun during my fieldwork and investigating what it means to do and live with inhumanities.

            My research on inhumanities entails following the sociocultural acts that render people, persons, things, biotic and abiotic extractable, disposable, killable and unworthy of dignity (Saramifar 2017; 2019; 2021; van Liere and Meinema 2022). Therefore, I follow combatants and militants engaged in the resistance transnational networks among Shia communities in the Middle East and Central Asia to explain how socialisation in violence generates a waring ecology that imbibes everything and everyone in itself. My ethnographic interest in inhumanities took me to Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon, among other places. I conducted fieldwork in Iraq, where the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) occupied large territories in 2013. The Iraqi Shia combatants resisting and fighting against ISIS were my interlocutors, and I explored their everyday lives while they volunteered to fight ISIS. These men (25 to 50 years old) volunteered and raised arms to join Hashd u Shaabi, Popular Mobilization Fronts (PMF), in response to a religious ordinance issued by Ayatollah Sistani, one of the highest religious authorities in Iraq. Sistani called on any abled-body men to volunteer and fight against ISIS since the Iraqi army collapsed and abandoned its post when facing ISIS’ overwhelming attacks. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a paramilitary group and integral component of the Islamic Republic of Iran contributed to the training, organisation and deployment of these volunteers. IRGC suggested that the Shia religious ideology is the common framework for Iranians and Iraqis who should collaborate and mobilise against ISIS, which had vowed to kill Shias and demolish their holy sites and shrines. Accordingly, the pervasive representational discourse among the militias suggested that Shia combatants from across regions, including Afghanistan and Pakistan, joined PMF to protect the holy shrines and resist extremists who threatened Iraqi national harmony. Although any anthropologist worthy of the adjective knows there is a large gap between what is said and what occurs on the ground. Human Rights Watch groups documented the inhumanities and violence inflicted on Sunni civilians by Shia militias. Shia militants tortured Sunni civilians after liberating areas occupied by ISIS, and Sunni civilians were arrested and tortured as ISIS collaborators without evidence.

            The cacophony of violence in the name of Islam and sectarian hatred was in the air of everyday life in Iraq. Although, Shia combatants who had become my research-friends were preoccupied with everything except Islam and sectarian differences. They were too busy staying alive, dealing with inflation and Iraq’s broken economy, and finding medicine for their elderly and their own injuries. They saw ISIS as the new threat to the stability of the fragile political economy. Initially, they referred to defending shrines during interviews and called it their primary motivation to join PMF in 2014. But they gradually became comfortable and familiar enough with me to tell their stories and reveal that joining PMF had nothing to do with God, shrines or sectarian differences.  The story of Abbas, a thirty years old shop keeper in the city of Karbala, is a good anthropological lesson in finding non-religious motivations in religiously framed political violence, why following fun is an unexpected clue which reveals different hues of subjectivities and how to trace spectre of inhumanities in waring ecologies.

Abbas’ story helps to understand how masculinity, love, things, sex, curiosities and war are entangled with the waring ecology. Hence, those such as Abbas should not be reduced to their religious affiliations. Abbas’ piety was exemplary among shopkeepers in the market beside the holy shrines in Karbala. Most shopkeepers referred to him whenever they had any disputes because they believed Abbas was pure of heart and his judgment was godly. Referring to pious and elderly savants to settle any dispute, ranging from disagreement about football or which music is Islamic enough to debt and marital disputes, is usual in Iraq. However, Abbas’ young age (31 years old) distinguished him from the crowd of savants, and it showed his piety brought him such credibility that it overshadowed his age. I met him while walking out of the hospital as he struggled to climb the stairs. I helped him, and it took us more than an hour to climb fifteen stairs and finally take a seat to wait for the doctors. He was embarrassed, and I assumed his pride was wounded because he needed help, so I said with a humble tone, ‘you have suffered for Iraq, so helping is an obligation.’ And he smirked, silently withdrew into his own head for ten minutes, then began laughing while touching his right inner thigh and blurted, ‘you never would say that if you knew where my injury is located.’ He squeezed his thigh and pointed between his legs. 

He was too high on painkillers to care for social etiquette. He explained how shrapnel had injured his right thigh and cut part of the pennis. He added with pride, ‘yes, it is that big.’ This introduction allowed me to know Abbas as a man preoccupied with things other than religion and politics. He believed his injury was due to the curse by his mother since he left home, closed his shop and volunteered for PMF after they fought over the woman he desired to marry. His mother refused to approve of the woman he loved. Abbas was in love with a young divorcee whom he befriended. They became sexually intimate whenever they could find a safe empty house, but his mother refused to reach out to the young woman’s family and ask for her hand. Abbas’s mother approved of his pleasure and sexual conquests but believed ‘his penis should not guide his marriage choice.’ Abbas found this expression insensitive and insulting to the woman he loved, so he left home and threatened his mother to kill himself. So he joined PMF that ISIS may do the job since he did not have the courage to commit suicide. He was injured in his first deployment.

 He said, ‘my mother’s anger at my pleasure-seeking choice caused my odd injury. She was right; I did not listen, but the shrapnel made me listen.’ Mother and son made peace as long as Abbas repented, and initially, Abbas told me that he remained in PMU to prove his pious commitment to holy sites. For a while, Abbas expressed more and more sectarian hatred and repeated typical religious phrasing about Islam and protecting Shiaism from ISIS. It seemed the gentle, pious Shia turned into a firebrand militant. I would sit in his shop and observe his discussion and behaviour change which brought more business and popularity for him. I could not talk to him as much since his booming business interrupted our conversations whenever I was in his shop. Finally, he hired an assistant for his shop to handle customers, and we suddenly spent more alone time than before. He could let loose in the absence of the public eye, joke, relax and laugh, and one day he mastered the courage to ask me a question.  He handed me his mobile phone and asked me to translate some information about Durex Vibrations Ring. I translated and explained nonchalantly and in the utmost clinical manner. I have learned to numb myself against frequent discussions about sex, women and various forms of vulgarity among militants. My clinical approach made him uncomfortable and silent. He seemed guilty; then he broke his silence by adding, ‘I am not all about God and PMF. I have fun too.’ He explained that he secretly continued his affairs with the divorcee, and the only reason he remained in PMF was that she found it sexy. His lover seemed to enjoy the appeal of the uniform, and Abbas entertained her interest to compensate for the erectile dysfunction he developed due to the injury. Although her interest has impacted Abbas in ways, he did not enjoy. He was annoyed by himself ‘I get hard whenever I see uniforms and think of what she would like. I see guns and rifles then I get hard because I think about her and how she likes them. I don’t want war-things in my bed, but this ring may change things for me. Would it help me to get an erection or hold it for a long while?’ 

            It was difficult to answer him, but I turned it around and said, ‘maybe you just have to try to have fun and don’t think too much?’ I returned to the Netherlands the next day, and he messaged me a few days later: ‘you deserve the title Doctor although you cannot administer an injection. I just had fun with it, and war-things became fun-things.’ I was relieved that my ambiguous and vague answer saved me from advising him, but it helped him, although our encounter clarified how fun is situated in the lives of those exposed to death. Abbas and many other combatants’ idea of fun was notnecessarily ‘an array of ad hoc, nonroutine and joyful conducts… where individuals break free temporarily from the disciplined constraints of everyday life, normative obligations and organised power’ (Bayat 2013). Fun was integral to their exercise of power, living with and by power; for instance, Abbas succeeded in having fun when he complied with the image of militants and stopped thinking about war-things such as guns and uniforms through the lens of violence. He had fun and was able to hold an erection when war-things were not objects of violence, but rather they were tools available to militants. He complied with the regime of militancy in which weaponry and war-things are mere tools and not memorabilia of inhumanities. In other words, he could have fun as long as he allowed the war machine to imbibe him, waring ecology shape him, and he would embrace unreason (Port 1998) by complying with the Shia militancy’s moral authority. Asef Bayat (2013) pointed out fun as an expression against organised power, but fun in waring ecology is an expression of compliance with power. It suspends thoughts and meaning and assigns thinking and reasoning to the organised power. In other words, some men cannot “perform” their masculinity and have fun in waring ecology as long as they think and attempt to make sense of inhumanities, so they assign thinking to the organised power (i.e. war machine, militancy including paramilitary command system, religious and ideological authorities), comply with it to become joyful militants.


Bayat, Asef. 2013. Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East. Second edition. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Liere, Lucien van, and Erik Meinema. 2022. Material Perspectives on Religion, Conflict, and Violence: Things of Conflict. BRILL. https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004523791.

Port, Mattijs van de. 1998. Gypsies, Wars, and Other Instances of the Wild: Civilisation and Its Discontents in a Serbian Town. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Saramifar, Younes. 2017. “The Pain of Others: Framing War Photography in Iran.” Ethnos, December, 1–26. https://doi.org/10.1080/00141844.2017.1415367.

Saramifar, Younes. 2019. “Tales of Pleasures of Violence and Combat Resilience among Iraqi Shi’i Combatants Fighting ISIS.”Ethnography 20 (4): 560–77. https://doi.org/10.1177/1466138118781639.

Saramifar, Younes. 2021. “Mute-Ability of the Past and the Culture of Martyrdom in Iran: Remembering the Iran–Iraq War and Civic Piety amongst the Revolutionaries of Postwar Generations.” History and Anthropology, September, 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1080/02757206.2021.1983563.

Have I killed someone? Meaning making by German soldiers after combat in Afghanistan

This blog post is part of the Experience of War conference, March 24, 2023, funded by the WARFUN project.

The experience of military violence during the German ISAF operation has not only been essentially new to German society and the armed forces but also and particularly to the Bundeswehr soldiers. For the first time since the end of World War II, German servicemembers actively used kinetic violence during combat. The question in focus here is how do soldiers deal with combat situations, the fear, the permanent tension and how do they cope with killing and death? Killing is still one of the best hidden phenomena of modern wars, because social scientists generally hesitate when it comes to discussing and investigating the act of killing. It is a challenging research undertaking to not per se classify violence as something evil (or something good) but, in defiance of the moral challenge, to examine how people can inflict violence upon others or even kill them and how they evaluate the significance of such an act. When ISAF soldiers returned to Germany, friends and relatives often tersely enquire: “Did you kill anyone?” instead of asking the usual question: “So what was it like?”. Due to certain spatial distances given in most combat situations, the soldiers most often than not do not know whether they have actually injured or killed someone. Having certain knowledge in this respect is very rare in military conflicts. This not-knowing can lead to equally irritating feelings of guilt and shame as being sure to have shot somebody. In most combat situations, soldiers do not face each other when they shoot; on the contrary, the view on the other soldier (who is moving and taking cover) can be blocked by (large) distances, the terrain, bushes, buildings etc. This is also called the “fog of combat”. A (fatal) hit on an opponent can only be noticed by the ceasing backfire – in most cases, the only ones who have a clear view on the enemy to be killed are the snipers (if at all) or movie heroes. Therefore, the experience of killing another person seems to remain rather abstract to most of the German soldiers with combat experience. Interestingly enough, even snipers are protected from a too direct confrontation with the act of killing by looking through their rifle scopes.

Therefore, the soldiers experience killing in highly contradictory ways (cf. Bar/Ben-Ari 2005: 133). This may lead to a range of (emotional) reactions between desire for combat and triumph on the one hand and seeking of sense, feelings of guilt, compassion and remorse on the other hand. Directly after a fight, the soldiers are happy to have survived and maybe to have even killed the enemy. In most cases, unsettling thoughts, questions of meaning and feelings of guilt only arise after some time has passed, because the soldiers also may see “an ominous component of hopelessness” in the bloodshed and killing.

Soldiers can be morally unsettled by these questions. Most studies in the context of social sciences are focused on the victims of violence rather than on the perpetrators. During ISAF’s mission in Afghanistan, however, the soldiers not only became victims but perpetrators as well. This perspective can be hard to bear for some soldiers and, apart from moral questions, can also lead to feelings of guilt, shame and aggressiveness as well as to speechlessness and helplessness. Additional consequences may include disturbed social behaviour as well as impulse control disorders. The majority of soldiers are nevertheless dealing quite well with the killing in battle – especially if the enemy has been identified unequivocally and if servicemembers can be sure to have successfully fought against insurgents. However, our natural biological scruples to kill another person have to be overcome again and again. People do not want to kill, and soldiers are no exception. Apparently, in World War II, 80 to 85 per cent of the American soldiers did not shoot at the enemy. This psychological barrier has been lowered considerably afterwards by better training during the wars in Korea and Vietnam. 

When soldiers kill another human being, this act can call our inherent humanity into question. The legitimization of the use of violence by society is thus of particular significance. If one’s own group approves of the collective killing (imperative to kill), the cultural concept of the prohibition of killing can be overcome and adequately processed. As indicated by German ISAF soldiers during personal interviews, they sometimes not only questioned the meaning and purpose of the mission, they were also aware of the poor legitimization of this robust operation on the part of German society. This awareness burdens soldiers. Additionally, war is not an endeavour of a few but, instead, “war is a state of society” and therefore affects everyone. 

With regard to the psychological wellbeing of soldiers from a combat mission, it is vital for the soldiers to be reaccepted and readmitted by society as ‘people like you and me’ and to not be perceived as ‘psychopathologized strangers’ or “marginal women/men” as often the case in Western societies.

In the German society, soldiers are often marked as being special so that their experiences may be excluded as particular ones. This way society does not have to integrate war experiences enter into a direct confrontation with the experienced violence. In other words, experiences of violence are not being integrated into society; instead, the affected soldiers are being repulsed by focusing on psychopathology. However, war and warlike conflicts cannot be individualized. Combat experiences cannot be excluded by so-called post-heroic societies, which send their soldiers into conflict or war scenarios. Experiences of violence are not only stored in narrations and archived in language. They are also incorporated into bodies, movements, gestures, (unofficial) rituals and objects. 

Personal interviews with Bundeswehr soldiers with combat experience have demonstrated that, even in the military context, violence is being interpreted in highly different ways. It can have both abominable and positive aspects. As unsettling as experiences of violence may be in that particular moment, for many soldiers the confrontation with violence is only part of a more complex experience during a mission as well as afterwards. Externally, the armed forces represent the state’s monopoly on the use of violence. As members of this organization of the state, the soldiers are trained in the use of violence and sent on sometimes robust missions mandated by parliament. During these operations they will have to make use of the learned violence in combat situations. For the soldiers, violence is the ‘gravitational centre’ which is not only the basis for core military training but also for the emergence of a soldierly identity. The training and performance of military violence is an essential part of a professional soldier’s view on his profession. Therefore, we need to understand that for many members of the military, violence is nothing that automatically traumatizes but it is part of their profession as well as of their professional self-perception. In most cases, soldiers are able to deal quite well with experiences of violence as an integral part of their soldierly assignment in the country of deployment. 

The experience of violence is not automatically traumatizing and is not taken as an opportunity to distance oneself from the values and norms of the native peaceful society. In many cases, soldiers with combat experiences who have been directly confronted with their own mortality often appreciate their home more than they did before. In many cases they also experience a strengthening of their value system – virtues such as honesty, politeness, reliability and taking care of each other now (once again) have a higher importance. Combat experiences can trigger a certain self-assurance which helps to regain one’s “own wholeness”. Suppressed or dormant facets of one’s own personality can be revived/lived out under the challenging conditions of a violent confrontation.


Bar, N., & Ben-Ari, E. (2005). Israeli snipers in the Al-Aqsa intifada: killing, humanity and lived experience. Third World Quarterly26(1), 133-152.

Pleasures of War

This blog post is part of the Experience of War conference, March 24, 2023, funded by the WARFUN project.

Anything is better than to have nothing at all happen day after day. You know that I do not love war or want it to return. But at least it made me feel alive, as I have not felt alive before or since. 

—An unknown French woman in the Resistance after World War 2. 

It may sound like a dramatic thing to write but reading this quote actually changed my life. It really did. Let me tell you what happened.

It was 2012 and I was studying a Masters of International Relations at the University of New South Wales. Unsettled, restless, bored, I had thrown myself into my studies, a bit lost after working overseas with international organisations for a few years—two “missions” in Afghanistan, one in North Ossetia in Southern Russia and one in Pakistan. The serious and international nature of the Master was keeping me sane in Sydney, a peaceful city which felt so far away from the intensity of where I’d been. Let’s go to the beach! Good idea. It might stop me from feeling like I’m drowning on land.

As part of my degree, I was researching for a short paper on women on the frontline when I found the above line. An unknown Frenchwoman in the Resistance had made the statement to J. Glenn Gray after the war. I was startled. I hadn’t been in the Resistance, but I felt exactly like this woman did. Her words were my words; her voice through time articulated my dilemma. In Afghanistan, I had indeed felt very alive. Here in Sydney, I was partly dead. 

I emailed my lecturer, asking if she knew anyone who had written about the thrill of combat and women having positive experiences in war. My teacher replied that she didn’t know of any. A few months later, I wrote again, asking if she knew of any books or research into the emotional elements of war that may cover pleasures and highs of fighting?

As I put it: “It is a topic that interests me, and I can’t seem to find much on it.”

I was so curious about this woman who had been enlivened by war. Wasn’t war meant to be awful? I was yet to know I was at the beginning of an unstoppable intrigue.     

I tracked down Gray’s The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle and found he had an unusual back story. In 1941, on the day he got his paperwork to go to war, he was also awarded his PhD in philosophy from Columbia University. He spent the next four years in various theatres of World War 2 as an intelligence officer. He returned to university life in the US and became a professor, and a translator of Heidegger. The book was based on his diaries from the war and time spent back in Germany in the 1950s.

The Warriors threw open a door: here was a soldier focusing on the strange pleasures of war. One page after page after page. As Gray put it: “What are the secret attractions of war, the ones that have persisted in the West despite revolutionary changes in the methods of warfare? I believe that they are: the delight in seeing, the delight in comradeship, the delight in destruction.” (1959: 29) 

I began trying to find other voices examining positive experiences of war. Of course, there were ancient epic poems lauding the heroism to be gained in battle. There was an endless supply of Hollywood war movies starring pleasure, but they were about male soldiers. I intermittently found gold in the memoirs of war correspondents and aid workers.

But I needed more depth. I wanted to know what pleasure in war meant, what the politics of it were, how it played its part. 

Theorising experience and emotions in war is quite new to international relations. For too long, as Christine Sylvester suggests, the field has been “operating comfortably in a world of theoretical abstractions” (2012: 483). Swati Parashar, who has spent years conducting fieldwork studying political violence, has argued that the focus on causes and impacts of war — and the use of quantitative tools — neglects that people who “fight/suffer/live” in war have knowledge about it and insights into why they happen (2013: 618). So while scholars were exploring war in a myriad of ways: emotionally, as an affect, embodied or disembodied, the focus was largely negative. Any examination of emotions was usually in relation to PTSD, violence, trauma, and death experienced by soldiers. As one would expect really.

(It should be noted that the field of International Relations is not alone in being focused on the negative. The anthropologist Sherry B. Ortner documents how anthropology has been fixated on the “dark turn”, which is dominated by examining power, inequality and ethnographies of poverty and violence.)     

The fact that IR had ignored or not engaged with the pleasures of war felt like an incomplete portrait of this huge social phenomenon. So I wandered into psychology, history, sociology, anthropology and ethnomusicology and it was here that I found a range of pleasures: existential notions of freedom (Sartre 1944), love and vulnerability (Macleish 2013), beautiful sounds (Daughtry 2015), friendship (Harari 2008, Glenn Gray 1959), the joys of travel (Lisle 2016) and laughter (Brown and Penttinen 2013) to name a few. Again, it was largely soldiers, but it was something.

Piqued, I set out to deconstruct this somewhat controversial idea that war is solely a source of trauma. I also wanted to wrestle war away from the military; they were not the only ones at it were they?

Thus, as part of my PhD—which I’m half-way through— I have interviewed 32 non-combatants who were in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2019 and found a world of professional and personal positive experiences. Of course, there is pain: friends killed in suicide bombings, compounds attacked and high stress levels. But there are also reams of pages of extraordinary, poignant and mundane moments of pleasure: the satisfaction of changing the US military’s approach to airstrikes and night raids; the simple joys of warm Afghan bread; the adventure of facing risk and danger while embedded with troops; working alongside passionate Afghan colleagues and seeing them want more for their country; shoe shopping or eating a muffin at an embassy event while a bomb explodes; sitting down for a meal; visiting the spectacular pale blue lakes at Band-e Amir; the sense of importance at being in a country that was at the center of world affairs; going to Dubai for a break and having the money to be able to choose champagne over prosecco; enduring and deep friendships.

But what was also striking was how some of the respondents wondered if they were in war. Most of them hadn’t been on the frontline.  They hadn’t picked up a gun. And if they were having moments of pleasure—did that mean they were not in war? Could one only be in war if one were traumatised and terrified? I began to see that pleasure was a curious frame into looking at the ontology of war.

I too hadn’t been on the frontline getting shot at or lying terrified in a house as bombs rained down around me. Nor was I a male warrior. I was a female international organisation worker who worked in an office. Like some of the respondents, I also wasn’t sure if I was in a war. Maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was a half war? Or as one respondent put it: “It was the right amount of war.”

It certainly felt war’ish. Security was central to everything. My home and my office were both surrounded by barbed wire and guards out the front with guns. When I got picked up to go to work every day, we took a different route to the office to avoid kidnapping; a security guard used a mirror to check for bombs under the vehicle when it stopped out the front. 

Explosions and the crackles of gunfire intermittently rang through the city at any time of day. Sometimes the boom was so loud my housemates and I would rush onto our front lawn, sleepy-eyed in our pyjamas, wondering what had happened. We were often put into “lock down” for a few days due to any number of security incidents— an explosion, a kidnapping, or a suicide attack. One of my flatmates was a former British soldier and kept a rifle under his bed. At night, we did radio checks with a walkie talkie that I took everywhere I went. 

If I wanted to visit a restaurant or an office, it had to be ‘MOSS’ compliant, which was short for Minimal Operation Security Standards. Certain restaurants were cleared. Visiting public places was limited and only “point shopping” was allowed, which was defined as direct from car to shop. Walking was not allowed. Every day, a security briefing landed in my inbox, giving an update of the various bombs, threats, thefts, and deaths that had taken place across the country. 

Kabul was certainly dressed for war: Hesco blocks, barbed wire draped across high walls, guards and soldiers in camo, large tanks sitting in traffic lights next to my bullet proof 4WD. This violent dressing undoubtedly masked something deeper though. Brett Ashley Kaplan has explored how the often gushing and peaceful depictions of Hitler’s holiday chalet on the Obersalzberg, in the hills of Bavaria in magazines of the time, for example, masked the violence of the Nazi regime (2007: 241). In a sense, was this “war” dressing that I saw daily helping to mask the pleasures? Perhaps we need to mask these pleasures. Or do we? Kaplan highlights how when it comes to depicting the Holocaust in literature, art and memorials, beauty has long been demonised. In response, he argues that the unwanted beauty of these depictions, “encourage us to see the complexity of the Shoah in ways that conventional works fail to achieve” (2006: 3).

Aside from beginning the journey of looking at human experiences, international relations are also going deeper into the ontology of war, which has for centuries put fighting at its core. “War is nothing but a duel on an extensive scale,” wrote the Prussian general and military theorist Carl von Clausewitz on the opening page of On War. He asks us to imagine two wrestlers. “Each strives by physical force to compel the other to submit to his will: each endeavours to throw his adversary, and thus render him incapable of further resistance. War therefore is an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfil our will.

But many scholars see this characterisation of war as being about soldiers fighting with guns, bombs, and an assortment of warcraft as not quite right. As Carolyn Nordstrom argues, war is not just about men doing battle nor is it set in a particular place (1997: 8). She writes of looking for the “warzone”, a marked battlefields with soldiers. “Finding it proved difficult” (1999: 21). She also speaks of it as being a “sprawling process” (1999:21).

To claim that war is solely about soldiers fighting also cruelly ignores the thousands of Afghan civilians who have been killed in their homes, offices, and cars, and to the international noncombatants who died doing their jobs. As the Afghan journalist Bilal Sarwary said about the Afghanistan war in 2019: “Everywhere is a frontline. Where has not been attacked? Schools, clinics, mosques, restaurants,” he says. “Cities, villages, highways—nowhere is safe” (Dent 2019).

The pairing of pleasure and war is undoubtedly offensive, a jolt to our idea of what is right. But the connection has been known for thousands of years, dating back to the love affair between Mars, the God of War, and Venus, the Goddess of Love. The fact that their affair was illicit touches on how pleasure and war together —and apart — has always been touched by morality. Nonetheless, we need to keep digging through the darkness of war as getting to the light will help us better understand this social phenomenon. 


Brown, K. E., & Penttinen, E. (2013). ‘A ‘sucking chest wound’ is nature’s way of telling you to slow down….’: humour and laughter in war time. Critical Studies on Security, 1(1): 124–126

Clausewitz, C. (1984). On war. Princeton University Press.

Daughtry, J.M. (2015). Listening to war: sound, music, trauma and survival in wartime Iraq. Oxford University Press.

Dent, J. March 6, 2019 “Bilal’s War”. War Spot. https://warspot.wordpress.com/2019/03/06/bilals-war/

Gray, J.G. (1959). The warriors; reflections on men in battle. Harcourt.

Harari, Y.N. (2008). Combat Flow: Military, Political, and Ethical Dimensions of Subjective Well-Being in War. Review of General Psychology, 12 (3), 253-264.

Kaplan, B. A. (2007). Masking Nazi Violence in the Beautiful Landscape of the Obersalzberg. Comparative Literature, 59(3): 241–268. 

Kaplan, B. A. (2006). Unwanted beauty: aesthetic pleasure in Holocaust representation. University of Illinois Press.

Lisle, D. (2016). Holidays in the danger zone: entanglements of war and tourism. University of Minnesota Press.

MacLeish, K. (2013). Making War at Fort Hood. Princeton University Press.

Nordstrom, C. (1997). A Different Kind of War Story. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Nordstrom, C. (1999). Wars and Invisible Girls, Shadow Industries, and the Politics of Not-Knowing. International Feminist Journal of Politics, 1(1): 14-33.

Ortner, S. B. (2016). Dark anthropology and its others: Theory since the eighties. HAU Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 6(1): 47–73. 

Parashar, S. (2013). What wars and ‘war bodies’ know about international relations. Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 26 (4):615–630. 

Sartre, J. (1944).  ‘Paris alive: The Republic of Silence’. The Atlantic. 174 (6): 43, accessed https://www.scribd.com/doc/238556147/Paris-Alive#fullscreen&from_embed

Sylvester, C. (2012). War Experiences/War Practices/War Theory. Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 40 (3):  483–503.