Screening Violence: A transnational study of Post-conflict Imaginaries

Screening Violence is an innovative engagement with communities that have experienced prolonged and entrenched violence of different kinds from guerrilla warfare, to state sponsored persecution of particular groups, to mass murder, to sectarian conflict.


Funder: AHRC
Awarded:  781,128  GBP
Duration: 2/04/18 - 1/10/21
Staff Involved: Brandon Hamber; Guy Austin (PI, Newcastle), Simon Philpott (Newcastle), Roddy Brett (Bristol), Nicholas Morgan (Newcastle), Phillippa Jane Page (Newcastle)

Description

Each of the five countries we are researching is or has been deeply divided by the violence that has occurred and in each case the struggle to acknowledge the past and recognise injustice and suffering has led to contested accounts of guilt, responsibility and victimhood.

Violence of the kind we are researching is material in its effects and has created lasting change in the polities affected. But we believe that in addition to the need for research on material and structural forms and causes of violence it is also essential to understand the imaginaries in which violence is produced and reproduced in the minds of individuals and the collective consciousness of communities. The ways that violence is experienced and the experience of it shared depends to a significant extent on the stories that are constructed to give it meaning and that contribute to the making of identity in communities. We recognise the importance of a range of recent research that emphasises understanding the local dynamics and experiences of wider social conflict.

Increasingly, both academic experts in and practitioners of violence mediation argue that any attempt to impose the so-called 'flat pack peace' that does not address local experience of conflict is likely to fail in its objectives. We argue that the local, social imaginary is a key point of engagement with communities attempting to understand the experience of violence and navigating the complexities of reconciliation and transition from conflict. Accordingly, our research highlights the mutually reinforcing and integrated nature of rational and popular accounts of violence. Both realms of the human experience require equal attention and respect. Our research makes an important contribution to the underdeveloped appreciation of local imaginaries of violence.

We argue that visual culture is a key site where meaning is made about conflict and violence. We plan to engage with communities that have experienced violence through the medium of cinema and documentary film. Recognising that asking communities to reflect on their own conflicts is difficult and perhaps simply reinforces local imaginaries, we will engage different communities in each of the five primary research sites through viewings of films about the conflicts of others. We argue that asking communities to reflect on the violence of other polities creates a space for critical reflection on the ways that individuals and communities understand their own experiences of conflict and possible transitions from it.

Our pilot research clearly indicated that familiar accounts of violence produced within communities experiencing it were challenged with alternative readings by groups and individuals external to it. We aim to research the ways that imaginaries of conflict and violence are produced and reproduced but also the ways the imaginary can be contested or disrupted through an engagement with the imaginaries of other communities. We are interested to learn how local imaginaries produce narratives of violence but also the ways that once challenged or disrupted they may open up new spaces for interrogating one's own conflict. We seek to understand if local imaginaries of conflict may enhance the prospects for transition and reconciliation at local levels once their coherence is disturbed by a wider appreciation of conflict provided by the opportunity of reflecting on the conflict imaginaries of others.