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Anthropologists have made forceful contributions to knowledge on violence and its impact on human wellbeing. They have widened the World Health Organization's threefold typology of violence, with analyses that highlight structural and political violence, insidious forms of everyday violence that engender suffering, and the machinery of war. They have focused attention on visible and invisible forms of violence—the ramifications of power in armed conflict and the manifestations of suffering in everyday life. Recent anthropological work has examined the individual and social dimensions of agency and resilience and the political and structural dimensions of humanitarian intervention, to go beyond critical analyses of social suffering. This work makes a significant impact on understanding the social backdrop of violence and its interpersonal, structural, economic, and political dimensions. It examines how layers of violence intersect and are perpetuated or resisted, bringing nuance to the often made point that violence has nefarious consequences on health.
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Violence, Structural and Interpersonal
Yale University, United States • '
Layers of violence
Violence has significant impact on human health; it engenders suffering and harm,
through death, disability, deprivation and through precarious livelihoods and
compromised usage of health and social resources. It has significant impact on human
Y, bringing chaos, marginalization, and disorder in its wake but also resistance,
resilience, and domination. Without doubt, violence poses a threat to human rights
and to physical, emotional, and social wellbeing. There are, however, many different
TS of violence that engender harm. Anthropologists raise important questions
regarding which dimensions of violence are most salient in peoples lives and which
are structurally condoned and reproduced, as well as questions regarding how people
articulate their suffering, negotiate conflict, manifest resilience, and strive for peace.
Personal, interpersonal, and collective violence
In its World Report on Violence and Health (WHO 2002), the World Health Organi-
zation highlighted three types of violence; self-directed, interpersonal, and collective.
This typology differentiates between violence that is inflicted upon an individual by a
person or a small group of people and violence that is inflicted by larger groups, such
as militia. The WHO defined violence as the intentional use of physical force or power,
threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community,
that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychologi-
cal harm, maldevelopment or deprivation" (2002, 5). The WHO has been instrumental
in making global epidemiological data on violence more readily accessible. It has also
focused on global violence prevention to better understand national policies that work
toward addressing child maltreatment, youth violence, sexual violence, and elder abuse
(WHO 2014).
Political, structural, symbolic, and everyday violence
Reflecting on the links between violence, suffering, power, and social order, anthro-
pologists have focused attention on oth&r critical dimensions of violence, ones that are
not explicit in WHO typologies. This is exemplified by Rylko-Bauer, Whiteford, and
Farmer in Global Health in Times of Violence (2009), which caUs attention to the ethnic,
gendered, class-based dimensions of violence—namely, to its sodopolitical and eco-
nomic roots. They have emphasized the intersections of multiple forms of violence, the
cultural contexts in which violence is perpetrated, and the ways in which violence is
experienced—physically, psychologically, and socially—in ordinary or extraordinary
times. Anthropologists, many argue, are particularly well poised to unearth and bring to
light invisible forms of violence and the oft-hidden linkages between violence, suffering,
and power.
In summarizing research to date, Bourgois (2001) distinguished between four
types of violence: political, structural, symbolic, and everyday (normalized) violence.
By political, he referred to violence perpetrated directly in the name of a "political
ideology, movement, or state (Bourgois 2001, 7). Such violence is often meted by
governments—the army or police—but also includes popular resistance against the
state. This contrasts with structural violence, a turn of phrase credited to Johan Galtung,
who defined it as the indirect violence built into repressive social orders creating
enormous differences between potential and actual self-realization" (1975, 173).
The concept also derives from anticolonial resistance movements and from Catholic
liberation theology (see Farmer et al. 2006).
Symbolic violence refers to the reading of power structures that results in the in-
ternalization of humiliations and legitimations of inequality and hierarchy" (Bourgois
2001, 8). On the part of the subjugated portion of society, this results in self-blame for
their misfortunes and a naturalization of the status quo. Ethnographic work in US inner
cities has revealed this well: in East Harlem, New York, it is not uncommon for struc-
tural forms of violence to lead to the subordination of the poor, who blame themselves
for their position in society (Bourgois 2001). Segregation, poverty, and social inequality
led crack dealers to self-harm, via substance abuse, as well as to harm one another and
their communities, via domestic violence, assault, and robbery,
The concept of everyday violence was developed by anthropologist Nancy
Scheper-Hughes (1996) to draw attention to insidious forms of violence that occur
in times of peace—and to what she called the small wars and invisible genocides"
that affect the poor. This trope is indeed useful for explaining how experiences of
violence can be routine, consonant with Michael Taussig's "culture of terror" whereby
out-of-the-ordinary events such as death and torttire become normalized due to the
sheer prevalence of brutality (Taussig 1984). In becoming routine, expected, and
normalized, everyday violence is often associated with both political and interpersonal
Health inequalities and social suffering
Scheper-Hughes and Bourgois (2004) conceived of violence along a continuum,
ranging from direct forms of violence, such as assault, to more hidden forms such as
symbolic and everyday violence. Structural violence is one such form of "invisible
violence that results in clearly visible health disparities: it roots itself in the unequal
distribution of power and the chronic sociopolitical and economic causes of suffering,
resulting in toxic health disparities, given that certain populations are placed at risk
of harm or injury while others are buffered or spared (Farmer et al. 2006). Such
violence is structural in that it considers the political economy in which people live,
work, and interact. It is violent specifically because it results in premature death or
As a theoretical trope, structural violence has been powerfully yielded by medical
anthropologists such as Paul Farmer to demonstrate how macrolevel inequalities
in society lead to suffering, ill-health, and the perpetuation of everyday violence.
Importantly, structural violence has been described as severely constraining human
agency (Farmer 2004). Addressing the roots of violence thus requires tackling the
social determinants of health—poverty, racism, gender discrimination, exposure to
pollution, war—and a biocultural approach to research and intervention. Farmer
has written extensively on the relationship between structural violence and clinical
medicine as it relates to HIV and tuberculosis in Haiti and other low-income settings:
"choices both large and small are limited by racism, sexism, political violence, and
v n
poverty (Farmer 2004, 40). In his words, we need to resocialize our
understandings of who is at risk of disease and why (Farmer et al. 2006), paying close
attention' to the upstream drivers of ill-health—the ultimate causes of disease that
are rooted in harmful social and political structures. He called upon anthropology to
detangle the forces of history and political economy in order to better understand and
respond to modern plagues in settings such as Haiti (Farmer 1992).
Thus structural violence has close ties to issues of social justice, health inequities, and
social suffering. It "results from what political, economic, and institutional power does to
people and, reciprocally, from how these forms of power themselves influence responses
to social problems" (Kleinman, Das, and Lock 1997, ix). It is inherently structural in
societybecause it affects specific population groups, such as ethnic or gender minorities;
it is experienced not just individually but also socially. Situating suffering in political and
economic contexts, beyond the capturing of individual experiences, has been a major
contribution of anthropologists in connecting insidious forms of violence to power and
The machinery of war and political violence
Collective violence, in the form of militarized conflict, is also toxic to health in ways
that go beyond the very obvious consequences on the brains and bodies of people
caught in the forks of conflict. Contemporary wars lead to other forms of suffering
beyond injury and death: sexual violence, mass displacement, disease, hunger, and
the destruction of health and social infrastructure (Singer and Hodge 2010). War
disrupts family and community social supports, especially where it engenders, as a
last resort, forced displacement on a massive scale. Singer and Hodge have captured
this multilayered phenomenon by referring to the "machinery of war" to cast a wider
focus on both the direct and indirect effects of political violence. Indeed, the trope
captures both the health effects of armed combat—"the bullets, bombs, and battles
(Singer and Hodge 2010, 4)—in addition to war industries, international weapons
trade, and exorbitant war budgets, all of which place people in harms way and divert
resources from health and social needs. Importantly, the health consequences of
war—such as trauma, emotional suffering, and nutritional stress—can be long term
and intergenerational.
Political violence need not be the result of war or obvious conflict. Auyero (2015),
for example, explained how interpersonal violence in the marginalized neighborhoods
of Buenos Aires is deeply political, though political dimensions are hidden from view.
He described criminal violence that is intimately connected to state actors such as the
police—implicated in the daily production of violence. The violence is also political
in that it has the potential to generate community collective action that will target
the state. Writing about the civil war in El Salvador, Bourgois (2001) has described
how political violence against revolutionary peasants became embedded in everyday
realities, normalizing interpersonal aggression and structural violence into a dynamic
of the everyday. Nancy Scheper-Hughess work is on invisible political violence also.
In her ethnographic study in a northeastern Brazilian shantytown, she described how
infant deaths became routinized by the indifference of political leaders, by the Catholic
practice of referring to babies who prematurely die as angels, and by necessary
maternal detachment. Within the shantytown, babies deemed too weak to survive were
casually written off as having no will for life, falling prey to "institutionalized social
indifference" by their mothers and by the community at large (Scheper-Hughes 1996,
890-91). This is political violence—the poor are marginalized into making impossible
choices about life and death, in contexts where there is no political will to bring about
better life conditions.
Toxic social, political, and economic structures breed many forms of violence: it is
thus unsurprising that, along the continuum of visible and invisible forms of violence,
we find that interpersonal, structural, and political layers of violence intersect. Given
this complex landscape, anthropologists have examined which dimensions of violence
are most salient, when and for whom; which acts of violence are permissible or
condoned; and which narratives of violence help make sense of chaos, uncertainty,
or trauma. In Afghanistan, for example, ordinary violence inside the family is a
critical predictor of adolescent mental health, one that can trump experiences of
war-related violence (Panter-Brick et al. 2011). The drip-drip of everyday economic
and social stressors imposes a major burden on family relationships, triggering
domestic violence—which for youth was found to be the main predictor of changes
in their mental health. In fact, there is a cultural narrative of war and martyrdom
that helps to "make sense" of collective violence and can enhance family honor in the
midst of suffering, while senseless violence inside the home is toxic to the educational,
social, and economic aspirations of adolescents (Panter-Brick, Grimon, and Eggerman
2013). There are many layers of violence that injure physical, social, and emotional
wellbeing; rupture hope; and cascade poor mental health from one generation to
Agency and resilience
Until recently, anthropological writings on violence have been dominated by tropes of
social suffering, trauma, and other forms of ill-health, with relatively little attention
paid to other dimensions of human experiences in the face of adversity, such as agency,
hope, human dignity, and social resilience (Eggerman and Panter-Brick 2010). This is
because the concepts of social suffering and structural violence, though widely use-
ful, are not without limitations. Wacquant (2004), for example, argued that the concept
of structural violence collapses various forms of violence—physical, economic, polit-
ical, symbolic—that need to be considered separately. He also noted that it conflated
full-on domination with social disparity. Others have argued that tropes of structural
violence and social suffering ignore important expressions of human agency, even by the
most vulnerable. Thus Bourgois (1995), in his ethnography of drug use in East Harlem,
illustrated individual expressions of autonomy, despite tremendous structural violence,
given that crack dealers were able to maintain dignity and autonomy through partic-
ipation in an underground economy, counteracting a context of political, social, and
ideological oppression.
An emerging body of work thus examines resilience and agency in the context of
violence and marginalization engendered by interpersonal, structural, or collective
violence. Such analyses nuance the often made but rather obvious point that violence
has nefarious impacts on health: any critical analysis on violence needs to go well
beyond such normative statements that "war is bad" for people. More sophisticated
analyses of violence examine, for instance, what really matters in settings of conflict,
namely the moral dimension of human experiences where people live a life of great
uncertainty and danger (Kleinman 2006). Deploying a specific ethnographic lens,
current anthropological work is also highlighting how humanitarian interventions
are created and implemented to remedy the physical and psychosocial conditions
engendered by war-related violence (Abramowitz and Panter-Brick 2015; Good et al.
2014). It increasingly looks upstream in order to better understand the articulation
of policy and advocacy initiatives (e.g., de Waal 2015). Other works cast a focus on
family-based or community-based negotiation of violent conflict, including strategies
for social resistance, reintegration, and active peace building in the wake of war. They
examine intergenerational impacts over time, aware that resilience as well as adversity
may cascade from one generation to the next.
Future directions
Our understandings of the visible and invisible forms of violence and their impacts
on social power dynamics and human wellbeing are now fairly robust: there are many
exemplars in the literature contributing both relevant epidemiological data on the ind-
dence and prevalence of violence and its impacts on health, as well as powerful social
sciences data contributing insights on the genesis and negotiation of violence within
given social and political structures. Nonetheless, there are stiU many critical insights
to be gained in this field. Some directions for future work include interdisciplinary
analyses regarding the ways in which interpersonal, structural, and political violence
specifically intersect, the ways in which conflict is nested or negotiated in microfamily
contexts, and which are the tipping points for social action with respect to conflict or
peace building across generations.
SEE ALSO: Birthmg Practices; Conflict and Security; Crime; Cultural Politics;
Detention; Ethnicity in Anthropology; Ethno- and Cultural Psychiatry; Ethnoeco-
nomics; Expert Witnesses, Anthropologists as; Feminism and Anthropology; Gangs;
Gender and Human Rights; Gender, Sexuality, and Caste; Gender Violence; Global
Health; Global Mental Health; Health Care Systems; Health Determinants; Health
and Inequality; Human Rights; Idioms of Distress; Interethnic Friction; Intergroup
Conflict; Medical Anthropology; Militarization; Nationalism; Peace; Peacekeeping;
Penal State; Postcolonial Theory and Feminism; Refugee Health; Resilience and
Complex Adaptive Systems; Rights; Sex Work; Slums and Shanty Towns; Stigma;
Stress; Syndemics; Vigilantism; Violence and Health; Violence and Warfare; Virchow,
Rudolf (1821-1902); World Health Organization (WHO)
Abramowitz, Sharon, and Catherine Panter-Brick, eds. 2015. Medical Humanitarianism: Ethno-
graphics of Practice. Philadelphia; University of Pennsylvania Press.
Auyero, Javier. 2015. "The Politics of Interpersonal Violence in the Urban Periphery. Current
Anthropology 56 (Sll): S169-79.
Bourgois, Philippe. 1995. In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio. New York: Cambridge
University Press.
Bourgois, Philippe. 2001. "The Power of Violence in War and Peace: Post-Cold War Lessons from
El Salvador." Ethnography 2 (I): 5-24. doi:10.1177/14661380122230803.
de Waal, Alex, ed. 2015. Advocacy in Conflict: Critical Perspectives on Transnational Activism.
London: Zed Books.
Eggerman, Mark, and Catherine Panter-Brick. 2010. "Suffering, Hope, and Entrapment:
Resilience and Cultural Values in Afghanistan." Social Science df Medicine 71: 71-83.
Farmer, Paul. 1992. Aids and Accusations: Haiti and the Geography of Blame. Berkeley; University
of California Press.
Farmer, Paul. 2004. Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor.
Berkeley: University of California Press.
Farmer, Paul E., Bruce Nizeye, Sara Stulac, and Salmaan Keshavjee. 2006. "Structural Violence
and Clinical Medicine." PLoS Medicine 3 (10): e449. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030449.
Galtung, Johan. 1975. Peace: Research, Education, Action: Essays in Peace Research. Vol. 1. Copen-
hagen: Christian Ejlers.
Good, Byron J., Mary-Jo DelVecchio Good, Sharon Abramowitz, Arthur Kleinman, and Cather-
ine Panter-Brick. 2014. "Medical Humanitarianism: Research Insights in a Changing Field of
Practice." Social Science 6- Medicine, 120: 311-16. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.09.027.
Kleinman, Arthur. 2006. What Really Matters: Living a Moral Life amidst Uncertainty and Dan-
ger. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kleinman, Arthur, Veena Das, and Margaret M. Lock. 1997. Social Suffering. Berkeley: University
of California Press.
Panter-Brick, Catherine, Anna Goodman, Wietse Tol, and Mark Eggerman. 2011. "Mental
Health and Childhood Adversities: A Longitudinal Study in Kabul, Afghanistan."
Journal of the American Academy of Child dr Adolescent Psychiatry 50 (4): 349-63.
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Mental Health: A Prospective Study in Conflict and Refugee Settings." Journal of Child Psy-
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Violence and Warfare
Colby College, United States
Warfare, long the purview of political scientists and historians, increasingly has
come under anthropological scrutiny since the 1960s. While conventional warfare
between states conducted by uniformed troops on well-defined battlefields using
conventional—as opposed to nuclear or biological—weapons is frequently imagined
as the primary form of war, counterinsurgency war has been a dominant mode
of warfare in many regions. Counterinsurgency involves, as the name suggests, a
conflict against insurgent forces, characterized by the use ofguemUa tactics (including
psychological warfare, sabotage, and terrorism) because of the asymmetrical power
relations between the forces. Viewed in historical context, the forms of fighting in
the European theater during World War I and World War II are the exception rather
than the rule. Anthropological study of war has been transformed as the discipline
has expanded from the study of small-scale societies to explore the state, oppositional
political movements, and bureaucracies. The traditional anthropological attention to
daily life, cultural meaning, and lived practice has contributed to the vast literature
on the communal legacies of war, including memory work. The more recent turn to
complex transnational bureaucracies has contributed to the smaU but growing schol-
arship examining military institutions, their ideologies, practices, and role in identity
formation. Anthropology of war is particularly concerned with the impact of warfare
on the social worlds of civilians as well as soldiers and as such is well suited for the
study of guerrilla warfare and terrorist movements. Ethnographic study of war presents
particular methodological challenges, including issues of access, safety, and the ethical
uses ofanthropological data during wartime. The study of war is part of anthropology s
broader consideration of violence, including theorizing the process through which
violence is made socially legible through the production of collective meaning.
War and the state in the twentieth century and beyond
Anthropological views of war have been influenced by the predominant view in the
discipline that war is a cultural construct. Early anthropology focused on the internal
dynamics of tribal and small-scale societies, largely ignoring the wars waged in the first
half of the twentieth century, with only a handful of articles on anthropology of war in
Progress in reducing health inequalities through public policy action is difficult in nations identified as liberal welfare states. In Canada, as elsewhere, researchers and advocates provide governing authorities with empirical findings on the sources of health inequalities and document the lived experiences of those encountering these adverse health outcomes with the hope of provoking public policy action. However, critical analysis of the societal structures and processes that make improving the sources of health inequalities difficult—the quality and distribution of living and working conditions, that is the social determinants of health—identifies limitations in these approaches. Within this latter critical tradition, we consider—using household food insecurity in Canada as an illustration—how polemics and anger mobilization, usually absent in health inequalities research and advocacy—could force Canadian governing authorities to reduce health inequalities through public policy action. We explore the potential of using high valence terms such as structural violence, social death and social murder, which make explicit the adverse outcomes of health‐threatening public policy to force government action. We conclude by outlining the potential benefits and threats posed by polemics and anger mobilization as means of promoting health equity.
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In July 2011, renovations to Yale-New Haven Hospital inadvertently exposed the cemetery of Christ Church, New Haven, Connecticut’s first Catholic cemetery. While this cemetery was active between 1833 and 1851, both the church and its cemetery disappeared from public records, making the discovery serendipitous. Four relatively well-preserved adult skeletons were recovered with few artifacts. All four individuals show indicators of manual labor, health and disease stressors, and dental health issues. Two show indicators of trauma, with the possibility of judicial hanging in one individual. Musculoskeletal markings are consistent with physical stress, and two individuals have arthritic indicators of repetitive movement/specialized activities. Radiographic analyses show osteopenia, healed trauma, and other pathologies in several individuals. Dental calculus analysis did not identify any tuberculosis indicators, despite osteological markers. Isotopic analyses of teeth indicate that all four were likely recent immigrants to the Northeastern United States. Nuclear and mitochondrial DNA were recovered from three individuals, and these analyses identified ancestry, hair/eye color, and relatedness. Genetic and isotopic results upended our initial ancestry assessment based on burial context alone. These individuals provide biocultural evidence of New Haven’s Industrial Revolution and the plasticity of ethnic and religious identity in the immigrant experience. Their recovery and the multifaceted analyses described here illuminate a previously undescribed part of the city’s rich history. The collective expertise of biological, geochemical, archaeological, and historical researchers interprets socioeconomic and cultural identity better than any one could alone. Our combined efforts changed our initial assumptions of a poor urban Catholic cemetery’s membership, and provide a template for future discoveries and analyses.
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In humanitarian settings, family-level drivers of mental health are insufficiently documented; we examined the strength of caregiver-child associations with two-wave, family-level Afghan data. We recruited a gender-balanced sample of 681 caregiver-child dyads (n = 1,362 respondents) using stratified random-sampling in government schools in Kabul (364 dyads) and refugee schools in Peshawar (317 dyads). One year after baseline, we re-interviewed 64% of Kabul and 31% of Peshawar cohorts (n = 331 dyads, 662 respondents), retaining fewer Peshawar families due to refugee repatriation. In multivariable analyses adjusted for baseline, we assessed the extent to which caregiver mental health (Self-Report Questionnaire, SRQ-20) was associated with child symptom scores of post-traumatic stress (Child Revised Impact of Events Scale, CRIES), depression (Depression Self-Rating Scale, DSRS), psychiatric difficulties, impact, and prosocial strength (Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire, SDQ). Caregiver mental health was prospectively associated with all eight measures of child mental health at follow-up, adjusted for baseline. For post-traumatic stress, caregiver mental health had a predictive impact comparable to the child experiencing one or two lifetime trauma events. For depression, caregiver mental health approached the predictive impact of female gender. Thus a one SD change in caregiver SRQ-20 was associated with a 1.04 point change on CRIES and a 0.65 point change in DSRS. For multi-informant SDQ data, caregiver-child associations were strongest for caregiver ratings. For child-rated outcomes, associations were moderated by maternal literacy, a marker of family-level dynamics. Both adults and children identified domestic violence and quality of home life as independent risk and protective factors. In the context of violence and displacement, efforts to improve child mental health require a thoughtful consideration of the mental health cascade across generations and the cluster of adversities that impact family wellbeing. We identify culturally meaningful leverage points for building family-level resilience, relevant to the prevention and intervention agenda in global mental health.
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To identify prospective predictors of mental health in Kabul, Afghanistan. Using stratified random-sampling in schools, mental health and life events for 11-to 16-year-old students and their caregivers were assessed. In 2007, 1 year after baseline, the retention rate was 64% (n = 115 boys, 119 girls, 234 adults) with no evidence of selection bias. Self- and caregiver-rated child mental health (Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire), depressive (Depression Self-Rating Scale), and posttraumatic stress (Child Revised Impact of Events Scale) symptoms and caregiver mental health (Self-Report Questionnaire) were assessed. Lifetime trauma and past-year traumatic, stressful, and protective experiences were assessed. With the exception of posttraumatic stress, one-year trajectories for all mental health outcomes showed significant improvement (p < .001). Family violence had a striking impact on the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire data, raising caregiver-rated scores by 3.14 points (confidence interval [CI] 2.21-4.08) or half a standard deviation, and self-rated scores by 1.26 points (CI 0.50-2.03); past-year traumatic beatings independently raised self-rated scores by 1.85 points (CI 0.03-3.66). A major family conflict raised depression scores by 2.75 points (CI 0.89-4.61), two thirds of a standard deviation, whereas improved family life had protective effects. Posttraumatic stress symptom scores, however, were solely contingent on lifetime trauma, with more than three events raising scores by 5.38 points (CI 1.76-9.00). Family violence predicted changes in mental health problems other than posttraumatic stress symptoms in a cohort that showed resilience to substantial socioeconomic and war-related stressors. The importance of prospectively identifying impacts of specific types of childhood adversities on mental health outcomes is highlighted to strengthen evidence on key modifiable factors for intervention in war-affected populations.
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A critical health-related issue in war-affected areas is how people make sense of adversity and why they show resilience in a high-risk environment. In Afghanistan, the burden of poor mental health arises in contexts of pervasive poverty, social inequality, and persistent violence. In 2006, we conducted face-to-face interviews with 1011 children (age 11-16) and 1011 adult caregivers, randomly selected in a school-based survey in three northern and central areas. Participants narrated their experiences as part of a systematic health survey, including an open-ended questionnaire on major life stressors and solutions to mitigate them. Responses were analysed using an inductive thematic approach and categorised for quantitative presentation, producing a conceptual model. For adults, the primary concern is repairing their "broken economy," the root of all miseries in social, educational, governance, and health domains. For students, frustrations focus on learning environments as well as poverty, as education is perceived as the gateway to upward social and economic mobility. Hope arises from a sense of moral and social order embodied in the expression of key cultural values: faith, family unity, service, effort, morals, and honour. These values form the bedrock of resilience, drive social aspirations, and underpin self-respect and dignity. However, economic impediments, social expectations, and cultural dictates also combine to create entrapment, as the ability to realise personal and social aspirations is frustrated by structural inequalities injurious to health and wellbeing. This study contributes to a small but growing body of work on resilience in public health and conflict settings. It demonstrates that culture functions both as an anchor for resilience and an anvil of pain, and highlights the relevance of ethnographic work in identifying what matters most in formulating social and public health policies to promote a hopeful future.
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The Cold War sanitized the author's analysis of political violence among revolutionary peasants in El Salvador during the 1980s. A 20 year retrospective analysis of his fieldwork documents the ways political terror and repression become embedded in daily interactions that normalize interpersonal brutality in a dynamic of everyday violence. Furthermore, the structural, symbolic and interpersonal violence that accompanies both revolutionary mobilization and also labor migration to the U.S. inner city follows gendered fault lines. The snares of symbolic violence in counterinsurgency war spawn mutual recrimination and shame, obfuscating the role of an oppressive power structure. Similarly, everyday violence in a neo-liberal version of peacetime facilitates the administration of the subordination of the poor who blame themselves for character failings. Ethnography's challenge is to elucidate the causal chains and gendered linkages in the continuum of violence that buttresses inequality in the post-Cold War era.
Based on 30 months of collaborative ethnographic fieldwork in a high-poverty, crime-ridden area in metropolitan Buenos Aires, this paper scrutinizes the political character of interpersonal violence. The violence described here is not the subaltern violence that, thoroughly documented by historians and social scientists, directs against the state, the powerful, or their symbols. It is a violence that is neither redemptive nor cleansing, but it is deeply political in a threefold sense: (a) it is entangled with the intermittent and contradictory form in which the police intervene in this relegated neighborhood, (b) it has the potential to give birth to collective action that targets the state while simultaneously signaling it as the main actor responsible for the skyrocketing physical aggression in the area, and (c) it provokes paradoxical forms of informal social control as residents rely on state agents who are themselves enmeshed in the production of this violence. © 2015 by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. All rights reserved.
This essay is about torture and the culture of terror, which for most of us, including myself, are known only through the words of others. Thus my concern is with the mediation of the culture of terror through narration—and with the problems of writing effectively against terror.