Center for Interdisziplinary Research

Spaces of Violence in Democracies

Date: October 24 - 26, 2013

Convenors: Joanna Pfaff-Czarnecka (Bielefeld, GER), Eva Gerharz (Bochum, GER) und Christian Meyer (Essen, GER)

This workshop analysed dynamics of dissemination of the concepts democracy / democratisation in Islamic contexts, in particular in South Asia and in West Africa. It offered a perspective largely neglected so far, focussing in particular on practices and rationales of violence, which are either situated in accordance or in contrast with democratic fundamentals. The workshop started off from the observation that while the language of democracy has spread onto the most remote regions of the world, its uses and connotations follow complex dynamics of 'chain translation' and 'vernacularization'. In this vein, democracy and democratization acquire new, sometimes unexpected meanings and they increasingly become object of post-colonial reflexivity. The new meanings and the negotiations that currently question their Western underpinnings occur in interactions characterized by diverse-occasionally violent-acts of social positioning. They are negotiated in diverse constellations of actors, under the conditions of power differentials.
The workshop centred on the question how the global norm of democracy is employed in discourses about (and after the employment of) violence in order to either legitimate or delegitimize it and hence in order to make statements about the nature of the given political order. When can violence be used for the assortment of the interests of the state? And how are democratic principles invoked as accounting resources for this strategy? Thus, on one hand, large-scale societal visions of 'good life' are sometimes accompanied by repressive acts towards some parts of the population and their respective interests. On the other hand, there are situations in which precisely the monopoly on violence of the state is questioned by the use of violent behaviour of subjected social actors through social protest, resistance and rebellion. In these situations, democracy might equally be invoked on both sides for the legitimization of their action and the critique of the other side. Democracy, in this case, is sometimes represented as inhibiting the progress towards good living. The questions addressed in this workshop included the rhetorical devices that states and other actors employ in order to legitimize or criticize violent action, and the relationship of these devices to issues of democratic culture. The deliberations were comprised in four panels: 'Gendered Spaces of Violence', 'Experiencing Violence', 'Violent Accumulations', 'Un/Democratic Practices', 'Democratic Experiments vis-à-vis Religion' as well as 'Democratic Responses to Violence against Outsiders?'
The deliberations greatly profited from the interdisciplinary composition of the participants, comprising social anthropology, sociology, political science, philosophy and history. Besides, it greatly profited from contrasting African and South Asian experiences.


Ellen Bal (Amsterdam, NED), Paula Banerjee (Kalkutta, IND), Artur Bogner (Bayreuth, GER), Shelley Feldman (Ithaca, USA), David Gellner (Oxford, GBR), Meghna Guhathakurta (Dhaka, BAN), Sandrine Gukelberger (Bielefeld, GER), Heinz-Gerhard Haupt (Bielefeld, GER), Eva Rozália Hölzle (Bielefeld, GER), Gudrun Lachenmann (Bielefeld, GER), Julia Liebermann (Köln, GER), Scott London (Ashland, USA), David Pratten (Oxford, GBR), Darini Rajasingham-Senanayake (Colombo, SRI), Katrin Renschler (Bochum, GER), Gilberto Rescher (Bielefeld, GER), Ranabir Samaddar (Kalkutta, IND), Nikolaus Scharaika (Göttingen, GER), Jannik Schritt (Göttingen, GER), Anita Schroven (Bielefeld, GER), Dorothea E. Schulz (Köln, GER), Alpa Shah (London, GBR), Jonathan Spencer (Edinburgh GBR), Stefanie Strulik (Zürich, SUI), Nasir Uddin (Bochum, GER)

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