War & the everyday

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‘War’ is used here in preference to terms such as violence, and includes armed struggle, civic resistance and civil war. It points to the force of big events, which shape lives, political and historical narratives, and counter-events. Obvious examples might be the South African military attack on Cassinga in 1978, ‘rebel’ acts in the eastern Congo, and the Rwandan genocide. The implications are not simply military, but deeply civilian.

Juxtaposing war with ‘the everyday’ has the potential for both the contradictory and the banal, for war penetrates and reconfigures the material and temporal structures of everyday life in ways that often become normalized and invisible in the aftermath. The potential frictions of this juxtaposition break open difficult questions about what remains unprocessed and unresolved within, and in the wake of, African struggles for freedom, both colonial and postcolonial. The ‘horror of everyday life’ is often a feature of post-conflict and post-apartheid societies, suggesting the re-direction of violence into less visible domains of poverty, marginalization, gender dynamics and anomie. Bracketing the everyday (the familiar, ordinary and mundane) with war (with its connotations of urgency and the technological sublime) serves to foreground what is normally treated as backdrop. Through this research platform, studies of everyday life in the SWAPO and ANC camps of liberation movements for example, and the quotidian of survivor (and perpetrator) narratives from Rwanda, complicate any unitary sense of colonisation, trauma, nation, liberation or modernization.

The ongoing series of colloquia on the theme of ‘war & the everyday’ commenced in 2008.

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