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Deadly Theatre: Ethnicity as a Script for Violence
Unformatted Document Text:  In a recent article from the Christian Science Monitor, journalist Colin Woodard observed the following scene: In recent months, hardly a week has gone by without a rally being held by the Magyar Garda or “Hungarian Guard,” their members decked out in black boots and uniforms bearing nationalist symbols last employed by Hungarian fascists during World War II. Woodard’s brief description of stylized protest is a clear example of how actors perform identities. The actors chose their costumes carefully. The boots and uniforms that hearken back to the fascist era of World War II express the actors’ desire to be seen as historical “protectors of ethnic Hungarians” . Presenting themselves at an open rally ensures an audience, perhaps unwitting, but an audience nevertheless. It also ensures that their preferred brand of Hungarian nationalism—of what it means to be a real Hungarian—will be on public display. Put simply, these actors were not simply asserting a particular identity; they were performing it. This paper attempts to bring the notion of “performance” into the study of ethnicity and violence. While scholars have incorporated performative analyses into the study of contentious politics and social movements , scholars of conflict and violence have yet to adopt this perspective. A performative lens focuses on the power of violence to express and convey ideas to relevant audiences in graphic terms. It is particularly useful when investigating expressive dimensions of violence and highly symbolic forms of violence, such as mass rape and other atrocities. Through a performative lens, we can ask how and when performances of identity lead to violence. In addition to making the case for adding a performative lens to the analytic toolbox, the paper makes two substantive arguments derived from this perspective. The first is that people perform identities to manage violence. In some cases, people calibrate performances of identity to provoke violence, as with the Hungarian Guard mentioned above; in other cases, they calibrate their performances to avoid violence, as 2

Authors: Fujii, Lee Ann.
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background image
In a recent article from the Christian Science Monitor, journalist Colin Woodard
observed the following scene:
In recent months, hardly a week has gone by without a rally being held by
the Magyar Garda or “Hungarian Guard,” their members decked out in
black boots and uniforms bearing nationalist symbols last employed by
Hungarian fascists during World War II.
Woodard’s brief description of stylized protest is a clear example of how actors perform
identities. The actors chose their costumes carefully. The boots and uniforms that
hearken back to the fascist era of World War II express the actors’ desire to be seen as
historical “protectors of ethnic Hungarians” . Presenting themselves at an open rally
ensures an audience, perhaps unwitting, but an audience nevertheless. It also ensures
that their preferred brand of Hungarian nationalism—of what it means to be a real
Hungarian—will be on public display. Put simply, these actors were not simply asserting
a particular identity; they were performing it.
This paper attempts to bring the notion of “performance” into the study of
ethnicity and violence. While scholars have incorporated performative analyses into the
study of contentious politics and social movements , scholars of conflict and violence
have yet to adopt this perspective. A performative lens focuses on the power of violence
to express and convey ideas to relevant audiences in graphic terms. It is particularly
useful when investigating expressive dimensions of violence and highly symbolic forms
of violence, such as mass rape and other atrocities. Through a performative lens, we
can ask how and when performances of identity lead to violence.
In addition to making the case for adding a performative lens to the analytic
toolbox, the paper makes two substantive arguments derived from this perspective. The
first is that people perform identities to manage violence. In some cases, people
calibrate performances of identity to provoke violence, as with the Hungarian Guard
mentioned above; in other cases, they calibrate their performances to avoid violence, as
2


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