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Deadly Theatre: Ethnicity as a Script for Violence
Unformatted Document Text:  when young men in American inner cities respond to verbal challenges from gang members that they do not gangbang. In addition to performing identities to manage violence, people also perform identities through violence. Violence is transformative. It generates new identities. By committing or watching violence, actors gain new identities. Young recruits in the Peruvian armed forces, for example, become real “men” by joining in gang rapes. The paper explores these arguments through two cases of violence from the American setting: lynching and gang-banging. While these types of violence may be unique to the United States, there is no reason why analysts could not apply the same approach to other types of violence, such as war and atrocities, that occur in other parts of the globe. The need for a new framework The micro-level literature on violence is replete with instances of violence whose power derives from messages and meanings conveyed, rather than numbers killed, cleansed, or defeated. These include atrocities and torture, which are ubiquitous during war, campaigns of terror and ethnic cleansing, and ethnic riots. 1 Yet, political scientists lack a framework for understanding non-instrumental forms of violence. Scholars tend to focus on questions of variation in frequency or locale, overlooking the equally important question of why atrocities, torture, and mutilations occur at all. To the extent that meting out atrocities takes time and resources, it is not clear why a regime intent on winning a civil war or exterminating an entire population would divert resources to engage in mass rape or carry out elaborate tortures and mutilations along the way. The answer must lie outside the realm of strictly means-end calculations. 1 On atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge, for example, see Chandler , during the Rwandan genocide, see Landesman and Taylor ; in colonial Colombia, see Taussig ; during ethnic riots, see Horowitz . 3

Authors: Fujii, Lee Ann.
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background image
when young men in American inner cities respond to verbal challenges from gang
members that they do not gangbang.
In addition to performing identities to manage violence, people also perform
identities through violence. Violence is transformative. It generates new identities. By
committing or watching violence, actors gain new identities. Young recruits in the
Peruvian armed forces, for example, become real “men” by joining in gang rapes.
The paper explores these arguments through two cases of violence from the
American setting: lynching and gang-banging. While these types of violence may be
unique to the United States, there is no reason why analysts could not apply the same
approach to other types of violence, such as war and atrocities, that occur in other parts
of the globe.
The need for a new framework
The micro-level literature on violence is replete with instances of violence whose
power derives from messages and meanings conveyed, rather than numbers killed,
cleansed, or defeated. These include atrocities and torture, which are ubiquitous during
war, campaigns of terror and ethnic cleansing, and ethnic riots.
Yet, political scientists
lack a framework for understanding non-instrumental forms of violence. Scholars tend to
focus on questions of variation in frequency or locale, overlooking the equally important
question of why atrocities, torture, and mutilations occur at all. To the extent that meting
out atrocities takes time and resources, it is not clear why a regime intent on winning a
civil war or exterminating an entire population would divert resources to engage in mass
rape or carry out elaborate tortures and mutilations along the way. The answer must lie
outside the realm of strictly means-end calculations.
1
On atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge, for example, see Chandler , during the Rwandan
genocide, see Landesman and Taylor ; in colonial Colombia, see Taussig ; during ethnic riots,
see Horowitz .
3


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