What They’re Reading: RRG on Civil War, Fall 2019

Civil War

This Fall 2019 Residential Research Group brought together humanists and humanistic social scientists around diverse and unconventional readings of civil war. How can humanistic scholarship benefit from inquiry into civil war, broadly defined? The term itself carries an inherent contradiction. What is “civil” about civil war? How is civility, supposedly the hallmark of “civic” participation and “civilization,” also used as a weapon or a form of silencing? Rhetoric, representation, and aesthetics can be nominally “civil,” but they can also reinforce senses of belonging and exclusion, stir up rage, and cement boundaries while simultaneously gesturing towards decency. Civil wars spark contests over meaning: Who can claim the power to name a civil war? Where does the boundary lie between civil war and just plain war? Why and how do states make war on their own citizens? What are the intellectual and political stakes of mapping new battlegrounds of civil wars? 

Members of the RRG on Civil War drafted the following outline for an interdisciplinary humanities course, which includes thematic focal points and a list of essential reading. 


Research Agenda

A broadened idea of civil war can provide a fruitful framework for analyzing the disruptions born from irreconcilable and contesting notions of being and contested conceptions of the social. This course applies humanistic methods and sensibilities to phenomena, affects, objects, structures, and architectures that can be investigated through the lens of civil war. Research projects might map the contrasts within and across discourses, representations, objects, groups, and species, and topics of interests might include:

  • Civil war and its representations, including arguments of aesthetics, the politics of representation, and the power of iconography.

  • The political economy of civil wars and their histories of production and/or repetition.

  • Notions of civility and the civil, and the impact of the technological (algorithms, social media, smartphones/cameras).

  • Quotidian interactions and explicit or implicit expressions of (in)civility, violence, etc.

  • Definitional discussions/explorations of terminologies of civil war/civility/civil, and the battleground of language (free speech, political correctness).

  • Conflicts around: the environment (built and natural), social resources, income inequality and debt (personal and national), immigration and borders, intimate and domestic spheres, digital infrastructures.

  • Domestic militarization, surveillance, and mass incarceration as tools and products of civil war.

  • Non-human entities as participants in or casualties of civil war.

Suggested Readings

Neda Atanasoski. Humanitarian Violence: The U.S. Deployment of Diversity. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013.

Ruth Wilson Gilmore. Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, And Opposition in Globalizing California. University of California Press, 2007.

Stathis Kalyvas, “‘New’ and ‘Old’ Civil Wars,” World Politics, 54 (October 2001): 99-118.

Caren Kaplan. Aerial Aftermaths: Wartime from Above. Durham: Duke University Press, 2018.

Eleana Kim. “Toward an Anthropology of Landmines: Rogue Infrastructure and Military Waste in the Korean DMZ.” Cultural Anthropology Vol. 31, no. 2 (May 2016): 162-87.

Lisa Lowe, The Intimacies of Four Continents. Durham: Duke University Press, 2015.

Nelson Maldonado-Torres. Against War: Views from the Underside of Modernity. Durham: Duke University Press, 2008.

Achille Mbembe. Necropolitics. Durham: Duke University Press, 2019.

Julien Mercille. “Violent Narco-Cartels or US Hegemony? The political economy of the ‘war on drugs’ in Mexico,” Third World Quarterly, 32, no. 9 (2011): 1637–1653.

Yael Navaro. The Make-Believe Space: Affective Geography in a Postwar Polity. Duke University Press, 2012.

Carloyn Nordstrom, “Treating the Wounds of War,” Cultural Survival Quarterly 17, no. 2 (July 31, 1993).

Jasbir K. Puar. Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Duke University Press, 2018.

Jennifer Terry. Attachments to War: Biomedical Logics and Violence in Twenty-First-Century America. Durham: Duke University Press, 2017.

Patrick Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native,” Journal of Genocide Research, Vol. 8 (2006): 387-409.

Selected readings by members of the RRG on Civil War

Salih Can Aciksoz. Sacrificial Limbs: Masculinity, Disability, and Political Violence in Turkey. University of California Press, 2019.

David Anthony, III. Max Yergan: Race Man, Internationalist, Cold Warrior. New York: New York University Press, 2006.

Javier Arbona, “The Explosivity of Kelp.” Society + Space (March 2020).

Daphne Taylor Garcia. The Existence of the Mixed Race Damnés: Decolonialism, Class, Gender, Race (Global Critical Caribbean Thought) London: Rowman and Littlefield International, 2018.

Cecilia Mendez Gastelumendi. “Ceaseless War: Civil Wars, National Imaginings, and the formation of the state in Peru.” In Clément Thibaud (et. al), L’ Atlantique Révolutionnaire. Bécherel: Editions Les Perséides (France), 2013: 379-420.

Shana Melnysyn. “Mbailundu Remembered: Colonial Traces in Post-Civil War Angola,” Kronos Southern African Histories Vol. 45, no. 1 (November 2019): 140-153.

Diana Pardo Pedraza, “On Landmines and Suspicion: How (not) to Walk Explosive Fields,” Society + Space (March 2020).