Screening Violence:A Transnational Study of Post-Conflict Imaginaries

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: School of Modern Languages

Abstract

Screening Violence is an innovative engagement with communities that have experienced prolonged and entrenched violence of different kinds from guerrilla warfare, to state sponsored persecution of particular groups, to mass murder, to sectarian conflict. Each of the five countries we are researching is or has been deeply divided by the violence that has occurred and in each case the struggle to acknowledge the past and recognise injustice and suffering has led to contested accounts of guilt, responsibility and victimhood. Violence of the kind we are researching is material in its effects and has created lasting change in the polities affected. But we believe that in addition to the need for research on material and structural forms and causes of violence it is also essential to understand the imaginaries in which violence is produced and reproduced in the minds of individuals and the collective consciousness of communities. The ways that violence is experienced and the experience of it shared depends to a significant extent on the stories that are constructed to give it meaning and that contribute to the making of identity in communities. We recognise the importance of a range of recent research that emphasises understanding the local dynamics and experiences of wider social conflict.
Increasingly, both academic experts in and practitioners of violence mediation argue that any attempt to impose the so-called 'flat pack peace' that does not address local experience of conflict is likely to fail in its objectives. We argue that the local, social imaginary is a key point of engagement with communities attempting to understand the experience of violence and navigating the complexities of reconciliation and transition from conflict. Accordingly, our research highlights the mutually reinforcing and integrated nature of rational and popular accounts of violence. Both realms of the human experience require equal attention and respect. Our research makes an important contribution to the underdeveloped appreciation of local imaginaries of violence.
We argue that visual culture is a key site where meaning is made about conflict and violence. We plan to engage with communities that have experienced violence through the medium of cinema and documentary film. Recognising that asking communities to reflect on their own conflicts is difficult and perhaps simply reinforces local imaginaries, we will engage different communities in each of the five primary research sites through viewings of films about the conflicts of others. We argue that asking communities to reflect on the violence of other polities creates a space for critical reflection on the ways that individuals and communities understand their own experiences of conflict and possible transitions from it. Our pilot research clearly indicated that familiar accounts of violence produced within communities experiencing it were challenged with alternative readings by groups and individuals external to it. We aim to research the ways that imaginaries of conflict and violence are produced and reproduced but also the ways the imaginary can be contested or disrupted through an engagement with the imaginaries of other communities. We are interested to learn how local imaginaries produce narratives of violence but also the ways that once challenged or disrupted they may open up new spaces for interrogating one's own conflict. We seek to understand if local imaginaries of conflict may enhance the prospects for transition and reconciliation at local levels once their coherence is disturbed by a wider appreciation of conflict provided by the opportunity of reflecting on the conflict imaginaries of others.

Planned Impact

The focus on conflict and reconciliation underlines this project's potential for societal impact. Engagement with communities and institutions is at the heart of our work and our methodology is designed to stimulate productive discussions and exchanges between these actors, with a view to influencing policy. We have identified key potential beneficiaries and users of this research, including i) local communities; ii) state institutions; iii) NGOs and international agencies; iv) academic partners; v) film practitioners and organisations working in culture and the arts.
i) As the co-producers of knowledge, the involvement of grassroots communities and organisations is central to this project. Our approach is designed to empower such communities in their engagement with other actors by opening up spaces in which local voices can be heard, as well as for the community knowledge to influence our research findings and approach. Focus groups provide a space in which participants will tell their own stories while the ethnographic study will enable them to shape the telling in ways that go beyond the initial encounter. The material produced will be sensitive to community input and of value to community organisations as they lobby institutions and seek to influence policy. The project will open up debate between community participants across the range of sites, promoting knowledge exchange, including the sharing of experiences in dealing with institutions. We will use digital tools to enhance this with a project blog and use of dedicated social media channels. Indeed, our emphasis on a participatory approach to the construction of an agenda for peace and reconciliation will encourage knowledge exchange between the full range of actors across our sites.
ii) Diverse state institutions are responsible for implementing transitional accords and development strategies alongside local communities. Our findings will "increase the effectiveness of public services and policy", in line with the goals outlined by the AHRC, by providing information that will help to formulate policy relevant to and shaped from the local context. While in many of our sites institutions suffer from a crisis of legitimacy, our emphasis on community participation and knowledge exchange means that the project will provide opportunities to strengthen democratic decision-making and build the social capital necessary for transitional projects to maximise the probability of success.
iii) Our research will be relevant to the work of international agencies like the UN, as well as NGOs, organisations with whom the researchers have direct contacts. Throughout its lifetime the project will provide these beneficiaries with working papers, policy documents and position statements. The spaces of dialogue opened up by the project will provide additional opportunities for creative exchanges between institutional and non-institutional actors.
iv) The project will enhance our partners' capacity by supporting academic researchers at all stages of development, including ECRs. In each site we will establish a local research cluster with international links. In this regard, the project will help in the internationalisation efforts of local institutions and promote "South-South" dialogue. Our activities will allow local academics to participate in the construction of new research agendas, providing them with publishing opportunities (both formal and online such as the project blog) as way of showcasing their work, and support from colleagues in the UK. It will also cement relationships between academic researchers, local communities and institutions during the project's lifetime and beyond.
v) Film practitioners play a key role as both creators and as facilitators of community projects. In our chosen sites, funding for arts-based initiatives is hard to come by and we will seek to develop our collaborators' creative potential, which we will showcase through a series of screenings.

Publications

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Title Screening Violence fieldwork footage 
Description This is a database of filmed footage (video) plus some audio material from the fieldwork undertaken by our research team on the ground in Algeria, Argentina, Colombia, Indonesia and Northern Ireland in 2018 and 2019. (No material from 2020 has been forthcoming because of Covid-19). The footage and recordings include focus groups in all 5 countries (after film screenings) plus some long ethnographic interviews with selected participants. It is not a public or widely-available dataset (is not available outside the current research team on the proiect) since it contains sensitive material and we do not have consent from filmed participants for this to be shared outside the team. It is kept on a limited-access Microsoft Stream site hosted by Newcastle University. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The impact is currently internal to the project ie it enables us to trace and start to compare and analyse themes and tropes around imaginaries of conflict coming out of the data (the filmed footage from our fieldwork).