ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Wars as Sources of Meaning

The Practice of War: Production, Reproduction and Communication of Armed Violence edited by Aparna Rao, Michael Bollig and Monika Bock, Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai: Foundation Books, Cambridge University Press, 2007; pp 366, $34.95.

The world may have seen an end of “world wars” in this day of nuclear deterrence. But interstate wars localised in regions never really went away. Conflicts within states involving armed groups in open confrontation are today amongst the varieties of violence on the global scene. Deeply divided societies at war with themselves have been a feature of the postcolonial world, and of late situations have worsened for many of them or more cases have been added to this list. The global ideological polarisation, also called the “Cold War,” contributed in its own way to these wars; similarly the end of the Cold War brought its own tribulations. These armed conflicts often found external support that escalated the already troubled relations between and within states. Often, external interventions to “protect democracy” trampled upon democratic freedoms, actively encouraged “Talibanisation” of society, fuelled neighbourhood clashes, fanned civil strife and furthered the interests of global capital—not to talk about death, destruction and mass migrations. The present destabilisation of West Asia and the Syrian refugee crisis is part of the same script where the capitalist West has played an extremely damaging role.

Together, interstate and intrastate wars, both in the past and the present, have been a matter of thought for policymakers, peace activists and social scientists. The book under review looks at some of these issues by focusing on the past and contemporary conflicts through an anthropological lens. Anthropologists have often seen wars or faced such possibilities in areas of their research and among people with whom they worked. This book is an effort by some of them to elaborate their experiences and expand the frontiers of research on war itself. Instead of focusing on wars as occasional occurrences symptomatic of social anomalies and economic scarcity, they highlight how wars produce and reproduce certain sociocultural and economic practices. They attempt to bring out the manner in which wars strike at the existing social networks and replace them with new social links and value systems. Thoseinvolved in wars, either as combatants, non-combatants, arms dealers or peace workers, see themselves and their cause in distinct ways.

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