My research examines how political violence disfigures social life in enduring ways. My work is empirically grounded in ethnographic methodology, including qualitative interviews and participant observation.
Retributive Violence and the Politics of Victimhood:
I focus on a segment of society that is rendered invisible in most accounts of war: victims on the side of the perpetrator. Through this focus, I unearth a silenced and contentious history of retributive violence that took place inside the 1992 to 1995 siege of Sarajevo, when the city was held under attack by Bosnian Serb forces.
The experiences of Serbs inside the besieged city have received virtually no academic attention, yet they contain vital insights into the logic of ethnicization in wartime, as retributive violence against ethnic collectives becomes not only thinkable, but permissible. Inside the siege, Serbs came to be associated with the ethnic aggressor, and faced violent retribution at the hands of paramilitary, military, and civilian actors. Based on one year of fieldwork, I provide an account of this silenced history from the perspective of Serb women, and I track its ongoing legacy in the post-war period. I ask, what is at stake for post-conflict societies when recognition is withheld from certain classes of victims? How do unacknowledged injuries affect the micro-dynamics of coexistence? What are the political consequences of bearing a violent past in silence? I argue that the silencing of retributive crimes fuels a clandestine ethno-nationalism. Excluded from the dominant narrative, Serb women turn to divisive ethno-nationalist politics that entrench divisions between ethnic groups, and erode the authority of the post-war state.
The Civilian-Combatant Nexus in Civil War Violence:
My new research project explores the civilian-combatant nexus in the context of civil war violence. Despite the large-scale global shift from inter-state wars to civil wars, our understanding of the civilian experience of war has remained moored in frameworks and concepts inherited from the era of inter-state warfare. Chief among these is the civilian/combatant dichotomy. This dichotomy fails to capture the novel, localized dangers introduced by civil warfare, and the variety of complex roles that civilians occupy inside conflict zones. Whereas this dichotomy characterizes civilians collectively as passive victims who are disengaged from the production of violence, civilians can also act as indirect perpetrators, covertly enabling armed groups to target other civilians via clandestine channels such as denunciation. This neglected dimension of civil war has critical implications for civilian protection globally, raising an urgent need to uncover local pathways of violence that are not currently recognized by civilian protection mechanisms.
My new line of research aims to advance our understanding of the civilian-combatant nexus in the context of civil wars in order to better grasp the localized dynamics of this rising form of warfare, and so better protect the people who suffer because of it. My research takes the form of a political ethnography of denunciation, tracking this phenomenon as it occurred on both sides of the front lines of the 1992–1995 siege of Sarajevo.