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“Wanton and Senseless” Revisited: The Study of Warfare in Civil Conflicts and the Historiography of the Algerian Massacres

  • Jacob Mundy (a1)
Abstract:

Over the past two decades, attention in the social sciences increasingly has been drawn to the problem of violent civil conflicts, a problem that has disproportionately affected Africa more than any other region. Two approaches to this problem have come to dominate the field: attempts to understand the root causes of civil conflict and attempts to understand the dynamics of its violence. Critics of the former approach have elaborated the ways in which the etiological agenda itself makes, and then politically mobilizes, the reality it claims to find. The goal of this article is to elaborate a similar critique for the latter agenda by examining the productive and destructive interaction between theoretical assumptions and empirical realities that have informed attempts to understand the Algerian massacres of the late 1990s. The overall intention is not to promote a new understanding of those atrocities. Rather, it is to gain a deeper insight into the processes by which episodes of mass civil violence become objects of scientific analysis—and thus objects for political utilization—despite their having emerged from an empirical milieu of contested, ambiguous, and indeterminate realities.

Au cours des vingt dernières années, l’attention s’est portée dans les sciences sociales et naturelles sur les problèmes liés à la violence dans les conflits civils, une situation qui touche démesurément l’Afrique plus que toute autre région. Deux approches du problème dominent aujourd’hui ce domaine de recherche: celle qui tente de comprendre les causes premières des conflits civils, et celle qui tente de comprendre la dynamique de la violence qui s’y rattache. Les critiques de la première approche ont mis à nu les manières dont l’agenda étiologique lui-même façonne et mobilise politiquement la réalité qu’il trouve soi-disant. L’objectif de cet article est d’élaborer une critique similaire de l’agenda soutenant la deuxième approche en examinant la nature productive et destructive de l’interaction entre les suppositions théoriques et les réalités empiriques qui ont informé des tentatives menées pour comprendre les massacres en Algérie dans la fin des années 90. L’intention globale n’est pas de promouvoir une nouvelle compréhension de ces atrocités. Le but est en revanche d’accéder à une perception plus élaborée des processus par lesquels des épisodes de violence civile deviennent des objets d’analyse scientifique, et par la même objets à usage politique, en dépit du fait qu’ils naissent d’un milieu empirique de réalités contestées, ambiguës, et mal déterminées.

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African Studies Review
  • ISSN: 0002-0206
  • EISSN: 1555-2462
  • URL: /core/journals/african-studies-review
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