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The Puzzle of Extra-Lethal Violence

  • Lee Ann Fujii (a1)

Abstract

This article proposes the concept “extra-lethal violence” to focus analytic attention on the acts of physical, face-to-face violence that transgress shared norms about the proper treatment of persons and bodies. Examples of extra-lethal violence include forcing victims to dance and sing before killing them, souvenir-taking and mutilation. The main puzzle of extra-lethal violence is why it occurs at all given the time and effort it takes to enact such brutalities and the potential repercussions perpetrators risk by doing so. Current approaches cannot account for this puzzle because extra-lethal violence seems to follow a different logic from strategic calculation. To investigate one alternative logic—the logic of display—the article proposes a performative analytic framework. A performative lens focuses attention on the process by which actors stage violence for graphic effect. It highlights the range of roles, participants, and activities that contribute to the production process as a whole. To demonstrate the value of a performative approach, the article applies this framework to three very different extra-lethal episodes: the massacre at My Lai during the Vietnam War, the rape and killing of two women during the Rwandan genocide, and a lynching that took place in rural Maryland. The article concludes by sketching a typology of performance processes and by considering the policy implications of this type of theorizing and knowledge.

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