Skip to main content Accessibility help

The Puzzle of Extra-Lethal Violence

  • Lee Ann Fujii (a1)


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.



Hide All
Adler, Emmanuel. 2010. “Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't: Performative Power and the Strategy of Conventional and Nuclear Defusing.” Security Studies 19: 199229.
African Rights. 1995. Death, Despair, And Defiance. London: African Rights.
Alexander, Jeffrey C. 2011. Performance and Power. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Andreas, Peter. 2008. Blue Helmets and Black Markets: The Business of Survival in the Siege of Sarajevo. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Arendt, Hannah. 1963. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. New York: Penguin Books.
Baines, Erin K. 2003. “Body Politics and the Rwandan Crisis.” Third World Quarterly 24(3): 479–93.
Baker, Kevin. 1995. “The Rape of Nanjing.” Contemporary Review 267(1556): 124–28.
Bauman, Richard. 1992. “Performance.” In Folklore, Cultural Performances, and Popular Entertainment, ed. Bauman, R.. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Benford, Robert D., and Hunt, Scott A.. 1992. “Dramaturgy and Social Movements: The Social Construction and Communication of Power.” Sociological Inquiry 62(1): 3655.
Bilton, Michael, and Sim, Kevin. 1992. Four Hours in My Lai. New York: Viking.
Bourke, Joanna. 1999. An Intimate History of Killing. New York: Basic Books.
Brundage, W. Fitzhugh. 1993. Lynching in the New South: Georgia and Virginia, 1880–1930. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Burds, Jeffrey. 2009. “Sexual Violence in Europe in World War II, 1939–1945.” Politics & Society 37(1): 3574.
Burke, Peter. 2005. “Performing History: The Importance of Occasions.” Rethinking History 9(1): 3552.
Caputo, Philip. 1977. A Rumor of War. New York: Ballantine Books.
Carr, Cynthia. 2006. Our Town: A Heartland Lynching, a Haunted Town, and the Hidden History of White America. New York: Crown Publishers.
Chandler, David. 1999. Voices from S-21: Terror and History in Pol Pot's Secret Prison. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Clarke, James W. 1998. “Without Fear or Shame: Lynching, Capital Punishment and the Subculture of Violence in the American South.” British Journal of Political Science 28(2): 269–89.
Cohen, Dara Kay. 2010. “Explaining Sexual Violence During Civil War.” Ph.D. Diss., Political Science, Stanford University, Stanford.
Cole, Catherine M. 2010. Performing South Africa's Truth Commission: Stages of Transition. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Coll, Steve. 2000. “The Other War.” In Washington Post. Washington.
Collins, Randall. 2006. “Micro-Interactional Dynamics of Violent Atrocities.” Irish Journal of Sociology 15(1): 4052.
Collins, Randall. 2008. Violence: A Micro-Sociological Theory. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Danner, Mark. 2004. Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror. New York: New York Review Books.
Des Forges, Alison. 1999. Leave None to Tell the Story. New York: Human Rights Watch & Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l'homme.
Downey, Dennis, and Hyser, Ramond. 1991. No Crooked Death: Coatesville, Pennsylvania, and the Lynching of Zachariah Walker. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Dwyer, Johnny. 2008. “American Warlord.” Rolling Stone, 18 September, 86–118.
Edelman, Murray. 1964. The Symbolic Uses of Politics. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Edelman, Murray. 1971. Politics as Symbolic Action. Chicago: Markham Publishing Company.
Edelman, Murray. 1988. Constructing the Political Spectacle. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Ellis, Stephen. 2007. The Mask of Anarchy: The Destruction of Liberia and the Religious Dimension of an African Civil War. New York: New York University Press.
Falassi, Alessandro. 1987. “Introduction.” In Time Out of Time, ed. Falassi, A.. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
Finnström, Sverker. 2008. Living with Bad Surroundings. Durham: Duke University Press.
Foucault, Michel. 1995. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books.
Fujii, Lee Ann. 2009. Killing Neighbors: Webs of Violence in Rwanda. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Fuoss, Kirk W. 1999. “Lynching Performances, Theatres of Violence.” Text and Performance Quarterly 19: 137.
Gagnon, V.P. Jr. 2004. The Myth of Ethnic War: Serbia and Croatia in the 1990s. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Garland, David. 2005. “Penal Excess and Surplus Meaning: Public Torture Lynchings in Twentieth-Century America.” Law & Society Review 39(4): 793833.
Gershen, Martin. 1971. Destroy or Die: The True Story of Mylai. New Rochelle: Arlington House.
Greiner, Bernd. 2009. War Without Fronts: The USA in Vietnam. Translated by Wyburd, A. and Fern, V.. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Grossman, Dave. 1995. On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.
Guss, David M. 2000. The Festive State: Race, Ethnicity, and Nationalism as Cultural Performance. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Hammer, Richard. 1970. One Morning in the War: The Tragedy at Son My. New York: Coward-McCann, Inc.
Hatzfeld, Jean. 2000. Dans le nu de la vie: Récits des marais rwandais. Paris: Seuil.
Hersh, Seymour M. 1970. My Lai 4: A Report on the Massacre and its Aftermath. New York: Random House.
Hinton, Alexander Laban. 2005. Why Did They Kill? Berkeley: University of California Press.
Hirsch, James S. 2002. Riot and Remembrance: The Tulsa Race War and its Legacy. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Horowitz, Donald L. 2001. The Deadly Ethnic Riot. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Huggins, Martha K., Haritos-Fatouros, Mika, and Zimbardo, Philip G.. 2002. Violence Workers: Police Torturers and Murderers Reconstruct Brazilian Atrocities. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Ifill, Sherrilyn A. 2007. On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the Twenty-First Century. Boston: Beacon Press.
Jolley, Levi. 1933. “Child is Killed as Mob Seeks Prey to Lynch.” Afro-American, 3.
Juergensmeyer, Mark. 2000. Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Kabagema, Edouard. 2001. Carnage d'une nation. Paris: L'Harmattan.
Kalyvas, Stathis N. 1999. “Wanton and Senseless? The Logic of Massacres in Algeria.” Rationality and Society 11(3): 243–85.
Kalyvas, Stathis N. 2003. “The Ontology of ‘Political Violence’: Action and Identity in Civil Wars.” Perspectives on Politics 1(3): 475–94.
Kalyvas, Stathis N. 2006. The Logic of Violence in Civil War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kalyvas, Stathis N. 2012. “Micro-Level Studies of Violence in Civil War: Refining and Extending the Control-Collaboration Model.” Terrorism and Political Violence 24: 658–68.
Kapferer, Bruce. 1988. Legends of People, Myths of State: Violence, Intolerance, and Political Culture in Sri Lanka and Australia. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Kheng, Cheah Boon. 1980. “The Social Impact of the Japanese Occupation of Malaya (1942–1945).” In Southeast Asia Under Japanese Occuption, ed. McCoy, A. W.. New Haven: Yale University Southeast Asia Studies.
Kheng, Cheah Boon. 2003. Red Star Over Malaya: Resistance and Social Conflict During and After the Japanese Occupation, 1941–1946. 3rd ed. Singapore: Singapore University Press.
King, Desmond. 1998. “The Politics of Social Research: Institutionalizing Public Funding Regimes in the United States and Britain.” British Journal of Political Science 28: 415–44.
Klusemann, Stefan. 2010. “Micro-Situational Antecedents of Violent Atrocity.” Sociological Forum 25(2): 272–95.
Lacina, Bethany. 2006. “Explaining the Severity of Civil Wars.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 50(2): 276–89.
Landesman, Peter. 2002. “A Woman's Work.” The New York Times Magazine, 15 September, 82–134.
Mann, Michael. 2005. The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
McAdam, Doug, Tarrow, Sidney, and Tilly, Charles. 2001. Dynamics of Contention. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
McCall, Nathan. 1995. Makes Me Wanna Holler. New York: Vintage Press.
McGovern, James R. 1982. Anatomy of a Lynching: The Killing of Claude Neal. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.
McGreal, Chris. 2010. “US Soldiers ‘Killed Afghan Civilians for Sport and Collected Fingers as Trophies’.” In The Guardian. London.
Merelman, Richard M. 1969. “The Dramaturgy of Politics.” Sociological Quarterly 10(2): 216–39.
Mitchell, Clarence. 1933. “Mob Members Knew Prey was Feeble-Minded.” Afro-American, 1.
Mueller, John. 2000. “The Banality of “Ethnic War”.” International Security 25(1): 4270.
Neuffer, Elizabeth. 2001. The Key to my Neighbor's House: Seeking Justice in Bosnia and Rwanda. New York: Picador.
Olson, James S., and Roberts, Randy. 1998. My Lai: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford Books.
Payne, Leigh. 2008. Unsettling Accounts. Durham: Duke University Press.
Pfeifer, Michael J. 2004. Rough Justice: Lynching and American Society 1874–1947. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Player, William O. 1933. “Capt. Johnson, of State Police, and Eight Others Hurt Defending Prisoner.” Baltimore Sun, 19 October.
Prunier, Gérard. 1995. The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide. New York: Columbia University Press.
Richards, Paul. 1996. Fighting for the Rain Forest. Oxford: James Currey.
Rudwick, Elliott. 1964. Race Riot at East St. Louis: July 2, 1917. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Sanday, Peggy Reeves. 2007. Fraternity Gang Rape: Sex, Brotherhood, and Privilege on Campus. New York: New York University Press.
Scott, James C. 1990. Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Smith, Fraser. 2008. Here Lies Jim Crow: Civil Rights in Maryland. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Snyder, Timothy. 2010. Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. New York: Basic Books.
Spencer, Frank. 1933. “Robins and Daugherty Told Armwood Would be Lynched.” Afro-American, 1.
Staniland, Paul. 2012. “States, Insurgents, and Wartime Political Orders.” Perspectives on Politics 10(2): 243–64.
Straus, Scott. 2006. The Order of Genocide: Race, Power and War in Rwanda. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Straus, Scott. 2012. “Retreating From the Brink: Theorizing Mass Violence and the Dynamics of Restraint.” Perspectives on Politics 10(2): 343–62.
Supplemental Statements of Members of Maryland State Police.” 1933. ed. Transcript from notes of Charles I. Kratz, Official Shorthand Reporter. Baltimore: Offices of Attorney General.
Tarrow, Sidney. 1998. Power in Movement. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Taussig, Michael T. 1986. Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man: A Study of Terror and Healing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Taylor, Diana. 1997. Disappearing Acts: Spectacles of Gender and Nationalism in Argentina's “Dirty War”. Durham: Duke University Press.
Theidon, Kimberly. 2007. “Gender in Transition: Common Sense, Women, and War.” Journal of Human Rights 6(4): 453–78.
Tilly, Charles. 2008. Contentious Performances. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Tolnay, Stewart E., and Beck, E.M.. 1995. A Festival of Violence: An Analysis of Southern Lynchings, 1882–1930. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Turse, Nick. 2008. “A My Lai a Month.” In The Nation.
Valentino, Benjamin A. 2004. Final Solutions: Mass Killing and Genocide in the Twentieth Century. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Verdeja, Ernesto. 2012. “The Political Science of Genocide: Outlines of an Emerging Research Agenda.” Perspectives on Politics 10(2): 307–21.
Verkaaik, Oskar. 2003. “Fun and Violence: Ethnocide and the Effervescence of Collective Aggression.” Social Anthropology 11(1): 322.
Wagner, Michelle D. 1998. “All the Bourgmestre's Men.” Africa Today 45: 2536.
Wedeen, Lisa. 2008. Peripheral Visions: Publics, Power, and Performance in Yemen. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Weingartner, James J. 1992. “Trophies of War: US Troops and the Mutilation of Japanese War Dead, 1941–45.” Pacific Historical Review 61(1): 5367.
Weinstein, Jeremy M. 2007. Inside Rebellion: The Politics of Insurgent Violence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wennersten, John R. 1992. Maryland's Eastern Shore: A Journey in Time and Place. Centreville, MD: Tidewater Publishers.
Wood, Amy Louise. 2009a. Lynching and Spectacle: Witnessing Racial Violence in America, 1890–1940. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Wood, Elisabeth Jean. 2006. “Variation in Sexual Violence.” Politics and Society 34(3): 307–41.
Wood, Elisabeth Jean. 2009b. “Armed Groups and Sexual Violence: When is Wartime Rape Rare?Politics & Society 37(1): 131–62.
Zucchino, David. 2012. “US Troops Posed with Body Parts of Afghan Bombers.” In The Los Angeles Times.


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed