Author Archives: aholdener

May, 14 – Perceptions of Violence Beyond War and Genocide

Our understanding of what violence actually is has changed considerably during the second half of the 20th century. This shift occurred at a rapid pace: When in the 1960s violence against children and women became a public and political issue in the first place, it was exclusively physical violence. Today, however, psychological and emotional violence are at least as much the focus of attention; violence has long since ceased to be a physical act, and speech is also regarded as a form of violence.

This phenomenon has hardly been the subject of any research to date. Neither the preconditions nor the effects of this process have been sufficiently illuminated. This lecture addresses these developments and changes by exploring the epistemology of our current understanding of violence. Taking a perspective from the history of knowledge, the lecture will use three exemplary cases – gender base violence, speech as violence, and bullying – to show why and how perceptions of violence and vulnerability have changed over the last 50 years.

Prof. Dr. Svenja Goltermann, Department of History, University of Zurich

May, 7 – «Like a Movie»: Terrorism, Counterterrorism and the Premediation of Violence in the 21st Century

The phrase “like a movie” was used by numerous witnesses on the scene of the 11 September 2001 World Trade Center attacks. Even though the event was historically unprecedented – never before had commercial airliners been turned into missiles and flown into buildings – the image of the burning and collapsing Twin Towers seemed strangely familiar, because similar scenarios had featured in various blockbuster films. The perceived convergence between Hollywood spectacle and terrorist violence on 9/11 was a reminder that in our media-saturated society, real events are always already “premediated” in the sense that they are invariably framed and perceived through previous media representations. As this presentation argues, however, premediation can also be used strategically by both non-state and state actors: The uncannily cinematic quality of the World Trade Center attacks found its equivalent in the Bush administration’s ensuing “war on terrorism” campaign, which deployed premediation in multiple ways to advance its counterterrorist agenda. My presentation tries to understand the workings of premediation by reflecting on the interplay between violence, fear and the blurring of the boundary between fact and fiction in our current age of terror, in which real death and destruction are often made to appear “like a movie”.

Michael C. Frank (University of Zurich, English Department)

April, 23 – Words like Weapons: Postcolonial African Rap and the Performance of Violence

The lecture will explore ongoing debates about the nature and impact of violent lyrics in rap music. Taking case studies from South Africa, Angola and Burkina Faso, it will discuss the different manifestations of violence which can be found in rap music, and relate the use of violent words, scenarios and performances to the surrounding socio-political context as well as the history of colonization/decolonization of these different nations. The discussion will further integrate rap performances within a larger framework of reflections on the political power of words in decolonial struggles, and the place attributed to violence in anti-colonial resistance.

Prof. Dr. Ana Sobral, English Department, University of Zurich

Powerpoint slides for download

April, 2 – Violence, Colonialism and Property in Africa (19th – 20th Centuries)

The Paris Peace Conference convened on the 18th of January 1919, two months after the end of the First World War (1914-1918), and set the new legal order of that time. One of the results of the Conference was the establishment of the League of Nations with the aim to prevent war, maintain peace and develop international cooperation in the economic and political sphere. The League of Nations was officially inaugurated on the 10th of January 1920 in London. The headquarter was then moved to Geneva, where on the 15th November 1920 the first General Assembly took place at the Wilson Palace. The aim of the lecture is to show the establishment of the international mandates by the League of Nations in order to face up the problem of the jurisdiction over the former colonial territories of the defeated nations as Germany and the Ottoman Empire. It will be discussed the complex relation between law and violence, violence and international law and sovereignty and property, analysing also the General Act of the Berlin Conference of 1885.

Prof. Dr. Elisabetta Fiocchi Malaspina, Faculty of Law, University of Zurich

March, 26 – The empire of the law. Legalization of violence in the European migratory control system

During the last 30 years the European Union has reinforced a racist segregated social
structure using immigration laws as the main tool to create a system of persecution,
detention, deportation and death of migrant people coming from former colonies.
This is the way in which Europe has found the path to reproduce the violence, exploitation
and death conditions of the global south within and at the borders of the global north.
Protocols, norms and even Human Rights charters are constantly quoted and used in those
official documents that normalize and legitimize racist violences, legal frames that end up
being part of the colonial legacy of law.

Daniela Ortiz, Visual Artist and Activist, Peru/Spain

March, 19 – Images freighted with all the orphanhood in the world: Contemporary Latin American Artists on Sexual and Gendered Violence

In the last decades, gender-based and sexual violence have gained notoriety within civil society and the international community. In Latin America, an intense activism and struggle for truth and justice has caused interest in women’s human rights violations from various disciplines, including the arts. As I will argue, the works of Latin American women artists who deal with these issues in their artistic practices give us the opportunity to address gendered and sexual violence as a form of political violence. I will analyze contemporary artworks by Teresa Margolles (MX), Ambra Polidori (MX), Daniela Ortiz (PE/SP) and Adriana Varejao (BR).

Dr. Elena Rosauro, Centre for Latin American Studies, University of Zurich

March, 12 – «Creating Politics out of Violence»: Amazon Globalization and the Discovery of «Modern Slavery»

By the late 1960s, the Amazon entered a new phase of its integration within global (and unequal) capitalist exchange. The proliferation of large-scale farming projects aiming to transform the rain forest into a major exporter of commodities unleashed a massive deforestation wave. In turn, the rising demand for clearing workforce helped revivify and consolidate local networks of forced labor, embodying the violence to which the Amazon’s “agricultural modernization”, in spite of bright promises of social improvement, subjugated people and nature. This lecture examines the intertwinement between physical and moral coercion in the process of making the workforce captive. But more importantly, it discusses how forced laborers and their allies from the rural Amazon could transform their struggle for individual freedom into a new political category that laid bare the contradictions of late capitalist development in peripheral world regions. The forced labor scandal involving Volkswagen’s cattle-ranch operation, which started in 1973 in the southeastern Amazon, serves as main case study to illustrate this claim.

Dr. Antoine Acker, Department of History, University of Zurich

March 5, The Allers-Retours of Contemporary Political Violence

Contemporary political violence has been overwhelming understood through the prism of ‘terrorism’. The post-September 11, 2001 dominant use of that notion has largely empty instances of violence of their social and political context and has furthered a reductionist meta-narrative. This narrative has come to dominate international policy-making, news media, fiction and segments of academe. Central to this narrative is the representation of terroristic violence as produced in particular sites; it is given culturally, religiously and racially. Similarly, the producers of that violence are depicted in static ways (their ‘nature’ immanent and unchanging) and the direction of their violence is seen as continuously beamed at the West (and its regional allies). Contemporary political violence is more complex and more layered. Uncovering the mechanisms of the ‘terrorism’ frame, we encounter a politically-invisibilised violence produced in the Western metropolis, historically projected onto the periphery and now facing a boomerang effect.

Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou
Professor of International History, Graduate Institute, Geneva

February, 20 – Introduction to the Topic

Rio de Janeiro (RJ) – 24/08/1954 – Getúlio Vargas (Suicídio do Presidente da República) – Veículos (automóvel – automóveis) do Jornal O GLOBO atacados e virados por populares – Foto Arquivo / Agência O Globo – Sem negativo

How are violence, state and power related to each other – and how does this complex relationship manifest itself in fields such as Literature, History and Law? How does violence unfold in different spaces and times? What shapes does it take? Is violence a language itself or does it conversely reveal a lack of language? The lecture series aims to analyze the origins and the effects of violence in Europe, Africa and Latin America. This implies discussing topics such as wars, political instabilities, social riots, terrorism, slavery and violence generated by the State. Adopting an interdisciplinary approach that includes Literature, Cultural Studies, Philosophy, Political Studies, History and Law, the lecture series has a twofold aim: on the one hand, we will draw up a general framework for understanding violence in its different manifestations; on the other hand, we will discuss specific cases to illustrate the various shapes that violence can take. Starting from the overarching question: «What is violence?», we will explore the different answers provided by a number of scholars and authors.

Prof. Dr. Eduardo Jorge de Oliveira, Institute of Romance Studies
Prof. Dr. Elisabetta Fiocchi Malaspina, Faculty of Law
Prof. Dr. Ana Sobral , English Department, University of Zurich