Doing Violence to Ethnography: A Response to Catherine Besteman's "Representing Violence and 'Othering' Somalia"

Essay Excerpt

My chief concerns here, however, are with Besteman's inaccurate discussion of Somali politics and, more generally, her misconceptions about segmentary lineage political systems, which, despite their well-known rarity, she bizarrely supposes to be widespread "throughout Africa" (Besteman 1996:129). She starts from the endearing assumption that recourse to violence in Somali politics, rather than being a matter of "internal 'tribal' dynamics," has to be explained in diffusionist terms as a consequence of "global economics and politics." "Were pre-colonial Somalis really trapped within destructive spirals of kin-based warfare and feuding?" she rhetorically asks (Besteman 1996:123). This is an odd question to ask of a segmentary lineage society, which by definition inscribes the institution of feud-a query, moreover, which anyone at all familiar with Somali history and culture, and however untutored in segmentary systems, would be bound to answer affirmatively.  (Lewis, 100)

About the Author

I. M Lewis has studied the Somali people and is considered an expert on their culture. 

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