Representing Violence and “Othering” Somalia

Peer Reviewed

Essay Exerpt

On the surface, a clan-based explanation of Somalia's turmoil seems to be supported by what Somalis themselves say about their recent experiences. Many Somalis use the discourse of clan to explain and debate what has happened to their country. To be sure, people living under the terror of a collapsing state sought refuge in social networks with great emotional bonds-ties ofkinship- and some killings were clan-oriented revenge killings. And it is true that much of the recent fighting between the so-called warlords has taken place between groups pulled together on the basis of clan affiliations. Using the sentiment of clan to rally support has been a useful strategy for Somalia's warring factions. The various larger militias claim to be representing clan interests, and many Somalis now living in exile have become quite divided by clan affiliation. Journalists quote unnamed Somalis who describe the destruction caused by clan rivalries, providing useful phrases that can be incorporated into the analysis of clan-based warfare.  (Bateman, 128)

About the Author

Besteman is a Professor at Colby College.

"I have taught Anthropology and African Studies at Colby since 1994. My teaching and research interests focus on analyzing power dynamics that produce and maintain inequality, racism and violence, as well as activist and community efforts for social change. I have studied these issues in southern Somalia, South Africa, and the U.S. While on leave during 2012-13, supported by grants from the Guggenheim Foundation and ACLS, I am an ACLS Fellow at the Heyman Center at Columbia University."

Somali Bantu Refugees in the US. Since 2003, Lewiston, Maine has become home to thousands of Somali and Somali Bantu refugees, some of whom come from the village in Somalia where I conducted fieldwork in 1987-8. My current research documents their experiences and how their presence has transformed Lewiston. During 2012-2013, I am working on a book about Somali Bantu efforts in the U.S., Kenya, and Somalia to fashion lives at the intersection of militarism and humanitarianism as an example of a new norm of globalization, analyzing the way the refugees are creating subjectivities and new social relations as paradigmatic of a new global order. This project is supported by grants from the Guggenheim Foundation and ACLS.

View the website built by Colby students, members of the Somali Bantu community of Lewiston, and myself:The Somali Bantu Experience: From East Arica to Maine. Our museum exhibition associated with this website won awards from the American Association for State and Local History and the New England Museum Association.

Post Apartheid Transformation in Cape Town. This research project studies the challenges of effecting transformation in a city left with enduring material and ideological divisions after apartheid. Transforming Cape Town, (University of California Press 2008) follows the efforts of 6 projects of transformation, chronicling the success and failures of new grassroots initiatives to combat poverty, transform education, and support youth development. This book was recognized with a Leeds Honor Book Award from SUNTA.

Public Anthropology. Anthropology is a discipline of profound importance in a globalized world. Demonstrating anthropology's critical insights on contemporary issues is the central project of two coedited books with anthropologist Hugh Gusterson (George Mason University). The Insecure American (University of California Press, 2009) and Why America's Top Pundits are Wrong (University of California Press, 2005).

Click on this link to read the pledge against anthropological involvement in covert intelligence work: Pledge

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