IS CONFLICT A PERFORMANCE? IF SO, WHAT SOCIAL, CULTURAL AND POLITICAL PURPOSE DOES SUCH PERFORMANCE SERVE? (REFERENCING INCOMPLETE)

“If man is a sapient animal, a toolmaking animal, a self-making animal, a symbol-using animal, he is, no less, a performing animal, Homo performans, not in the sense, perhaps that a circus animal may be a performing animal, but in the sense that a man is a self-performing animal–his performances are, in a way, reflexive, in performing he reveals himself to himself. This can be in two ways: the actor may come to know himself better through acting or enactment; or one set of human beings may come to know themselves better through observing and/or participating in performances generated and presented by another set of human beings.” (Victor Turner The Anthropology of Performance 1986: 81)

 Victor Turners influential work The Anthropology of Performance refers to performance in the theatrical, literal sense, however using his sentiment of homo performans, this essay will explore the performance of conflict and violence, drawing on evolutionary theories and will show examples of cultural and social violence. To understand practices of violence and conflict, a holistic approach must be taken, using social, historical, cultural and psychological observations. In the last 20 years an evolutionary psychology approach based on ‘neo-Darwin’ theories has been used in anthropological research, and looks at the evolved mechanisms of social behaviour in humans as they strive for survival, reproduction and status. This approach will be the crux of this essay, as it goes ‘back to the basics’ and draws on many approaches including historical, cultural and primarily evolutionary.

 The evolutionary psychology approach was brought to light in Robert Wrights book ‘The Moral Animal’ (1994) where he showed the vast amount of potential this approach had for asking questions about human kind and their behaviours owing to its wide scope. Evolutionary psychology is the study of behaviour and its evolutionary origins, and is based on Charles Darwins theory of natural selection/origin of species. It suggests that behaviours which are essential for survival are learnt and passed down to the next generation much more frequently than less beneficial traits (REF Confer). This suggests that survivability is inherently important in human kinds genetic makeup and evolution and it could be argued that aggression in humans is fundamental to survival (survival of the fittest) and that is why it is so commonly displayed within cultures and societies. Animal reproductive/survival instincts to acquire a mate through performance of ‘fitness’ or ‘toughness’ is displayed by human kind, these displays of fitness through performance are complex and performed in many ways.

 Resistance seems to be a key driver in conflict, whether a group or individual resorts to conflict as a form of resistance, or individuals/groups lash out with violence as a reaction to resistance but both aim to bring about significant change. Conflict that stems from resistance can be seen as a performance of competing goals, and is viewed in the youngest of the human kind, infants. Eibl-Eibesfeldt (1979) observed that infants who have not yet learnt to talk, lash out with violence at those who refuse to do what they want, and most importantly this phenomena is viewed in a variety of different cultures. This example is vital to understand the evolutionary approach of conflict and violence, as it shows that survivability is indeed inherent to the human makeup, and that it is passed down generations.

The above example demonstrates violence as a evolutionary performance, but this sentiment will now be discussed from a social perspective. For the sake of this essay, conflict and violence will refer to the act of being violated, which is to corrupt, to do violence to and to dishonour and disrupt boundaries (real and imagined) (REF lecture slides 1). Violence and conflict are important to establish a unique identity within society, to “differentiate your personality from the rest of the world” (Coser, 1998: 33). To achieve a unique identity often means to achieve a high social status, which comes hand in hand with greater access to resources, thus survivability and an increased desirability to potential mates, thus reproduction.

 It is important to note that most behaviours are dependant on ones environment, and violence or conflict as a performance depends heavily on ones social and cultural surroundings. For example, finding a mate or partner differs significantly across the globe. One in five relationships in the United Kingdoms start online, but in Vanuatu, men are lunging themselves off a tower with a vine bungee attached to their leg to compete for the local ladies attention, the man that gets closest to the ground without injuring himself is considered the ideal mate (http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/humanplanetexplorer/life_events/courtship). Although this is not an example of violence, it was necessary to show the dependency of behaviour on environment and to lead into the example of violence as a rite of passage, a cultural necessity.

 The Ilongot group from The Phillipines seem to acknowledge this embedded need for violence and conflict; a rite of passage for a young man to be recognised as a man is headhunting. The Ilongots believe that by taking another mans head, they relieve their young hearts of anger and can then progress into man hood. Although on face value, this rite of passage man not be seen as a boy striving for survivability, if the boy fails he will not be allowed to marry, be seen as undesirable by women thus not reproduce and will not have the rights that men have. This ritual can also be viewed as a performance, based on the criteria that Turner has provided, as the actor may come to know themelves better through observing and participating in performances generated by another set of human beings; in this case the elders performing their own stories of their headhunting, subsequently applying pressure and a standard to the rite of passage (REF lecture notes/rosaldo) and making headhunting a performance of superiority.

 The example of the Ilongot group show that violent acts within a cultural platform, or a specific environment have been learnt, however acknowledge the evolutionary proof that violence is found in young hearts. “Culture gives people a sense of community and belonging, and is therefore one of the principal means through which identity is constructed and sustained” (Murray 2006:259). This indicates that humans learn their behaviour from their environment, and to talk of cultural conflict, means that conflict is a performance that is learnt. On this sentiment, it is also apparent that cultural conflict is goal-oriented, drawing on the case of ‘The Dizi Girls’ (ref). After a long period of peace between two groups ‘Dizi’ and ‘Suri’ in Southern Ethiopia, four Dizi girls were killed by three young Suri boys. This act of violence portrayed an significant message to the Dizi people, that change had occurred. As mentioned before, humans lash out with violence with the aim to bring about significant change. The killings were carefully executed, choosing girls of the most culturally important age in order to make the most significant impact. The girls that were killed were at a fertile age, where they were expected to marry and reproduce, this was emphasised in a speech made by the Dizi chief at the funeral:

             “These young women. . .  imagine how many children they could have carried . . . now they die without children to make their parents rejoice and satisfied. Their names will be lost, and no sons and daughters will live to help the family or to invoke the name of their mother”. (Abbink pg 125)

 The emphasis put on the loss of future generations of children in the chiefs speech, confirms the purpose of these killings, to affect the Dizi group for the longest time, and for the Suri group to perform and assert power over the Dizi. With the loss of four fertile girls, comes the loss of opportunities for reproduction, the loss of greater numbers and more security and the loss of status.

 All of the examples used in this essay confirm that conflict is indeed a performance, and that it is a reflexive and dynamic phenomenon. Using the evolutionary psychology approach, it becomes clear that conflict as a performance serves to achieve survivability, a trait that has possessed human kind since the dawn of time. The infant lashing out with violence when not getting what it wants/needs shows that this is something that is fundamental to all human beings regardless of environment or culture. Cultural performative conflict also aims to achieve survivability, through sabotaging and disrupting boundaries of their biggest threat, groups of people increase their chances of survival. Although evolutionary psychology appears to pave a new path to understand conflict through the lense of anthropological research, a limitation of this approach is its inability in explaining cultural and individual differences. “Evolutionary psychology has been far more successful in predicting and explaining species-typical and sex-differentiated psychological adaptations than explaining variation within species or within the sexes” (Buss, 2009).

 

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