In what way can anthropologists help mediate cross-cultural violence?

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The taste of blood flooded my mouth. “See what I mean?” ‘Raux asked me, grinding his knuckles across my face, gnashing my lips into my teeth. “Maybe get ‘em to back off like this!” I had ‘Raux pinned to the ground, demonstrating my scarf hold, while he experimented with some escapes. “Or use pressure points!” ‘Raux switched techniques, driving his thumbs into the soft spots below my occipital ridge.


I tried to pretend it didn’t hurt. ‘Raux scoffed, “Son, Sensei does that to me all the time, so don’t even pretend that don’t hurt. But hey, is this even legal in grapplin’?” I responded, “Yeah, it’s legal. Just terribly impolite. Kinda’ like this.” I struck out, throttling his neck.


“Oh, that’s s###ty!”
Thrashing away, ‘Raux croaked,
“and you’re allowed to do that sorta’ thing?”


I paused, uneasily.
“I think so. But nobody really does. It’s… rude.”


‘Raux frowned incredulously.
“So what? You gonna be polite during a real fight?”


‘Raux and I are damn close. He even made me his Best Man. Further, we’ve both been into martial arts for years. If any two guys should be able to spar smoothly, it should be us. Right? Wrong. Even though we share so much, we belong to distinct subcultures. I come from submission grappling, ‘Raux comes from Aikido, and we sometimes experience culture clash. For example, in submission grappling, there’s no rule explicitly prohibiting knuckle grinds, yet there’s a tacit understanding that it’s “cheap.” Of course, as an Aikidoka, ‘Raux couldn’t have known that.


Even in the context of violence, we remain influenced by our culture’s etiquette. Some colloquialisms include “clean fighting” versus “dirty fighting,” “cheap shots,” and more militaristically, “rules of engagement” versus “war crime.” Sometimes these systems of etiquette become so elaborate, violence becomes game-like. Anthropologists have documented this phenomenon for generations, including the so-called “Mesoamerican Ball Game” and “Trobriand Cricket.” Thus, when different cultures fight, the conflict’s etiquette can get wonky. Practically, that’s an issue anthropologists could help navigate in combat athletics, law enforcement, and war. Indeed, some already have, in the “Human Terrain Program.”


So I want to open this discussion based on a simple question: in what way can anthropologists help mediate cross-cultural violence?

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Thanks a lot by bringing on board this good discussion it will first of depend with the people involved in the 'conflict' as an anthropologists who understands people in the sense of cross cultural advise one to be sensitive of the others plight.more to follow

Nice example. That said, anthropologists might begin by recognizing that conflict resolution is already a topic in which many other folk have already established footholds. The literature is already substantial. It would be a good idea to review it and then ask what, if anything, anthropologists can do that others aren't already doing.

Start here:

Come on, Ashkuff. It's not that hard. The basic idea that anthropologists might function as culturally sensitive mediators helping parties to a conflict discover common ground has been around for a long time. Whether anthropologists are, in fact, better equipped to play this role than other people in the conflict resolution community is a serious question.

That "in certain circumstances" is the vital bit. As an anthropologist who happens to have a deeper than most grasp of what is going on with both parties to a conflict, you might be more useful than someone trying to apply standard models from a conflict-resolution cookbook. Different quarrel, different place, you might be even more at sea. The treacherous assumption here is that anthropologists, qua anthropologists, are more likely to know what is going on. In my experience this is simply not true. We have no magic wands. We are not clairvoyant. We, too, will have to spend a lot of time listening and learning before we have anything useful to say. And a well-trained conflict-resolution negotiator may be better at it than we are if we enter a new situation as ignorant as anyone else.

I stumbled into some violence the other night in Seattle, where I live. I wrote about it on my blog here:

I was sitting at a bus shelter, two young black men came up, and someone in a passing car hurled a bottle at them. This neighborhood in Seattle, Rainier Beach, has seen a lot of violence/ muggings at transit stops or on transit itself recently. I'm doing ethnographic research on transportation beliefs in that neighborhood because I want to be able to show the local bike movement that marginalized communities don't see biking the same way that we bike advocates do. Seattle is pretty far along in the "green gentrification" process, with communities of color, immigrants, and the poor largely forced to the outskirts while the central city sees rising rents and new boutique bars every week. I'm using anthropology as a tool to make a connection between the well-meaning-but-way-out-of-touch sustainable transportation movements and the frightening everyday life of transportation on the edge of the city. It's part of my theoretical project to promote "human infrastructure" as a necessary component of livable cities.

As I read the posts to this discussion, I notice many obvious directions for this discussion that are being missed in order to make points concerning the ignorance of one "cuture's" view of it's neighboring "culture".  (ie gangs)  Mr. Ashkuff, your story that began these posts; did it not deal more with "sport" than true violance.  Violance that one person inflicts on another can happen in many ways.  If violant acts are planned, it may contain many rules and prohibitions by the one who plans the act.  The target will be in a state of reaction.  If the target has had the benift of good training, the reations MAY contain rules and or prohibitions, or in most cases, the reactions will be lead by fear and/or passion.  In this latter case, the reaction will only be limited by the crativity or instinct of the target.  When survival is on the line, no rule applies.  I encourage you to sit with a group of veterans from a brutal conflict, one that saw hand to hand violance.  Our ideals find themselves sacrificed to our instinct to survive.


As far as the expertise of an anthropologist being able to midigate violance... I believe that indirect action may be effective.  Many groups that are found in our citys (I live in the Los Angeles area), would be insulted by the idea that you or I could ever become an "expert" on thier culture.  Only those raised in a culture truly understand the combination of emotions and experiances that make a group what it is.  In humility an outsider such as you or I may be granted an opertunity to observe for a while and attempt to understand, but will we ever experiance the oppression, the fear, or the anger that another group has?  We cannot.  We often mistakenly interpose our own previous experiances to help us understand what a seperate group has and is going through.  This is bad science.  If I understand that I am not part of the group, but I am given the honor of being allowed the oppertunity to befriend a group to learn its culture and the challanges that it faces; than I am in the unique position of being able to allow others the chance to understand what I learn.  The availabilty to understand oneanother, even on a limited basis, can have great influance in how one group responds to another.  This can be good or bad.  The ability to begin discussions can end violance and it can escalate violance.  Either way I believe that it is worth doing.  In every group there are those that are unwilling to consider the needs of others (causing conflict), but there are also those who are more reasonable.  Knowledge, can seperate and fracture a group.  The violance may continue, but it's momentum will be slowed or broken by those of reason.  I would never see myself as a mediator.  However, people want their stories told.  By willing to do simply that, as honestly as I can, the fuel of ignorance can be removed from the fires of violance.

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