Do people hate their ennemies? Understanding war through the prism of representations

Jeudi, 18 Mai, 2017 - 14:30 to Vendredi, 19 Mai, 2017 - 18:00


International Conference CERI Sce Po Paris 

Scientific committee: Mathias Delori (Science Po Bordeaux), Caroline Holmqvist (UI/REPI), Christian Olsson (REPI/ULB), Christophe Wasinski (REPI/ULB)

Working language: English

Sponsors: CERI of Science Po Paris, REPI, Science Po Bordeaux, FNRS

Location: CERI - 56 rue Jacob, 75006 Paris, France - Salle de conférences (rez-de-chaussée)

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Academic Coordinator - Contact: Mathias Delori (

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Presentation: Many authors have shown how representations of the enemy can influence the practice of war (and vice versa). From this perspective, for example, a set of important studies has documented how racist and animalizing representations of the other have contributed to the “culture of violence” that characterized the Western way of war during the colonial wars and both world wars. This literature puts a great emphasis on the role of pre-conceived ideas and more or less elaborate ideologies. It argues that the consent to kill and be killed does not come “out of the blue”. Rather, it is socially constructed through nationalist discourses that draw up a demonizing image of the other.

Parallel to this, another set of authors has made the point that consent for violence does not only take root in negative representations but, also, in more subtle dynamics of dehumanization such as bureaucratic reasoning, the routinization of violence, “techno-strategic” language, etc. Although it puts an equal emphasis on the question of representation, this literature complements the first as it underlines that one does not need to hate or despise one’s enemy in order to feel able to kill him. Reification is sufficient and it is achieved perfectly - so the argument goes - when one fails to recognize the other as an alter-ego.

Finally, a last group of researchers has taken a more pragmatic stance - in the sense of the pragmatic theory of action - and argued that war representations are inseparable from war experiences. According to Barkawi, for instance, “the military and war are in part generative of the very identities which, in retrospect, appear to have motivated the combatants in the first place”. It is the case, typically, when soldiers go to war with only few pre-conceived ideas concerning the enemy and become hateful and engage in the negative stereotyping of the other as a result of the combat experience. It is also the case when the ‘encounter’ with the enemy in battle, at check-points or in military prisons leads the soldiers to challenge the one-sided negative stereotypes of the enemy that they had previously been made to internalize.

In spite of its interest, this approach consisting in studying war through the prism of representations has been rather left apart for a couple of years. This international conference aims at rekindling it by bringing together researchers from various disciplines of the social sciences (in particular history, anthropology, sociology and political science). The papers may explore concrete empirical cases (past and present) or/and make a theoretical contribution to the aforementioned research agenda. For instance, the papers may explore the following issues (the list is not exhaustive): the emotional dimensions of war violence; the combination between negative war affects and reifying dynamics; the impact of war on representations, etc.