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Sharp tongues: Discourses on violence in Udaheenagama, Sri Lanka

Argenti-Pillen, Alexandra Maria; (2000) Sharp tongues: Discourses on violence in Udaheenagama, Sri Lanka. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

My thesis is concerned with the ways in which people from a rural community in Southern Sri Lanka speak about the atrocities of the civil war of the late nineteen-eighties. Idioms which are typically used to speak about domestic violence are re-deployed to refer to political violence. Such discourses are intentionally ambiguous, allowing people to avoid direct presentations of violence in order to safeguard their interlocutors from fear-related illnesses. I compared this discursive style to traditional ritual forms of domestic cleansing which play a role in removing the sickening effects of the surrounding soundscape of violence from the house. Likewise, the careful avoidance of the pronunciation of words that refer to violence prevents the intrusion of a sickening, violent reality into the domestic sphere. Such discursive forms of acoustic cleansing contribute to the post-war social reorganisation of the community into small-scale, bounded social units. Ambiguous discourses on violence can easily be understood by close family members but leave members of the wider community in relative ignorance and uncertainty, thereby preventing the mobilisation of collective forms of action against enemies. Such discourses on violence thus play a role in the containment of widespread, modernist forms of revenge. These same discursive styles, however, facilitate the integration of violent individuals within the community and contribute to the perpetuation of a cycle of low-intensity violence because they do not lead to collective action against perpetrators. Many women claim to have become fearless because of the atrocities they have witnessed. They do not suffer from fear-related illnesses, and opt out of many of the traditional cleansing strategies. Non-governmental mental health services for 'war trauma victims', now attract such fearless women and legitimise their position within the community. I explore the possible cultural impact of the discourse on trauma by looking at the way in which it plays a role in a local struggle between these fearless women on the one hand, and women who suffer from fear-related illnesses on the other. The outcome of this struggle is particularly important in view of the role that afflicted - as opposed to fearless - women play in the containment of the cycle of modernist violence.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Sharp tongues: Discourses on violence in Udaheenagama, Sri Lanka
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest.
Keywords: Social sciences; Sri Lanka
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10124506
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