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Communities in Conflict: Civil Wars and their Legacies

4–5 September 2009

Venue: James Callaghan Building, Swansea University

Conveners: Regina Poertner (School of Humanities, University of Swansea), Andreas Gestrich (GHIL)

Contemporary Western perceptions of civil wars and their cultural and political significance are to a large extent shaped by the seemingly endemic and interminable nature of such conflicts in post-colonial African and Asian societies. The media convey powerful images of intrastate violence that reflect and reinforce a consensus within Western political discourse about the profound ‘otherness’ of these societies and their deficiency when measured by Western standards of democratic statehood. By contrast, Western states are supposedly defined by mutually balancing and supportive powers of the state and non-governmental agents of ‘civil society’. The cultural assumptions underlying the interpretation of non-European civil wars primarily in terms of their ethnic dimension have recently been called into question by empirical studies investigating the quantifiable economic and political determinants of civil wars. From a historical perspective, civil wars have played an important but deeply ambiguous part also in the formation of the modern Western state. The conference focuses on the significance of civil wars as defining moments in the life of political communities. A second objective is to explore the legacies of civil wars for present-day societies and modern political discourse. The intention is not to attempt a comprehensive historical survey or typology of civil wars, which existing studies reveal as posing complex methodological and terminological problems. Adopting a selective and pragmatic approach, the conference proposes to investigate the multiple meanings of a select number of European and non-European civil conflicts from an interdisciplinary and global perspective. The papers for this conference will thus deal with the impact of civil wars on the political culture, social relations, and historical memory of the societies concerned, and some of the papers will consider the long-term significance and legacy of past conflicts to today’s world.

Conference programme (PDF file)
Conference poster (PDF file, 4 MB)
Conference Programme (PDF file)