Life and Words: Violence and the Descent Into the Ordinary

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University of California Press, 2007 - History - 281 pages
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In this powerful, compassionate work, one of anthropology’s most distinguished ethnographers weaves together rich fieldwork with a compelling critical analysis in a book that will surely make a signal contribution to contemporary thinking about violence and how it affects everyday life. Veena Das examines case studies including the extreme violence of the Partition of India in 1947 and the massacre of Sikhs in 1984 after the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. In a major departure from much anthropological inquiry, Das asks how this violence has entered "the recesses of the ordinary" instead of viewing it as an interruption of life to which we simply bear witness. Das engages with anthropological work on collective violence, rumor, sectarian conflict, new kinship, and state and bureaucracy as she embarks on a wide-ranging exploration of the relations among violence, gender, and subjectivity. Weaving anthropological and philosophical reflections on the ordinary into her analysis, Das points toward a new way of interpreting violence in societies and cultures around the globe. The book will be indispensable reading across disciplinary boundaries as we strive to better understand violence, especially as it is perpetrated against women.

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Review: Life and Words: Violence and the Descent into the Ordinary

User Review  - Yang - Goodreads

It requires certain background knowledge of the history of contemporay India in order to get to the author's point although Das did present us the details of the riot of 1984, and other cases. Read full review

Selected pages


The Event and the Everyday
The Figure of the Abducted Woman
Language and Body
The Act of Witnessing
Boundaries Violence and theWork of Time
Thinking of Time and Subjectivity
In the Region of Rumor
The Force of the Local
The Signature of the State
Three Portraits of Grief and Mourning
Revisiting Trauma Testimony and Political Community

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About the author (2007)

Veena Das is Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Anthropology and Professor of Humanities at Johns Hopkins University and a founding member of the Institute of Socio-Economic Research in Development and Democracy. Among her books is Violence and Subjectivity, which she coedited with Arthur Kleinman, Mamphela Ramphele, and Pamela Reynolds (UC Press). Stanley Cavell is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Harvard University.

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