A key scene in Danis Tanović’s Academy Award-winning film No Man’s Land (2001) features two soldiers, a Bosnian Muslim (a Bosniak) and a Bosnian Serb, who have gotten stuck in a trench during the 1990s Bosnian War. In their joint effort to escape from this unfortunate situation, they draw closer; they talk about their prewar lives and recognise that they have many things in common, even some common acquaintances. However, it comes as no surprise when, in the firestorm of bombshells, the question arises of who is responsible for the destruction of Yugoslavia, of their lives as they were before the murder and devastation. The two soldiers start to swap accusations until the armed Bosniak points his weapon at his opponent and asks one last time: ‘Who started the war?’
Around the world, conflicting parties engage in self-exculpation and self-victimisation – from Bosnia-Herzegovina to Sri Lanka, from Northern Ireland to South Africa, not to mention the Middle East. Denying one’s own responsibility and guilt and the fight over one’s own victim status seems to be a constitutive part of many conflicts and postwar situations. As socio-psychological and sociological research show, self-victimisation is accompanied by several advantages. It not only contributes to a stabilisation of group boundaries by fostering internal cohesion and outward demarcation, but also promotes feelings of moral superiority. Hence, self-victimisation is politically beneficial and a suitable tool for protecting one’s own we-ideal and with it one’s own I-ideal in the context of collective violence. It is the chosen mean to restore those facets of identity, which have potentially been corrupted or injured by the collective violence. But what happens when people are confronted with conflicting perspectives of reality, with perspectives according to which the respective ethnic in-group is not to be considered only as victim of war but also – or even exclusively – as perpetrator?
Drawing on a reconstructive analysis of in-depth interviews conducted in different regions of postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina, I identify several strategies which enable people to cling to their self-image as victims, without having the desire (or the opportunity?) to point a weapon at the opponent. My Identities article, 'Identity, ethnic boundaries, and collective victimhood: analysing strategies of self-victimisation in postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina', addresses how these strategies affect the symbolic boundaries between ethnic groups and with it the perception of we-ness. I argue that these strategies can be categorised into dissociative strategies, which conspicuously reproduce the dichotomy of victim and perpetrator along ethnic lines, and associative strategies, which seem to transcend this dichotomy. On closer examination, however, it becomes apparent that these seemingly associative strategies; for instance, the externalisation of guilt on outside third parties (like the international community) or the silencing of the war-torn past in interethnic encounters, do not necessarily contribute to an erosion of ethnic boundaries in postwar Bosnia. I suggest that, ultimately, they even reinforce ethnic boundaries. By avoiding conflicts with members of the ethnic out-group, one’s own narratives about the in-group’s moral and civilisational superiority is sheltered from external reappraisal. As a result, the in-group’s particular perspective on reality, and with it the ethnic boundary, is further consolidated.
Blog post by Ana Mijić, University of Vienna, Austria
Read the full article: Mijić, Ana. Identity, ethnic boundaries, and collective victimhood: analysing strategies of self-victimisation in postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2020.1748348
Indonesian women victims of domestic violence commonly experience a sense of shame, however unreasonable that might seem to those outside the community. However, it is understandable for two reasons.
Firstly, most Indonesians consider marriage a sacred institution, the harmony of which must be maintained to support not just the marriage itself but broader social harmony. Secondly, to Indonesians the wife is seen as responsible for maintaining family harmony due to the values of nurturing and caring traditionally assigned to the female gender.
Hence, a failure to maintain marital or familial harmony is blamed on the wife who, should she decide to divorce, may be described as an ‘unfaithful wife’, ‘undutiful housewife’ and an ‘unloving mother’, with little or no basis for such accusations.
Even when domestic violence has occurred and the marriage cannot reasonably continue as there is threat of continued physical and emotional violence and other abuse of the women and their children, the women still feel shame. Having internalised societal values, women feel that they have failed to meet society’s and their own expectations.
These women must prepare themselves to have their status reduced, from that of a married woman (with the respect this traditionally commands) to that of unmarried woman, janda (widow or divorcee) in Bahasa Indonesia. This ‘shameful’ status is distinctly gendered; divorced men are not blamed for their ‘broken homes’ nor made the target of salacious gossip or of sexual harassment, and are not viewed as a threat to other marriages.
According to Richard O’Connor (2009, 75) shame is ‘[A] deep, pervasive experience of loathsomeness or disgust about who or what we are. [It] is about our core identity; the experience of seeing ourselves from another perspective, in the worst possible light; or of fearing that others see the secret self we keep hidden away and only remember when we are forced to’.
In the context of divorce and domestic violence, malu or shame becomes the emotional link between the failure of marriage and being a victim of domestic violence. Both involve gendered shame. Meanwhile, in Indonesia, creating and maintaining marital and familial harmony is not only demanded by the community, but also by the state under the Marriage Act 1974, redoubling the sense of shame.
Domestic violence brings complicated circumstances; women need to make a decision whether to leave or to stay in an abusive marriage. It is a decision that is not easy to make because of social, economic, legal and cultural considerations.
My Identities article, ‘Shame and Indonesian women victims of domestic violence in making the decision to divorce’, examines whether all respondents, regardless of their identities at the beginning of the violence, continued to hold tight the values and norms of their responsibility for ‘harmony’ within a family. It was found that when the violence continued to escalate or became intolerable, most of the respondents filed for divorce. Many no longer accepted the cultural expectation that the burden of familial harmony was solely theirs, and instead recognised the husband’s unacceptable behaviours as often beyond a wife’s control and clearly contributing to marital and familial breakdown. They ignored the feelings of shame that would be imposed upon them (because they would be janda) and realised the burden they would have to bear from economic, social, cultural and legal aspects.
O’Connor, R. 2009. ‘Shame: destructive or useful?’ Mental Health Matters.
O’Shaughnessy, K. 2009. Gender, state and social power in contemporary Indonesia: divorce and marriage law. Oxon: Routledge.
Parker, L. & Creese, H. 2016. The stigmatisation of widows and divorcees (Janda) in Indonesian society. Indonesia and the Malay World 44: 1-6.
Blog post by Rika Saraswati, Soegijapranata Catholic University, Indonesia
Read the full article: Saraswati, Rika. Shame and Indonesian women victims of domestic violence in making the decision to divorce. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1600313
‘Hong Konger is not a race; it’s a spirit’, claimed a group of ethnic minority advocates of protests against the now-shelved extradition bill and anti-mask law in Hong Kong. The dissociation of Hong Kong identity from race marks the blurring of cultural boundaries between those who are racially Chinese and those who are not. Hong Kong’s political climate appears to play a prominent role in forging a collective identity.
Such an identity claim reflects ethnic minorities’ fulfilled desire to be recognised as Hong Konger like the rest of local Chinese people. My co-authored Identities article with Sivanes Phillipson, 'Bordering on sociocultural boundaries and diversity: negotiating Filipino identities in a Hong Kong multi-ethnic school', presents a relevant scenario in an education setting that speaks to the identity tensions amongst minority groups.
Multi-ethnic schools in Hong Kong have been sites where young people from ethnic families negotiate their ethnic identities and belonging. These multi-ethnic schools have traditionally admitted Pakistani, Indian, Filipino and Nepalese students, due to a funding arrangement that aimed to provide focused support for Chinese language learning for ethnic students. The greater number of ethnic minority students that attended these schools, the greater financial support these schools would receive. However, the effects of these arrangements amounted to racialised segregation because of the limited intercultural contact with their Chinese counterparts (Shum et al. 2012).
Our study illustrates how ethnic identity negotiations of Filipino students foregrounded school ethos and expectations that explicitly valued cultural diversity, while hoping that students acquire the Chinese language to fit into Hong Kong’s wider society. There were, on the one hand, moments when the Filipino students felt very safe and respected in their multi-ethnic school because of their teachers’ commitment to teaching ethnic minority students. Thus, playing music and speaking Tagalog with peers were important conduits for them to make sense of who they were as Filipinos in their school. On the other hand, however, these students experienced challenges in learning Cantonese — the lingua franca in Hong Kong — including writing and reading Chinese, especially when this expectation was reinforced by the school and public examination.
Long-term residents in Hong Kong who are not ethnically Chinese are usually upfront about their status as Hong Kong locals, despite the occasional language barrier. These residents include Hong Kong-educated Filipino youngsters who were born and/or raised in Hong Kong. Parents of these Filipino youngsters typically migrate to Hong Kong as industry professionals, such as musicians, engineers and architects, among others. However, these youngsters constitute a small fraction of the Filipino population in Hong Kong, as the majority of Filipinos in Hong Kong work as domestic workers.
Yet, these youngsters often come to mind when talking about Filipinos in the city (at times in stereotypical ways) who constitute the largest and most visible ethnic population. As domestic workers’ occupational status does not enable them to acquire permanent residence in Hong Kong, these youngsters who reside in the city permanently express identities vastly differently from domestic workers who eventually go back to the Philippines for good.
Although the study was conducted before the 2019 Hong Kong protests, its implications invite new questions about the emerging identity politics in Hong Kong:
If being a Hong Konger is a spirit, then this would be an evolving intellectual pursuit of understanding the changing bounds of what constitutes ‘real’ Hong Kong people, and responding to such in ways that transcend limiting and binary identity expressions (e.g. Chinese vs. non-Chinese).
Shum, M., F. Gao & W. W. Ki. 2016. School desegregation in Hong Kong: non-Chinese linguistic minority students’ challenges to learning Chinese in mainstream schools. Asia Paciﬁc Journal of Education 36: 533–544.
Blog post by Jan Gube, The Education University of Hong Kong, China
Read the full article: Gube, Jan & Phillipson, Sivanes. Bordering on sociocultural boundaries and diversity: negotiating Filipino identities in a Hong Kong multi-ethnic school. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1671678
The 20th century has witnessed many ethnic and religious conflicts, civil wars, massacres and humanitarian crises all over the world from Southeast Europe to Sudan, and from Rwanda to Northern Ireland. Although negative peace  is achieved by signed peace agreements or newly-drawn borders in many cases, this does not necessarily bring about reconciliation and harmonious relations between societies. The violent acts of 1915 -- one of the most catastrophic events in the early 20th century -- deeply damaged Turkish–Armenian relations and still has been affecting new generations. Although some peaceful steps have been taken on a diplomatic level to normalise relations, the intractability of the conflict remains.
Past theory on competitive victimhood demonstrates that contested narratives over being ‘the main victim’ of a conflict are significant obstacles in processes of reconciliation. When victimhood becomes a component of a broader collective identity, it can increase the perception of social prejudice, distrust and hatred towards out-groups. Competitive victimhood refers to a situation in which each side in a conflict claims to be the main victim or legitimise its own crimes on the basis of past victimhood (Noor et al. 2008). Moreover, while in-group crimes are downplayed by moral excuses in such situations, out-group crimes are exaggerated by demonising the enemy (Andrighetto et al. 2012). This leads to competition over who has suffered more and who has more right to resort to violence. Although all members of a community have not experienced violence and harm, victimisation becomes a component of collective identity and gets passed down to subsequent generations.
Moving beyond the diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey , my Identities article, 'Competitive victimhood and reconciliation: the case of Turkish–Armenian relations', focuses on reconciliation between two communities which have very limited interaction due to a closed border, poor diplomatic relations between states, and mutual distrust and prejudices between communities. Drawing upon two separate nation-wide public opinion polls conducted in Turkey and Armenia, and personal interviews, the article explores how narratives of competitive victimhood reveal in the Turkish and Armenian communities.
Furthermore, a theoretical discussion revolves around the relationship between competitive victimhood and reconciliation pyramid, which moves from becoming acquittances with each other’s narratives to a shared narrative and understanding of the past (Auerbach 2009). The empirical analysis displays that Turks seek moral acceptance while Armenians seek recognition. Studying relations between Turks and Armenians on a people to people reconciliation level also demonstrates that the likelihood of reconciliation increases when parties meet and get to know each other’s narratives on a personal level. However, a lack of interaction between the two communities prevents mutual understanding and both groups tend to deny the other’s narratives by supporting official narratives. The analysis also illustrates that Turkish society remembers the massacres and develops empathy on a personal level.
Finally, if the conflicting communities are divided by time and space as in the case of Turkish–Armenian relations, competing victimhood narratives may become even more rooted by decreasing the likelihood of reconciliation. Thus, interaction and acquaintance with competing narratives expose as significant steps to overcome this obstacle and achieve reconciliation between Turkish and Armenian communities. Accordingly, a question unfolds regarding the reconciliation process in general. If interaction and acquaintance with competing narratives may increase the likelihood of reconciliation, why cannot it still be achieved in places like Bosnia-Herzegovina where communities live side by side with a relatively higher level of interaction and acquittance of each other’s narratives?
Auerbach, Y. 2009. The reconciliation pyramid -- a narrative-based framework for analyzing identity conflicts. Political Psychology 30: 291–317.
Andrighetto, L., S. Mari, C. Volpato & B. Behluli. 2012. Reducing competitive victimhood in Kosovo: the role of extended contact and common ingroup identity. Political Psychology 33: 513–529.
Galtung, J. 1969. Violence, peace and peace research. Journal of Peace Research 6: 167-191.
Noor, M., R. Brown & G. Prentice. 2008. Precursors and mediators of inter-group reconciliation in Northern Ireland: a new model. British Journal of Social Psychology 47: 481–495.
 Galtung (1969) defines negative peace as 'the absence of violence', which can be achieved by signed peace agreements between conflicting parties, and differentiates it from social justice and reconciliation, namely positive peace.
 Preconditions for peaceful steps, namely the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh for Turkey and recognition of the Armenian genocide for Armenia, pose intractable obstacles to interstate relations.
Blog post by Cagla Demirel, Södertörn University, Sweden
Read the full article: Demirel, Cagla & Eriksson, Johan. Competitive victimhood and reconciliation: the case of Turkish–Armenian relations. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1611073
Boxing fans and pundits might be familiar with the term 'undisputed' champion. Reserved mainly for boxers, the 'undisputed' champion is seen as the unquestioned champion of (mainly his) weight division. To achieve this status, he must become champion of the various worldwide boxing organisations. Of course, the boxer must constantly defend this status over and over again in order to maintain his place atop the boxing hierarchy. In other words, being an undisputed champion is fleeting, unpredictable, and always in flux.
In my Identities article, ‘Undisputed’ racialised masculinities: boxing fandom, identity, and the cultural politics of masculinity', the term 'undisputed' is repurposed to theorise and allegorise how it is fraught with contradictions. My findings highlight how the undisputed status of racialised masculinity is constantly struggled over, negotiated and contested by male boxing fans of colour. Based on fieldwork observations during a Manny 'Pac-Man' Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez boxing match in 2011, interviews conducted with 1.5 and 2nd generation Filipina/o Americans, and close analysis of 'Gayweather,' it analyses how male fans of colour seek an undisputed masculinity in complex and problematic ways.
Undisputed racialised masculinities are fraught with issues of power inequalities including homophobia, sexism and conservative views of belonging to a nation. Employing a queer of colour critique and women of colour feminism, undisputed racialised masculinity is complicated by race, class, sexuality and nation. During ethnographic observations at the Manny 'Pac-Man' Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez weigh-ins for example, homosocial spaces and relations — made up primarily of Latino and Filipino men — produced racially heteronormative ideas of nationalism. These ideas were manifested in homophobic chants (fans chanting ‘puto,’ a Spanish homophobic slur) and heterosexist ideas about who can belong to the imagined national community.
Filipina/o Americans also deployed homophobia and sexism by devaluing African American boxer Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather’s masculinity. Informants pointed out that Mayweather is Pacquiao’s biggest boxing rival and a gauge with which they measured Pacquiao’s success. They shared that Pacquiao is known to take risks and invite pain. In other words, he isn’t ‘scared’ to stand ‘toe to toe’ with his opponents. In this way, Mayweather’s masculinity works in relation to Pacquiao’s boxing style.
While my article primarily documents how men of colour assert their ‘undisputed racialised masculinity,’ some women challenge this status. During an interview with Louise, a 1.5-generation Filipina American, she brought to my attention the term 'Gayweather' and the discomfort she experienced whenever some of her Facebook friends posted the image. She shared, 'I do feel uncomfortable because yes, Mayweather is Manny’s competitor, but I don’t like the way a lot of people have [given him] that nickname "Gayweather." It just makes me feel really uncomfortable because of the implications that it does have. I’m all for being proud and having support for Manny Pacquiao but when it goes into that and I know they’re doing it just because they’re rooting for Manny. But when it gets to things like that, they’re calling him names that have to do with belittling homosexuals and stuff. It makes me cringe.' In fact, the racialised, gendered and sexualised term circulates on the internet as memes and GIFs by queering Mayweather. This is accomplished by superimposing images onto his body to mark his 'queerness' (e.g. wearing pink dresses and kissing other men).
In order to combat ‘undisputed racialised masculinity,’ the article concludes by pointing to an ethics and politics of care that asks us to imagine differently. To imagine differently means changing social patterns and relations, to radically alter how we live with each other in order to imagine more egalitarian relations.
Blog post by Constancio R. Arnaldo, Jr., University of Nevada, USA
Read the full article: Arnaldo, Constancio R., Jr. 2019. ‘Undisputed’ racialised masculinities: boxing fandom, identity, and the cultural politics of masculinity. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2019.1624068