Torture Research

Rituals & Social Construction of Reality

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           Several researchers describe torture as an activity in which torturers create and reinforce a version of reality through ritual-like actions. The first, and best, of these articles is Taussig (1984), who studied the use of torture by British rubber harvesting agents in the Putumayo region of the Columbia. Taussig showed that the agents’ use of violence against indigenous laborers cannot be explained as a rational strategy, as the violence terrified the indigenous people and drove them away, depriving agents of a labor force. Instead, Taussig argues that torture was a type of ritual that was inspired by and reinforced the agents’ perception of reality. The agents were terrified of the Indians and the jungle, and used torture to protect themselves, despite its negative effects on their labor supply. The agents’ view of the indigenous people as dangerous was reinforced by the indigenous people they employed to engage in violence. These employees kept feeding the agents’ fears with stories of conspiracies and danger, thereby reinforcing their own positions of power.

            Gregory and Timmerman (1986) and DuBois (1990) directly apply Taussig’s argument to the use of torture by the military government in Argentina in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Other arguments about torturers’ construction of relaity are Hajjar (2000) and Crelinsten (1995).

DuBois, Lindsay. 1990. “Torture and the construction of an enemy: the example of Argentina 1976-1983.” Dialectical Anthropology 15(4), 317-328.

Crelinsten, Ronald D. “In Their Own Words: The World of the Torturer.”  In Crelinsten, Ronald D., and Alex P. Schmid, eds.  The Politics of Pain: Torturers and Their Masters (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1995), 19-34.

Gregory, Steven, and Daniel Timerman. 1986. “Rituals of the modern state: the case of torture in Argentina.”  Dialectical Anthropology 11(1), 63-71.

Hajjar, Lisa.  “Sovereign Bodies, Sovereign States and the Problem of Torture.”  Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, 2000, 21, 1, 101-134.

Taussig, Michael. 1984. “Culture of Terror – Space of Death. Roger Casement’s Putumayo Report and the Explanation of Torture.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 26, 467-497


Written by tortureresearch

January 27, 2010 at 8:17 pm

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