The Idea of Violence | Speakers and Abstracts

The Idea of Violence: A Conference
June 23 and 24
Kent State Florence Center  | Palazzo Vettori  | Florence, Italy

Speakers and Abstracts

Francesco Benigno is Professor of Modern History at Teramo University, Italy. His main fields of interest are: European political history, Mediterranean social  and cultural history and the discoursive construction of criminal identity. Among his several books see in English  Mirrors of  Revolutions. Conflict and Political Identity in Early Modern Europe, Brepols 2010 and Words in Time. A Plea for Historical Re-thinking, Routledge 2017 (forthcoming). His latest book in Italian is La mala setta. Alle origini di mafia e camorra, Einaudi 2015.

The concept of Terrorism: what’s in a name? Terrorist violence in historical perspective
My attempt is to vindicate the utility and importance of historical knowledge of a subject which, if attention is massively concentrated on the here and now, may become impoverished and lose its depth and significance. The history of the use of the concept Terrorism, far from identifying a phenomenon belonging to ‘other’ societies and cultures, thought as barbarous, tells us of behaviors which came into being within the Western world and which have constantly punctuated its history. Hence it is not a phenomenon produced by an ‘alien’ incursion but is something deep in ‘our own’ historical experience and has followed a trajectory which should cause us to reflect.

Samuel Cohn, Jr., Professor of Medieval History, University of Glasgow; Honorary Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies in Humanities (University of Edinburgh); Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Over the past two decades, he has focused on the history of popular unrest in late medieval and early modern Europe and on the history of disease and medicine. He is presently funded by a three-year Leverhulme ‘Major Research Fellowship’, completing the project ‘Epidemics: Hate and Compassion from the Plague of Athens to AIDS’. Currently, a monography with the same title is in press. He is now writing with Professor Nils Stenseth, head of the Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Syntheses at the University of Oslo, A Short History of Plague, in Charles Rosenberg’s series ‘Biographies of Disease’. In October, he will become the first ‘Federico Chabod Visiting Professor’ at l’Università degli Studi, Milano (Statale). In addition, he is organizing an exhibition at the National Library of Scoltand, commemorating the Great Influenza of 1918-20.

Reasons to Revolt: Plague’s violence from Procopius to Surat, 1994
Since the eruption of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s, historians, social scientists, and public intellectuals have professed that large-scale epidemics across time and place have provoked irrational hate and blame against the ‘other’. Little allowance has been given for varying sorts of reactions (as with charity, compassion and self-abnegation consistently with some epidemic diseases) or that the resulting social violence from other epidemics may have differed radically from one type of disease to another or across time and place.

My talk will concern the great variability in violence principally following pandemics of bubonic plague, beginning with the reactions to the ‘First Pandemic’ of 541-750 BCE, then the flagellants and burning of Jews, 1349-51, then the plague spreaders (untori, engraisseurs) of Early Modern Europe (with special attention to the 1630 plague in Milan), then the plague revolts across the Indian subcontinent, 1896-1902, and finally at Surat in 1994. The essay will stress the great variability in perpetrators and targets of violence, organization, and, most importantly, the mythologies and reasons for violent actions from notions of Jews and beggars poisoning wells to politically-reasoned and organized revolts, commanding united fronts, against the abuses, corruption, and backward-looking notions of plague transmission imposed on populations by the British colonial government.

Pamela Colombo, PhD in Sociology from the University of the Basque Country (UPV), is a Marie Curie research fellow at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS, Paris). Her research focuses on the relationship between space, counterinsurgency policies and the state. Her current research program examine the construction of “strategic villages” in Latin America (1970-1980). She was visiting scholar at the City University of New York, Goldsmiths College, Freie Universität Berlin, Ibero-Amerikanische Institut Berlin, Konstanz Universität, Universität Freiburg and Centro de Investigaciones Sociales. She was a fellow from the Fyssen Foundation, the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), the European Research Council and the Research Executive Agency (EU). She co-organized several international symposiums on space and violence (Madrid 2012, London 2013, Paris 2016). Among her publications, she has published the book Espacios de Desparición (Miño y Dávila, forthcoming), co-directed the book Space and the Memories of Violence (Palgrave Macmillan 2014), and coordinated several special issues in journals such as Human Remains And Violence, Cultures et Conflicts, and Critique Internationale.

When State violence creates living spaces: “Strategic Villages”, between forced modernization and counter-insurgency warfare
This paper aims to explore the “productive” aspects of State violence. Between compulsory modernization and counter-insurgency warfare, the military program for construction of “strategic villages” was developed at the beginning of the Cold War. Forced urbanization has been deployed as a counterinsurgency instrument aimed at breaking the guerrilla support, expanding State power and producing “model citizens”.

Strategic villages have been established throughout the world (Africa, Asia and Latin America), mostly with the support of colonial powers (e.g.: England built New Villages in Malaysia and Kenya, USA built Strategic Hamlets in Vietnam and France has created Centres de regroupement in Algeria). During the 1970s and 1980s, strategic villages were built also in Latin America (Argentina, Brazil, Peru, El Salvador and Guatemala), while simultaneously these same countries were the scene of massacres and forced disappearances. A large part of these strategic villages, hybrid spaces between civil and military worlds, have survived the conflicts and a large majority of the displaced people still lives there.

While some works link the destruction of built environment and warfare practices (urbicide, Coward 2009, "killing cities", Graham 2010, Bishop et al., 2012), my paper will contribute to the discussion by analyzing how counter-insurgency policies do not only fight against the “city” or in the city, but also with the city. In other words, I will explore how urbanization can become an instrument of war.

Based on fieldwork done inside the strategic villages built in Argentina during the last military dictatorship (1976-1983), I will examine: what did happen to these spaces when the armed conflict was over? What are the social and political effects of these spatial dispositifs in the long term? Do these counter-insurgency infrastructures and the memory of violence have the power to modify political and spatial practices nowadays?

Laura Fenelli, originally from Parma, has been living and working as an art historian in Florence since 2007. She has an MA in Medieval History of Art and a Ph.D. in Medieval History. She works on history of medieval and early modern images and saints’ iconography and hagiography and she has been postdoctoral fellow at the Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence and at the Warburg Institute. Since 2009 she has been lecturing Art History in Florence for Kent State, Richmond College and the British Institute.

From Irony to Sacrilege: blasphemous jokes about cult images between XIV and XVI century
The paper will analyze the broad theme of jokes and mockeries against cult images, from innocent and playful tricks to acts of violent blasphemy. By reading Trecento and Quattrocento textual sources, we will follow the fortune of the theme in moralizing passages, including the famous history of Antonio Rinaldeschi, well known thanks to a pictorial source that describes the act of violence of the Rinaldeschi and its tragic conclusion.

Short novels by Francesco Sacchetti will guide our analysis: from playful mockeries by which painters and artists trifle with the credulity of the people or the vain requests of the patrons, to real acts of violence and blasphemy. The latters usually target cult or miraculous images of Christ and the Virgin Mary: the jokes become blasphemy and iconoclastic violence.

The last part of the paper will be devoted to a specific case of an act of violence against a cult image of a saint, which will be studied thanks to a corpus of text and mostly its iconography in paintings and prints.

Jim Glassman is Professor in the Department of Geography at the University of British Columbia. His research focuses on state power, social struggle, and violence in the process of urban-industrial transformation. He has conducted research in Thailand, South Korea, and China, and is the author of Thailand at the Margins: Internationalization of the State and the Transformation of Labor (Oxford University Press, 2004), Bounding the Mekong: The Asian Development Bank, China, and Thailand (University of Hawai’i Press, 2010), and Drums of War, Drums of Development: the Formation of a Pacific Ruling Class and Industrial Transformation in East and Southeast Asia, 1945-1980 (Brill Press and Haymarket Books, Historical Materialism series, forthcoming).

War, Violence, Capitalism
In this paper, I present a broadly Marxian geo-political economy approach to the analysis of capitalism and militarized violence, elaborating some of the themes presented in the works of Rosa Luxemburg, Antonio Gramsci, Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy, C. Wright Mills, and Kees van der Pijl. In framing my arguments, I use the US military-industrial complex as a both a conceptual tool and empirical case for explaining the ways in which war and war-making capacity can be construed as integral to the class processes defining capitalism, rather than as external responses to class struggle or accumulation crises. While war and violence are obviously not distinctively indicative of capitalist social relations, I suggest that the capacity—and propensity—for militarized violence are “hardwired” into capitalism in ways that make its perpetual outbreak predictable, even if one can never predict precisely when and where violence will occur.

Dr. Manfred Hinz

Taliban Poetry. Jihadi Ideology in Taliban taranés
The Taliban websites in English simply broadcast the dire, official political statements of the Taliban leadership (the Quetta shura) enriched sometimes by some propaganda video-clip. The same websites, however, in Farsi (and even more so in Pashtu) regularly contain number of taranés-texts, sometimes with recordings in MP3-format. In the country itself, these Taliban taranés are omnipresent and can be heard even as ring tunes on cellphones of Government officials.

The tarané is lexically and grammatically lower genre of Pashtu poetry (comparable somewhat to the European ballad), thus particularly apt for political messages. The vast production of Taliban taranés has been  studied in recent years by Alex Strick van Linschoten and by Felix Kuehn, on whose work we will largely rely.

Davide Lombardo, Ph.D., is  a full time Lecturer at NYU Florence where he teaches Modern Italy, Urban History and Public Intellectuals.  He holds a doctorate in History and Civilization from the European University Institute (Fiesole, Italy), his researches focus on European Urban Culture from the 19th  to the 20th century. Holds an Italian Degree on Modern Italian history and a French Degree on Modern French history. Has studied extensively at Edinburgh, York (UK), Grenoble (France), Pisa and Florence (Italy). In 2009 he was Visiting Research Fellow of the Lewis Walpole Library at Yale University, Visiting Fellow of the Yale Center for British Art, and Andrew W. Mellon Fellow of the Huntington Library.  Has published on the representation of urban spaces in Daumier and on the everyday life in De Certau.

Sublime, Shock, Silence : Intellectuals and the massacres of June 1848
The horror of June 1848 marked contemporaries of revolutionary and democratic leanings alike.  Silence ensued. It took 20 years to Flaubert to write about those events. In this paper I am going to inquire into the ways in which the shock of June's massacres of workers influenced the art of intellectuals of the time such as Baudelaire, Daumier and Flaubert.

Rachel Pain is a Professor of Human Geography at Durham University. Her research interests include intimate and international violence, and social and urban trauma. She is Director of Durham’s Participatory Research Hub, and specialises in participatory action research, collaborating with many community and public sector organisations over two decades. She is co-author of the Sage Handbook of Social Geographies (Sage, 2010) Fear: Critical Geopolitics and Everyday Life (Ashgate, 2008), and Participatory Action Research Approaches and Methods (Routledge, 2007) as well as numerous articles about violence, safety and security. 

The Idea of Trauma
This paper explores how analysis of trauma has developed and been contested, in particular the ways these changes are shaped by race, class, gender and sexual hegemonies. The invidious and often invisible ‘disease of our time’, trauma is positioned as a primary way that violence continues to do damage at multiple scales, radiating out from its initial subjects. My focus is on chronic trauma as a collective wound of violence, as well as an intimate experience. The paper considers diverse perspectives that have framed trauma as a social, community, cultural, intergenerational and ecological phenomenon.  The history of trauma is a story of misrecognition and silencing, and a range of contemporary examples are met with denial and hostility, a process that retrenches power relations along familiar lines of race, class, gender and sexual privilege. 

Fabrizio Ricciardelli, Ph.D., was appointed Director of the Kent State University Florence Center in 2012 after serving in leadership and teaching roles at Georgetown University at Villa Le Balze. His academic experience includes journal articles, conference presentations, and several reviews. He has authored and co-authored numerous books on institutional and political history. His main field of study is Italian city-states in the social, economic, political, and cultural landscape of Medieval Europe. In 2015 Ricciardelli was appointed Co-Secretary Treasurer of AACUPI, the Association of American College and University Programs in Italy. A native of Florence, Fabrizio Ricciardelli earned his undergraduate degree in Medieval History at the University of Florence and his Ph.D. at the University of Warwick in England. Some of his publications are: The Politics of Exclusion in Early Renaissance Italy (2007); I luoghi del sacro. Il sacro e la città tra Medioevo ed Età moderna (2008); The Culture of Violence in Renaissance Italy (2012); Umanesimo e università in Toscana (1400-1600) (2012); Late Medieval and Early Modern Ritual. Studies in Italian Urban Culture (2013), and Emotions, Passions, and Power in Renaissance Italy (2015). His latest work The Myth of Republicanism in Renaissance Italy has been published by Brepols in 2015.

Episodes of Violence in Trecento Florence
Since the 1350s pockets of poverty increase exponentially in Florence, and in the 1370s the number of nihil habentes, that is of disadvantaged citizens, passed from 66% in 1371 to 73% in 1378. In the early 1370s the Florentine population reached 55,000 units, and workers that animate the world of textiles were about 13,000. On 24 June 1378 the Ciompi, who consisted of artisans, laborers, and craftsmen who did not belong to any guild, started a revolt in Florence, and the fury of the mob killed the representatives of the popolo grasso, that is powerful not-magnate citizens (fat cats). Summary executions were carried out in symbolic places of Florence creating a diffused state of terror. Those who revolted did not belong to any guild and were therefore unable to participate in the Florence government. The violent reaction of the lower strata of the popolo (non nobles. Middle ranks of urban society and families that were not as old as the aristocratic lineages) was repressed on 31 August 1378. The following years determined the progressive restoration of popolo grasso, which formally lasted until the rise of the Medici Duchy in 1532. An episode of violence, the Ciompi uprising is the evidence of the failure of the Florence popular government.

Arun Saldanha is Associate Professor in the Department of Geography, Environment, and Society, at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. He is author of Space After Deleuze (Bloomsbury, 2017) and Psychedelic White: Goa Trance and the Viscosity of Race (University of Minnesota Press, 2007). He coedited Deleuze and Race (Edinburgh University Press, 2013), Sexual Difference Between Psychoanalysis and Vitalism (Routledge, 2013), Geographies of Race and Food: Fields Bodies Markets (Ashgate, 2013), and the Deleuze Studies special issue, “Deleuze and Guattari in the Anthropocene.”

Anthropos, Geopower, Divine Violence
As the only concept imported from geology into political theory, the Anthropocene has had startling effects on certain cherished, or at least presupposed, notions in the Western tradition about the ontological stability of man as a particular site in relation to the rest of reality. Anthropos had already been submitted to trenchant critiques. From Marx to Fanon to Foucault to feminism, the structural violence inherent to the positing of man as taken-for-granted subject of history and starting-point for knowing has been mapped meticulously. The Anthropocene concept could now radically deepen the analytical scope of this antihumanist critique. As the world-historical magnitude of the converging crises becomes clear, and as the climate justice movement picks up steam, a theoretical agenda emerges to reconceptualize biopower -- the differential treatment of populations by power resulting in differential life opportunity -- as necessarily embedded in strata far more varied than what political theorists have imagined heretofore. If earth processes participate in stratifying populations, capitalism qua exploitative megamachine is coterminous not just with biopower but with what we could call geopower. Whatever could withstand or redirect such massive violence? Here we must avoid a return to either the environmental determinism underpinning mainstream Hobbesian visions of imminent resource conflicts, or the vitalism and primitivism evident in many of the radical ecological movements. It is obvious that an extra-legal, well-nigh eschatological ferocity is required, something akin to what Benjamin in the 1920s called divine violence. But more than religion, it seems forcing a way out of our catastrophic predicament will have to mobilize science and organization. Can divine violence be rational? What the Anthropocene shows -- and this includes the disaster of actually-existing communism -- is that any revolutionary upheaval without a vision for the longe durée of the planet risks falling back into the self-destructive loop that has characterized millennia of so-called civilization. This paper will end with some sketches towards a geocommunism nourished by learning from the failures of the twentieth century.

Estela Schindel studied Communications at the University of Buenos Aires and got a PhD in Sociology at the Free University Berlin. She is currently a scientific coordinator with the PhD Program ‘Europe in the globalized world’ and a researcher at the Center of Excellence Cultural Foundations of Social Integration of the University of Konstanz. Her current project focuses on the imbrications of technology, violence and nature in the EU border regime. She co-edited the volume Space and the Memories of Violence. Landscapes of Erasure, Disappearance and Exception (Palgrave, 2014). Among her recent published articles are “Bare Life at the European Borders. Entanglements of Technology, Society and Nature”, Journal of Borderlands Studies 31 (2): 219-234, 2016, and “‘Blowing off the Boat’. The Sea Border Crossing to Europe, a Navigation on the Nature/Culture Divide”, Mobile Culture Studies, The Journal 1: 199-216, 2015.

Violent borders. The Schengen regime and the reframing of violence.
In the modern political world states hold not only the monopoly of the means and legitimate use of violence, but also, as John Torpey’s History of the Passport reminds us, the monopoly on the control of mobility. Borders are therefore spaces intrinsically invested with a high concentration of state violence or its threat. This constitutive sovereign violence is re-enacted in each border crossing: There, the contract of citizenship and belonging is suspended and knitted together anew. The border suspends and re-instates the pact that links a citizen with a state exposing every border crosser to a condition of abandonment to the sovereign power.

This violent dimension of bordering acquires renewed topicality in view of the intrinsic lethality that certain borders are producing in our days. Deaths at the gates of the European Schengen zone, as in the US-Mexican borderland, are often depicted as tragedies, as if deprived of agency and, therefore, accountability; as if unfold by fatality and not as a consequence of human actions inserted in political and social contexts. But how is the inherent violence of borders constituted? What meaning and actualization of violence are at stake at contemporary border regimes? What conceptualization of violence can help us grasp the lethality of borders in our days?

Following Giorgio Agamben’s characterization of sovereign violence as abandonment to an unconditional power of death, one of my claims will be that this abandonment and exposure are extended to the force of the elements, a zone of mere biological survival, in direct contact with environmental or physiological processes, where agency seems to be occluded. Highly bureaucratized and technologized patterns of action within the EU border regime may bolster such processes of concealment and displacement of violence. Drawing further on Slavoj Žižek’s conceptualization of subjective, objective and symbolic violence, I will additionally reflect on how these three dimensions are being entangled and contested along the European borders.

While indirectly informed by my previous work on Argentina’s disappeared –when a huge amount of state violence was mobilized in highly concealed ways so that neither corpses nor blood were visible– my presentation engages with this discussion focusing on the  case of the EU Schengen border regime.

James A. Tyner is Professor of Geography at Kent State University, Ohio. His research operates at the intersection of political and population geography with a focus on war, violence and genocide. He is the author of 14 books, including War, Violence, and Population (2009) which received the AAG Meridian Book Award for Outstanding Scholarly Contribution to Geography and Iraq, Terror, and the Philippines’ Will to War (2007) which received the Julian Minghi Award for Outstanding Contribution to Political Geography. His latest book, Memory, Landscape, and Post-Violence in Cambodia will be released in November.

Conspiratorial Geographies: Power and Paranoia under the Communist Party of Kampuchea
The Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK; also known as the ‘Khmer Rouge’) constitutes one of the most violent and inhumane apparatus of state terror in the twentieth-century. Between April 1975 and January 1979 the Khmer Rouge carried out a program of mass violence that is, in many respects, unparalleled in modern history.  In just under four years, upwards of two million people and approximately one-quarter of the country’s pre-1975 population died. Many of these deaths resulted from starvation and disease. However, an untold number were executed at numerous security-centers established throughout the country. Among these, the security-center code-named ‘S-21’ is especially notable.  Located in Cambodia’s capital city of Phnom Penh, S-21 was one of approximately 200 security-centers. However, unlike most security-centers, S-21 is notable because it was established as a military-political facility designed to identify, interrogate, and ultimately execute perceived enemies of the state. Accordingly, most prisoners who were detained and killed were not ‘ordinary’ people but instead Khmer Rouge cadre or relatives of Khmer Rouge cadre.

Considerable scholarly attention has focused on S-21; most attention, however, has concentrated either on the symbolic importance of S-21 as a ‘total institution’ or has examined the memorialization of the genocide as reflected by the conversion of the prison into a museum.  Apart from David Chandler’s pioneering work, however, minimal empirical analysis of S-21 has been conducted. In response to this lacuna, in this talk I provide an empirical analysis of arrests and execution records compiled at S-21. However, I do so through the theoretical prisms of conspiratorial geographies critical criminology. More specifically, I focus on the interstices between lists of arrests and lists of executions. In so doing, I detail how the CPK employed and archived prisoner lists as particular technologies of ordering.

Pierluigi Valsecchi is Professor of African History in the Department of Political and Social Studies, University of Pavia, in Italy. Previously he taught in the Universities of Teramo and Urbino. He received his PhD in History from the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa. He has worked on Ghanaian history (17th-20th century). His current research deals with the 19th-20th century history of the Ghana-Côte d’Ivoire border regions. He is the author of several articles and books, including Power and State Formation in West Africa. Appolonia from the 16th to the 18th Century (2011), Africa: la storia ritrovata, (2016, co-authored with G.P. Calchi Novati), and is co-editor (with Fabio Viti) of Mondes Akan/Akan Worlds. Identity and Power in West Africa (1999). 

Violence, Hierarchy and Personal Status in Nineteenth Century West Africa
The paper provides an historical reading of violence in connection with the exercise of political power in south-west Ghana between the final years of the eighteenth and early twentieth century, contributing fresh evidence to a longstanding debate about some fundamental features of social hierarchy and personal status in pre-colonial West Africa. The study addresses issues like the judicial practices, the discretionality by the powerful in disposing of the persons and lives of subjects, and highly problematic areas like ritual and funeral killings and human sacrifice, and the recruitment of their victims. These practices underwent constant reshaping during the period under consideration, due to the effects of dramatic economic, political and cultural/religious changes, which radically redefined some fundamental features of the system of power and the hierarchy of personal dependency, and their perception by local society.