Working Paper 163

Opportunities and Challenges of ‘War Ethnography’: anthropological engagement in the African Great Lakes region

John M. Janzen

Department ‘Law & Anthropology’

Year of publication

Number of pages

Working Paper 163

This paper on ‘war ethnography’ derives from the author’s 1994–95 participation in one of 150 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working under the auspices of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in the post-genocide Great Lakes region – Rwanda, Burundi, and South Kivu of the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire) – as an anthropologist to “listen, analyze, and offer philosophical reflections of what happened.” Alongside an account of the settings of this engagement, the paper examines the sources and applications of anthropological expertise acquired during relief and mediation fieldwork; contextualizing the narratives collected in terms of community settings and events; balancing the ‘ethnographic imperative’ of informants’ desire to tell their story with full identification, vs. preserving their anonymity along the lines of academic and human rights protocols, while determining rights violations and protecting subjects from revenge attacks; reading the emotional register of the narratives – an indicator of trauma; explicating the ethical dilemmas and standards for anthropology in conflict situations; assessing ownership and control of expert knowledge; and offering recommendations to young anthropologists/ workers with NGOs in conflict situations.

Go to Editor View