Vico’s The New Science is everywhere a reminder that scholars hide, overlook or mistreat the gross physical evidence of human activity, including their own.
Edward Said, Reflections On Exile, page 86)
…in the progress of nations negroes have shown less capacity for self-government than any other race of people. No independent government of any form has ever been successful in their hands. On the contrary whenever they have been left to their own devices they have shown an instant tendency to lapse into barbarism.
President Andrew Johnson (quoted in Amy Kaplan’s The Anarchy of Empire In The Making Of U.S. Culture, page 83)
The American photographer Pete Muller’s is working on a long-term project called Rethinking The Enemy: Men, Masculinity And Violence, that he claims attempts to:
…understand the causes of male-perpetrated violence,”
He explains that he is:
…working around the hypothesis that when men are not able to achieve what are often rigid standards of what makes successful manhood, they become extremely anxious and volatile, and they will revert to dangerous and violent behaviour in order to try to assert themselves as men.
This project has received considerable attention and support, not the least from the Open Society Initiative for South Africa, and he has produced work for the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict. It has recently been featured on Time Magazine’s Lightbox blog, The New York Times Lens blog and various other sites. It is clearly a work that is garnering considerable support and attention, even resulting in Pete Muller rubbing shoulders with celebrities, and diplomats.
In a detailed description of the project that is being supported by the Open Society Initiative for South Africa, we are told that in:
…Eastern DRC, the project will engage with men who are involved in military activity. They will be interviewed about their upbringing, perspectives on masculinity, cultural norms and attitudes about violence and honour.
and that in:
…Namibia, he will…try and understand the social, cultural and gender forces that are behind the alarmingly high (and increasing) rates of gender-based violence – in a country that is widely praised for its peace and stability.
and finally that in:
…South Africa, Muller will…try to grasp what role notions of masculinity play in the extraordinary levels of violence that continue to plague the country – twenty years after democracy.
What strikes one immediately – whether in the way Pete Muller explains the project, or in the way it is described in interviews of reviews, is the concentrated attention given to things like ‘traditions’, ‘culture’, ‘notions of masculinity’ and ‘traditional ideas of manhood’. This becomes even more contentious and curious when one simply recognises that this search for cultural explanations of social phenomenon are being sought in societies and communities scared not only be decades of war and conflict, but equally by decades of economic and political instability and its associated displacement, dispossession and discrimination.
Though some lip-service is given to this by Pete Muller, he is quick to dismiss the importance of looking at the political history as when he argues that his investigations into the question of violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo…
…does not necessarily require viewers to talk extensively about the DR Congo and the history of the conflict and the country and Belgian colonialism and all these things that people can find somewhat off-putting or intimidating. The issues of men, masculinity, male stoicism and violence are universally relatable.
Apparently the histories of precolonial and colonial genocide, the facts of post-colonial political and internecine violence, the decades of social dislocation and displacement, the disruption of any and all semblance of community and communal norms, the destruction of family life as a result of migrations, escape, or simply because of a search for work, the consequences of relentless and endless levels of military violence are all simply dismissed as ‘…somewhat off-putting or intimidating’. Details »