Accepted paper:

Beyond a Manichaean aesthetics: voices from the 'grey zone'


Sarah Quillinan (University of Melbourne)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on Primo Levi’s (1986) discussion of the ‘grey zone’, the presentation seeks to disrupt the concept of the ‘ideal [rape] victim’ by exploring alternate stories of survival, emphasising self-preservation, resistance, and collaboration among women in custodial settings in the Bosnian war.

Paper long abstract:

During the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the mid-1990s, the figure of the raped woman emerged as a particularly evocative victim identity for the Bosnian Muslim community. In the more than two-decades since the war's end, the 'Rape Victim Identity' (Žarkov, 1997) has become both a compelling and a constraining one. It has contributed to the definition and legitimation of certain narratives of survival, especially those associated with innocence and moral superiority, while simultaneously silencing and marginalising other more complex and varied interpretations that suggest women's agency and resistance. The preoccupation with the quintessential 'authentic victim subject' (Kapur, 2002) in scholarly, legal, and populist writings has failed to fully capture the many different modes of witnessing, enduring, and surviving rape and other sexual assaults during conflict. The presentation seeks to disrupt the concept of the 'ideal [rape] victim' (Christie, 1986) in an effort to explore the significance of alternative stories of rape survival, those that fit uneasily with accepted narratives of victimhood. Following Primo Levi's (1986) paradigmatic discussion of the 'grey zone', the presentation draws on ethnographic accounts of self-preservation, resistance, and collaboration among women detainees in custodial settings that emphasise the agency and subjectivity of the survivors themselves, and, at times, the moral ambiguity present in the extraordinary space of the univers concentrationnaire (Rousset, 1945). A focus on the 'grey zone' contributes to the development of a richer and more nuanced understanding of the complexities of rape survival, and the weight of past choices on present relationships between survivors.

panel P28
Footprints and futures of ethnographies on sexual violence during conflict