Accepted Paper:

Violence, trauma and identity in Somaliland: a biographical approach  


Markus Hoehne (University of Leipzig)

Paper short abstract:

The paper deals with the role of traumatic memories for individual and collective identity construction in post-civil war Somaliland. It focuses on a biographical case study of an actor who at the same time ‘profits’ and suffers from having been exposed to violence and trauma.

Paper long abstract:

Individual experiences of violence in the wake of state repression and civil war inform processes of collective identity formation. This point is demonstrated in an in-depth biographical case study set in Somaliland, the breakaway republic in northern Somalia. The case study shows how a person may both exploit and suffer from past experiences of violence. Having been a guerrilla and having lived through a difficult period when no effective government was in place provided my informant with a treasury of experiences and social capital that have served him well in the streets and offices in the capital city of Hargeysa. At the same time, a part of his memories remains "unspeakable" and - from a Western perspective - can be assumed to form a body of "traumatic memories." This corresponds to the wider social and political processes at work in Somaliland, where narratives of violent oppression and resistance in the past inform social reconstruction and the building of a national identity in the present. Experiences of violence both catalyze and legitimate social and political change. Yet, after decades of civil war, during which it was often difficult to distinguish between "perpetrators" and "victims," it is clear that unspeakable aspects of past encounters with violence continue to affect social relations. Identity in such contexts is located between narration and silence.

Panel W032
Processing trauma in (post-)conflict societies