Accepted paper:

Trash, prostitution and youth hanging around: Moral panic and purification in post-war Sri Lanka


Bart Klem (University of Melbourne)

Paper short abstract:

This article explores the moral panic over the changes that take place in society when a forlorn region opens up to the world when the checkpoints and frontlines disappear.

Paper long abstract:

This case study of Trincomalee (eastern Sri Lanka) explores the end of a war as a process of re-articulating socio-political orders. It engages with a largely uncharted domain: moral panic spawned by the opening up of a previously forlorn region of checkpoints, frontlines and military surveillance. The re-connection of the region to its outside comprises a peace dividend of sorts. It enables resettlement, improved security, and mobility. But it also raises acute anxieties over the community's exposure to the moral decay of a globalised world. These concerns are wide-ranging - from trash and poorly dressed tourists; to prostitution, alcoholism, youth hanging around; to changing gender roles, and a demise of 'traditional' norms and forms of authority. Interestingly, these changes escape the received ethnicised plot of Sri Lanka's armed conflict and open up a much older register of purification and belonging, and 'impure' movement, which directs us to earlier breakpoints in Sri Lankan history, such as the tsunami (and the massive influx of agencies after it) and the liberalisation reforms of the later 1970s (labour migration, free trade zones). In closing, the article thus steers away from the somewhat gratuitous idea that war-time and post-war governance are hybrid, and underlines the importance of culturally informed understanding of authority, order and change, thus desisting the tendency to put formal institutions at the heart of the equation.

panel SE32
Anthropology of peace and war in contemporary Asia and Africa: reflections on the meaning of 'hybridity' and 'the everyday' in conflict studies