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Art, culture and conflict have a complex relationship. Defining and understanding the links between them is a necessary first step before examining how art and culture can contribute positively in pre- and postconflict societies.

Culture and Conflict

Culture and Conflict Conflict, identity and culture are inextricably linked. Culture broadly refers to the language, dress, customs, ethnicity, race, sexuality and gender that groups share. While culture may be transmitted across generations through social memory processes,4 it is never static; 4 See for example Paul Connerton (1989). culture is constantly fluctuating and evolving, informing how we define ourselves, shaping how we perceive the world and how we enact our identities (LeBaron, 2003; Fortier, 2008; Shaheed, 2012). As Michelle LeBaron (2003) observes, “Cultures are like underground rivers that run through our lives and relationships, giving us messages that shape our perceptions, attributions, judgements and ideas of self and other”. Culture defines the boundaries between the in-group − the group to which we belong − and the out-group, or the other, providing markers for inclusion and exclusion. According to Simon Clarke (2008), groups need the other to define their own identity, as it is only in relation to the other that identity can be formed.

Rebuilding of society in the aftermath of violence requires careful context-specific interventions.

Since culture is linked to identity and shapes our understanding and meaning of the world, it intersects with conflict. In recognizing that conflict is a necessary part of daily life and interactions, LeBaron (2003) highlights that culture may not necessarily be a cause of conflict; however, when boundaries between groups are threatened, culture informs how we perceive this threat, whether we react violently to the threat and the outcome of the threat. Furthermore, while group membership may imply social cohesion, as Farida Shaheed (2012) argues, belonging to a group may not necessarily result in all group members having equal power or access to equal rights and treatment. Identity in its constant state of flux is a struggle over meaning and is therefore linked to “underlying structures and dynamics of power related to accessing and exercising control over economic, political and cultural resources” (Shaheed, 2012: 6). Michael Mann (2004) echoes this understanding of identity and power, and their relation to conflict, arguing that differences in and of themselves don’t cause conflict; instead, violent conflict occurs when one group uses its power to exploit another group. It is this struggle for meaning, power, boundary making, recognition, legitimacy and equality that results in violent conflict. Given that culture is intertwined with conflict for better or for worse, culture not only affects conflict, but conflict influences the cultural content of group identity. During periods of protracted violence, new cultural patterns develop and perpetuate a culture of violence even after the conflict. According to Daniel Bar-Tal (2003), over time, groups within a conflict situation develop certain societal beliefs about the conflict, such as the in-group’s victimization, the de-legitimization of the out-group and beliefs related to patriotism and loyalty to the in-group. Additionally, the conflict produces certain cultural products such as memorials and new ritual practices that tend to support the ongoing conflict, increasing hostility and perpetuating the myths that have developed during the course of the conflict (BarTal, 2003). These cultural effects fuel our anger and hate toward the other, dehumanizes the other and sustain our own feelings of victimization and need for vengeance. Long-term violence involves the emotional investment from members of the warring factions − not only do members of a group mourn the losses of other members of that group as they would family,5 but the resentment, anger, mistrust and feelings of revenge are perpetuated throughout the group. In the aftermath of violent conflict, how does one rebuild these wounded societies? What are ways to transform the negative cultural and social norms that have contributed to, and developed during the course of, the conflict? How do we build trust among neighbours, enable victims to reintegrate into their community and allow perpetrators the opportunity to re-establish their humanity? Defining Reconciliation and Peace In societies ravaged by conflict, a range of mechanisms needs to be established, with the goal of: • rebuilding society, • re-establishing the rule of law, • ensuring justice for victims, • laying the groundwork for long-term and sustainable peace. These initiatives require the participation of all members of society and should take place at all levels of society. Reconciliation processes are just one of the ways that societies can begin to come to terms with the past. Reconciliation is commonly understood as the rebuilding of relationships in societies previously divided by conflict. According to Priscilla Hayner (2002), “Reconciliation implies building and rebuilding relationships today that are not haunted by the conflicts and hatreds of yesterday” (p.161). While the meaning of reconciliation varies across contexts and is open to interpretation by different stakeholders, it is generally a forward−looking process of social rebuilding. Scholars (see Daly and Sarkin, 2007; Hayner, 2002; Verdeja, 2009; Cohen and Yalen, 2003) note that for true reconciliation to be realized, stakeholders at multiple levels need to: • address injustices, • acknowledge the wrongs of the past, • tackle inequalities and other root causes of the conflict, • rewrite new narratives that acknowledge the truths of the past, • recognize the suffering of others, • make available spaces for forgiveness and healing.


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