Presentation of the research group “Crises, violence, uncertainty”

word cloud representing the research group Crises, violence, uncertainty

Coordination : Sabrina Melenotte and Nicolas Puig 
Current members : Florence Boyer, Erminia Chiara Calabrese, Christelle Hamel, Delphine Lacombe, Françoise Lestage, Claire Médard, Sabrina Melenotte, Nicolas Puig, Valérie Robin, Denis Vidal.
Key words: crises, uncertainty, violence, anthropology

Sensitive and material approaches to conflict

The growing interest in the study of violence in recent years reflects the ongoing situations of crisis and war in many contemporary societies. Despite attempts to avoid it, violence is an object of research that catches up with us and sometimes catches up with us. From the Americas to the Middle East, not forgetting Europe and Africa, conducting research in contexts of war, crisis and uncertainty, i.e. a context of life where the prospect of dramatic events overwhelms everyday life, implies reflecting on how to produce our knowledge in societies grappling with complex social, political and economic dynamics. Violence can be direct and visible, but also latent and threatening, and the question arises as to how to integrate it into our investigations and fields.

This research group proposes to reflect on the way in which the social sciences allow us to think about innovative approaches to extreme and massive violence, deaths and disappearances (forced or not), and other more latent ones that insinuate themselves into everyday practices and imaginations. It aims to understand the multiple expressions of violence in order to make it an object of study that varies according to the context and covers very different situations. This diversity of configurations invites us to take into account the continuities and ruptures of the crisis situations and the violence which cross the countries studied, by privileging a comparative approach which makes it possible to bring out the specificities of each context and discipline, while establishing bridges between them to lead to a renewed and dynamic understanding of the crisis situations and contemporary violence.

The first challenge is methodological

The uncertainty that characterises our contemporary societies obliges researchers with a detailed knowledge of tormented geographical areas to (re)invent ways of working in sensitive, dangerous and even destroyed areas. Producing knowledge in violent or crisis contexts requires first of all a reflection on the research process. Access to the field becomes a material and symbolic space crossed by political and strategic issues in which the researcher deploys himself, which forces him to negotiate with (sometimes armed) actors the conditions of the investigation, or to innovate ways of producing, creating and writing knowledge about the multiple ways in which societies live ‘in’, ‘with’, ‘against’ or ‘after’ experiences of violence, vulnerability, uncertainty and/or exile.

A second challenge is heuristic and concerns the way to qualify research objects such as “war”, “armed conflict”, “civil war”, within uncertain contexts that often escape homogeneous and predefined criteria: for example, how to qualify lasting conflicts or crises, especially when they do not necessarily fall within the standards of international organisations? What are the cultural, political and social effects of these lasting conflicts on civilian populations, which are often caught in the crossfire? Is it still relevant to talk about ‘crises’ when violence is ongoing, chronic, intense, even extreme and massive, but embedded in everyday and ‘ordinary’ life?

A third challenge is epistemological and questions the construction of our disciplinary fields.
The different social science disciplines do not approach scientific production on violence and post-violence in the same way. While anthropology has long been reluctant to deal with violence, particularly political violence, due to cultural relativism and the colonial heritage that prevented it from addressing contemporary political issues, today, on the contrary, the ethnographic method provides the anthropological discipline with privileged tools that political science borrows and that seem to be the most capable of restoring the “states of emergency” or the invisible violence that crosses our fields.

Crossed approaches Middle East / Americas / Africa

This research group will therefore encourage reflexive and collective work to conduct qualitative and sensitive research on situations of conflict, violence and uncertainty and to produce knowledge in crisis, war or post-conflict.

In the Middle East, research has been confronted with wars from the outset and has succeeded in pursuing its scientific activities, but it is only recently that war “in the making” has been tackled head-on as an object of study, under the impetus of renewed research, in history and political sociology in particular, in Lebanese, Palestinian, Iraqi, Syrian and Jordanian societies.

In Latin America, particularly in Mexico and Peru, a particularly active civil society, which includes the families of victims, NGOs, artists and churches, is actively contributing to the production of both intellectual and sensitive knowledge of contemporary violence.

We will take as our starting point the cases of Lebanon and Mexico as two key situations in the regions in which they are located (the Americas and the Middle East), as these two countries have become examples in recent years of multiple and embedded situations of violence, the effects of which have yet to be grasped.

Other situations may of course be included in the course of our discussions.



This research group is in the process of being formalised and was the subject of rich exchanges during the URMIS General Assembly in Nice in June-July 2021. As both coordinators are abroad, the RG is currently focusing on its consolidation and on the production of deliverables.

The RG is open to PhD and post-doctoral students of the laboratory, as well as to IRD and CNRS applicants interested in URMIS.


A collective work on “anthropologies in situations of violence” which will be offered in memory of Martine Hovanessian.

An issue of scientific journal on sensitive and sonorous approaches to conflicts in the Middle East and the Americas (Africa and Asia as well if possible).

Axes envisaged within the RG and articulation with the URMIS axis of Power and Belongings

Materialities and sensitivities of conflicts: necropolitics, disappearances, mourning

Necropolitics”, also seen as a “continuum of violence” – in the context of mass deaths, political violence or migration – can be approached through the circulation of the dead and the management of death, by reflecting on the management and treatment of dead bodies or their absence (via the mobilised substitutes), and on the role of rituals (civic, secular or religious) in the reconstruction of collectives bruised by loss and doubt.

The forensic turn in the social sciences has placed forensic and judicial expertise at the centre of several investigations, i.e. the identification of bodies, the drawing up of reports, enquiries, etc., which work in a more or less concerted manner with the families of victims.

Erminia Chiara Calabrese has been working on the experiences of combatants between Lebanon and Syria since 2012. She is particularly interested in the effects of armed combat in the private and intimate sphere; she pays attention to the return (or not) of fighting bodies from Syria and to what the waiting generates within domestic households in Lebanon.

Christelle Hamel is interested in this judicial chain from the police officer to the magistrate, via lawyers and doctors in France, in relation to sexual violence. She is also working on a survey and characterisation of murders committed in France, in a context of peace, based on a variety of sources, press articles, and administrative data, with a view to establishing a statistical picture of murders committed over the last few decades.

Within the framework of the ANR Transfunéraire, Valérie Robin is pursuing her research in Peru on the politics of reparations and the material and symbolic care of the dead from armed conflicts at the end of the 20th century. She is interested in the funerary treatment given to them, in particular collective reburials and the ritual, religious and political bricolages implemented to deal with fragmented bodies, anonymous bodies or the absence of bodies.

Claire Médard, in the ANR SALMEA, works on local moralities, and analyses interethnic violence from the point of view of cemeteries and the challenges of burying people.

Françoise Lestage has been working for a long time on death in migration in Latin America (especially in Mexico) and has started new research on the same theme on the French-Italian border.

Sabrina Melenotte analyses the research of the families of missing persons who go on their tracks as ritual, semantic and material innovations that emerge after extreme and massive violence, as well as the profound familial (gendered), socio-economic and ethno-racial reconfigurations induced by the new boundaries between death and politics.

In Lebanon, Nicolas Puig works on the embedding of situations of violence, including historical ones, which determine the relationship to the present and the modes of existence. Without establishing a strict causal relationship, he examines the way in which uncertainty, understood as latent violence present in everyday life, is inscribed in the bodies through practices that are mainly female, and through the transformation of psychic states (consumption of benzodiazepines) and morphological states (bodily transformations).

Florence Boyer associates burials (from ritualised body theft, kinship and joking, to disguised bodies) with questions of land and property (wife buried in the husband’s village).

Denis Vidal recalls the practice of cremation of bodies in India, where Brahmins bring ashes to natural sites such as the Ganges.

Gendered and racialised/ethnicised dimensions of violence

The issue here is to articulate intertwined and often invisible violence: economic (Lebanon), political (Peru, Mexico) and/or criminal (Mexico), migratory (Mediterranean), revolutionary (Nicaragua), inter-ethnic (Kenya), witchcraft and violence, etc. Some gender-based violence is clearly part of wider political violence (Nicaragua, Mexico), even if it takes place in domestic spaces, such as feminicide (Mexico, France). Other violence is ethnically targeted in the context of electoral mobilisations (Kenya 2022). Similarly, gendered differentiations are established in many political imaginaries, and even in public policies, such as maternal figures or wives who claim the bodies of the disappeared or the deceased and become politicised, becoming real ‘natural’ figures of resilience (Lebanon, Mexico). Conversely, how can we reflect in a dynamic and renewed way on the plural masculinities that are composed according to their social status, their class, their race, in contexts where the majority of violence is masculine?

Memories of violence: from testimony to art

In contexts of crisis and conflict, there are multiple temporal regimes: before, during and after the violence are intertwined. Often, institutional responses are insufficient, and the production of shared knowledge with local researchers is a bulwark against the silence imposed by the violence or the absence of official memorial policies: for example, in Iraq or Syria, but also in Mexico, “living” or “civil” memory consists in concrete terms of collecting, documenting and systematising data against the oblivion of war, as an injunction to researchers to face up to their responsibility towards the society they are studying, as well as towards their colleagues and the generations to come. Often, violence is revived and painful memories are revived at specific moments (elections, crises, commemorations, etc.) and in specific spaces (streets, cemeteries, etc.). Moreover, sexuality and gender in post-revolutionary art would allow us to reflect on the devirilisation of former armed actors and the misappropriation of revolutionary iconographic referents (Central America, Nicaragua).

Sensitive, sensory and sound approaches to crisis situations

This axis focuses on an approach based on the perceptions and constructions of sound environments within disputed and highly hierarchical spaces. Nicolas Puig‘s main field of work is the Sabra-Chatila complex, two distinct but strongly connected places (a camp managed by the UNRWA and a cosmopolitan commercial space). In these spaces he deploys different sound methodologies to approach central questions of history, memory and the dynamics of belonging.

Michel Tabet (LAS) will be associated with the project with his filmic study on “inhabiting Beirut” after the explosion of the port on August 4, 2022. An event that revives the memories of previous tragedies, updating them in a cyclical apprehension of time and pain.

It is worth reflecting on what it means to carry out collaborative research with civil society actors, NGOs and artists, in order to respond to the new challenges and issues of contemporary societies marked by the seal of multiple violence. For example, the Mook Mexico: A Land of the Disappeared constituted a first sensitive exercise in disseminating to the ‘general public’ a collective knowledge that integrates a collaboration between anthropologists, sociologists and photographers, and proposes a renewed anthropological writing. Sabrina Melenotte also plans to explore further the “soundscapes of disappearance” in Mexico.

“Environmental violence”

This last axis is more experimental and focuses on a notion that needs to be explored in greater depth, but which is born of a shared concern today: the link between violence and the environment.
How to survive and prepare for the worst in countries in crisis like Lebanon, or at war like Ukraine? How can we survive without water, without medicine, without petrol? Who are the profiteers of a war that manifests itself in the economy of survival, in the violence of rationing (petrol, food, medicine), in economic inequality? How do the conditions of survival in countries already in crisis foreshadow what awaits the world as a whole, forcing us to revisit our ‘segmented’ paradigms and to prefer increasingly integral and comprehensive analyses of crises and intertwined violence? How can we (re)think about the environmental violence underlying the Anthropocene and induced by extractivist logics, polluted and violent landscapes, invaded by new invasive species, and burned?