The Warring Society: Conflict Pervades the Everyday

Sylvette Babin
Leila Zelli. Terrain de jeux, exhibition detail, Galerie de l'UQAM, Montréal, 2019. Photo : Galerie de l'UQAM

“While ‘conventional warfare’ places society under complete political control, new warfare completely merges the social and the political. The warring society penetrates the intimate daily life of every individual, without however being ruled by a political order.”

The new type of war discussed in Nouvelles guerres. Comprendre les conflits du XXIe siècle [New Wars: Understanding the Conflicts of the 21st Century] (1) has gradually emerged in the aftermath of World War II, the Cold War, and 9/11. Less driven by territorial expansion, these wars are characterized by wars of independence and a southward movement of conflicts. According to Bertrand Badie, “the ‘new wars’ reflect the situations of severe social crisis happening in the societies concerned. Far from being the result of intergovernmental competition, they stem from a failure of the state, from its weakness, its inability to assert itself, its lack of legitimacy, its incapacity to deal with social breakdown.” (2) The articles published in this issue convey this finding, according to which conflicts around the world seep into the daily life of individuals, as they examine works that explore and reflect civil wars — internal armed conflicts that destroy communities and displace entire populations — as well as forms of social conflict characterized by the control of hegemonic systems or the impact of global capitalism on the lives of individuals. The essays discuss the trauma or alienation experienced by the members of different groups — extreme vulnerability, distortion of cultural identity, depoliticization of life — but also their daily attempts to transcend the violence of conflicts and even turn it into a cause for action, resistance, and resilience.

Talking about the conflicts experienced by others is a delicate matter. Most of the authors and artists in this issue live in relatively peaceful areas and see wars through the lens of the media. Some, however, have personally experienced war or are aware of its consequences (diaspora and uprooting, identity issues, etc.) through the experiences of their loved ones. The artistic strategies used are therefore as varied as the forms of conflict that inspired them. Images of war are examined, for example, through a rereading of the media’s role and the phenomenon of manipulating information characteristic of many conflicts. Some artists have chosen to reappropriate these images in order to construct new narratives that both criticize and redress. Others refer to recent or still active wars (Kashmir, Russia-Ukraine, Colombia, Iran-Iraq, Israel-Palestine, the former Yugoslavia, and Syria) by revisiting the remains or symbols (borders, walls, bunkers, etc.) or by observing how affected populations manage, despite everything, to have a daily existence.

Since conflicts are not limited to wars, we are also interested, to quote one of our writers, in the “struggle fought at the heart of existence” and the works that attest to the trials and social inequalities created by colonialism, authoritarianism, and biopower. In these essays, we see how these clashes manifest themselves through body language and collective action, for example through the use of passive resistance as a means of infrapolitical action.

Many works ultimately remind us that despite conflict and war, people continue to live their day-to-day, and that life, play, and humour find a place in spite of everything. Those who have come close to death also have a desire to keep the memory of the past alive and a capacity to remain resilient, which, expressed through rituals or songs, contribute to an ode to life. To conclude the feature section, filmmaker Juanita Onzaga tells us that “I build my work around sparks of hope.” She also adds that “we have to fight for this possible future, for this view of what peace could be.”

Translated from the French by Oana Avasilichioaei

Notes
(1) Bertrand Badie and Dominique Vidal (ed.), Nouvelles guerres. Comprendre les conflits du XXIe siècle, (Paris: Éditions La Découverte/Poche, 2016).
(2) Ibid., « Introduction », p. 16 (Our translation).

Caption: Leila Zelli, Leila Zelli. Terrain de jeux, exhibition detail, Galerie de l'UQAM, Montréal, 2019. Photo : Galerie de l'UQAM

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