McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
elections, ethnography, Kenya, narrative, postcolonial, violence
The violence that followed the 2007 elections in Kenya caught many people by surprise, including me. Given some familiarity with, and personal connections to, Kenya, this dissertation began first with shock and concern, and later with suspicion of the way the post election violence was presented in the Western media as yet another example of sudden, prolific, and nonsensical outbreaks of violence in Africa. It seemed notable that the violence occurred around political elections and important to explore the stakes therein. A review of available literature on the topic revealed that historical injustices and ethnic inequality seemed to be contributing factors in the post-election violence. A review of the psychological literature pertaining to collective violence raised questions about identity and power, obedience and conformity, and the breakdown of law and order. To the extent to which these factors and principles shed some light on what happened in Kenya, the question remained: what might all of this mean, concretely, in people's lives? Beyond the stories of Western journalists and behavioral scientists, I wanted to know how Kenyans narrated the post-election violence.
I turn to multisited ethnography, a method of research and writing that affords the procedural flexibility to follow the traces of such a complex phenomenon and to reflexively document the process of "finding" and understanding. If what both the Western press and conventional psychology provide tend to be general, abstract, ahistorical explanations of violence, I present a situated account involving a diversity of descriptions and explanations given by Kenyans from various tribes, classes, and political affiliations about the post-election violence and prospects of sustained peace. This includes detailed first person accounts of how things unfolded, or, fell apart. The Kenyans I spoke with narrate the post- election violence by both contextualizing it in (post)colonial history and by personalizing it in a manner that shows ethnicity in Kenya to be highly nuanced and complex. What results from this dissertation is a rearticulation of the post-election violence through revealing relations that have been obscured by the dominant discourse.
Finally, with regard to studying violence and peace, it is assumed that total understanding is impossible; I have been attendant to the challenges associated with understanding and writing about others as subjects of violence. To my project it has been essential to show the places and ways in which discourse on violence necessarily breaks down.
Hamer, J. (2013). Where and When Things Fall Apart: Relating narratives of post-election violence from Nairobi (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/622