Connor Bran | January 19, 2019
The Nanovic Institute for European Studies at the University of Notre Dame has awarded the 2019 Laura Shannon Prize in Contemporary European Studies to Max Bergholz for his book “Violence as a Generative Force: Identity, Nationalism, and Memory in a Balkan Community,” published by Cornell University Press.
The Laura Shannon Prize, one of the preeminent prizes for European studies, is awarded each year to the best book in European studies that transcends a focus on any one country, state or people to stimulate new ways of thinking about contemporary Europe as a whole. This year’s cycle of the award considered books in history and social sciences published in 2016 or 2017.
Examining the intercommunal violence in a community on the border of Bosnia and Croatia, “Violence as a Generative Force” received high praise by the jury: “Restrained, humane, and beautifully written, and drawing intelligently on ethnography, psychology, and genocide studies, ‘Violence as a Generative Force’ deserves to be read not only by Europeanists but by anyone seeking to understand the dynamics of mass violence.”
Bergholz shows violence was less a consequence of than a catalyst to ethnic identification and polarization. It was “generative” both in that it took on a dynamic of its own, and in that it could cement — and even fix in memory — ethnic identities that had been much more fluid and contingent.
In this study, Bergholz asks us to think again about the sources, processes and consequences of ethnic violence. When and why do neighbors turn on neighbors? From a careful reading of disparate and challenging sources, Bergholz reconstructs a series of massacres and reprisals that took place in 1941 in the region of Kulen Vakuf in northwest Bosnia and that left many hundreds of men, women and children dead. This was intimate violence: men shot, mutilated or cut the throats of people they often knew; they tossed their bodies into pits or rivers or burned them alive; they stole everything worth stealing and then razed houses and farms. But at each stage of his often disturbing story, Bergholz shows how contingency, local relations and even personal choice affected the course of events: We see how killings could begin when local hoodlums or opportunists were suddenly granted authority and guns; how opportunities for score-settling or looting led others to join in; how fears of reprisals or a desire for vengeance could escalate violence; how the presence or absence of a few particularly respected or determined individuals could tip the balance of who lived or died.
Read more here.