. 3
( 11)


cefully defend the holy sites (Monk 2002). A British appointed Com-
mission of Inquiry examined the situation; in these hearings Muslims
made it clear that they faced an imminent danger in the form of Jewish
plans not only to create a Jewish state in Palestine, but also to take over
the Muslim holy sites and rebuild a temple in their place (Friedland and
Hecht 1991, Monk, 2002).
By the late 1930s there was a courageous and broad-based Palestinian
revolt against imperialist British rule and continuing Zionist land acqui-
sition. The revolt was ¬nally crushed through British military force that
included a good deal of British“Zionist coordination. By its end, most of
the Arab leaders were jailed, killed, or exiled. Although the heroic revolt
ultimately failed, it generated widespread support and brought social
changes in its wake. ˜˜[T]he violence was the sign of [a] steadily unfolding
national movement and the unanimity among Palestinian Arabs about the

Kimmerling and Migdal argue that the beginnings of Palestinian nationalism and
resistance are rooted in the revolt against Egyptian control of the region starting in 1834
(1993: 5“20)
In addition, however, there were signi¬cant internal divisions within Palestinian society:
those among the large powerful families who had previously dominated the society, as
well as economic tensions between the countryside and the towns and emerging cities
(Khalidi 1997; Kimmerling and Migdal 1993).

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

Zionist threat™™ and a continuation of the anti-imperial struggle of 1929
(Kimmerling and Migdal 1993: 98). There were urban and rural actions,
symbolic expressions of national unity, and a newer style of leader “ less
likely to come from the old noble families “ rose to the fore. However,
rather than responding to Palestinian concerns, the British used the
events to propose partition, and Jews strengthened their own military
At the conclusion of World War II, as Jewish immigration of
European refugees increased once again and it was clear that the British
would soon leave the region, the Palestinians found themselves faced with
a UN partition plan. When it was adopted and ¬ghting broke out, the
Palestinians ¬rst hoped to defeat the Jews militarily with the help of
neighboring Arab states. However, by May 1948 the Palestinians found
themselves defeated and displaced. Many were expelled from their homes
or ¬‚ed when faced with Jewish threats; by the end of the war, over 350
Arab villages had disappeared and the Arab populations of cities such
as Jaffa or Haifa were a tiny fraction of what they had been just a few
years earlier (Kimmerling and Migdal 1993: 127). Events such as the
massacre of dozens of Arab inhabitants, including women and children, at
Deir Yassin in early April 1948 served as warnings of the threats Arab
villagers faced and as a symbol of Jewish injustice (Morris 2001: 207“09).
Palestinian fear and the pace of exodus increased further as between a half
and one million Palestinians became refugees living in squalid camps, as
victims of a monumental injustice (Morris 1988; Kimmerling and Migdal
1993: 128“29).
Dislocated and disorganized, Palestinian resistance was slow to
develop, and was often complicated by the efforts of the Arab states, who
had been ineffective against Israel in 1948, to control it. Arabs who
remained in Israel received Israeli citizenship but suffered from dis-
crimination, while those living in the West Bank and Gaza were under
Jordanian and Egyptian rule. In addition, there were thousands more
Palestinians living in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.
Israelis refused to acknowledge Palestinian identity; or to acknowledge
Palestinian national aspirations as legitimate (Jamal 2000); in the words of
former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, ˜˜There is no such thing as a
Palestinian people.™™
After 1967, Palestinians developed three different heroic images of
national resistance (Kimmerling and Migdal 1993: 211“12). The ¬rst
to emerge was that of the warrior who sacri¬ced for his community,
The political psychology of competing narratives

associated with exile groups, the most prominent of which was Yasser
Arafat™s PLO (Kimmerling and Migdal 1993: 212). Within both Israel
and the occupied territories, as Palestinians began to make political
demands such as the complaints over never-ending Israeli land expro-
priation that Palestinians have marked annually from 1976 as Land Day,
there emerged the heroic image of the steadfast survivor; this served as a
reminder of pre-1948 Palestine. Lastly, from the ¬rst Intifada a
third heroic image emerged “ that of ˜˜the child of the stone,™™ the young
martyr confronting the occupation with his body and meager weapons
(Kimmerling and Migdal 1993: 212).25
By the late 1980s, the PLO had moved toward recognizing Israel™s
right to exist. Following the PLO™s decision to support Iraq in the Gulf
War, international efforts to produce a peace agreement increased. The
1991 Madrid Conference provided a forum for public talks, although the
PLO was not of¬cially invited; the subsequent secret Oslo negotiations
produced a preliminary agreement that Yasser Arafat and Prime Minister
Rabin signed at the White House in 1993. It recognized Israel™s right to
exist, called for the establishment of a Palestinian Authority, a provisional
government in the West Bank and Gaza, a return of the PLO from Tunis,
and it provided a ¬ve-year window for the conclusion of a ¬nal status
agreement that would address the toughest issues that were not settled in
Oslo “ those of an independent Palestinian state, ¬nal border arrange-
ments, the status of Jerusalem, the return of refugees, and Israeli security
concerns. By 1995, however, Palestinians felt that Israel was not fully
abiding by the interim agreement and that they had received few tangible
bene¬ts from the end to terror and their political acceptance of Israel.
When Rabin™s assassination by an Ultra-Orthodox Jew removed the man
who had shaken Arafat™s hand at the White House, splits within the
Palestinians increased and there was a return to violence. When right-
wing leader Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, tension increased; it
was further in¬‚amed when Israel, without consultation, decided to open
an archeological tunnel running along the western wall of the Haram
which Palestinians said would threaten the site™s foundations.
Bill Clinton, with only six months left as president, spearheaded a ¬nal
effort to reach an agreement, inviting Arafat and Prime Minister Ehud

This image emphasized an Islamic discourse as ˜˜even the most secular and national
¬gures appropriated cultural symbols that had strong Islamic resonances™™ (Kimmerling
and Migdal 1993: 270). It also recalls the story of David and Goliath.

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

Barak to Camp David in July 2000. Palestinians discovered there was
active collusion between Clinton and Barak and the meetings failed to
achieve an agreement. Violence broke out two months later after oppo-
sition leader Ariel Sharon went to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, in
a symbolic assertion of Israeli sovereignty. The violence escalated within
Israel and the occupied territories. Although negotiations continued,
Clinton offered a set of bridging proposals in his last month in of¬ce and
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators came very close to an agreement in
January 2001. However, by that time Ariel Sharon had been elected prime
minister and was due to take of¬ce shortly (Agha and Malley 2001;
Pressman 2003; Pundak 2001). Over the next six years, the violence on
both sides increased and an agreement seemed further off than ever as
trust between the parties reached its lowest point and there were no
outside actors capable of providing an incentive to reach an agreement.
Sharon and his American supporters refused to deal with Arafat and
created impossible preconditions for the start of negotiations, strength-
ening the hand of Palestinians advocating violence. When President
Mahmoud Abbas came into of¬ce in 2005, he was able to get Hamas and
other Islamic organizations to agree to a cease¬re with Israel prior to the
2006 Palestinian elections. However, Israel continued to refuse to engage
in serious negotiations and continued to take unilateral moves, building a
fence that cut into the West Bank, and refusing to coordinate their
withdrawal from Gaza with the PA. Palestinians feel they have made
greater compromises than Israelis have to date and have little to show for
it “ not even sincere acceptance of their national aspirations ( Jamal 2000).

Conclusion: competing narratives
The competing Israeli and Palestinian narratives offer different accounts
of what seem to many people to be the same historical events. While there
are a number of points of contact between them, the Israeli and Palesti-
nian narratives differ in how they selectively emphasize and judge events,
people, and motivations, and in the metaphors and images they draw
upon. Jews stress the return to, and recovery of, their ancient homeland
after centuries of exile and persecution. Palestinians see themselves as
victims of a catastrophe not of their own making. However, ˜˜in the misery
of the camps “ in the permanence of temporariness “ refugees developed a
powerful new nationalism. Its fuel was longing and injustice, humiliation
and degradation [and] . . . at its heart was a vision of retuning to a Lost
The political psychology of competing narratives

Garden™™ (Kimmerling and Migdal 1993: 279). Thus, the core images and
feelings are similar, but neither narrative acknowledges the pain felt by
the other side. Each attributes great responsibility for the con¬‚ict to the
other while offering little recognition of how its own actions, exclusive
demands, and motivations have contributed to it. In these accounts, each
focuses on its own fears and the threats the other poses as a reason for its
own claims and actions. Through the externalization of responsibility,
each side has come to demand in-group conformity and assert its moral
superiority as the basis for its positions.
Each side draws very different lessons from their experiences “ ones
that are bolstered by the demonic image of the other that each has built.
Palestinians focus on events such as Deir Yasin in 1948 and Jews point to
the 1929 massacres in Hebron each seeing evidence for the notion that the
other culture is murderous and uncompromising (Kimmerling and Migdal
1993: 152). It would be very wrong, however, to see these as examples of
people ˜˜stuck in the past™™ or of ˜˜ancient hatreds™™ that drive con¬‚ict.
Rather, these events come to represent eternal lessons which are perilous
to ignore. As a result, mutual fear and anxiety feed expectations of future
threats and produce behaviors consistent with each side™s worst fears,
making peace all the more remote.
For the most part, Palestinian and Israeli narratives have reinforced
negative images of the other side and their motives, have exacerbated
tensions, and have portrayed the situation in terms of zero-sum identities
that have limited the ability of the opposing sides to search for, and agree
to, arrangements that would allow for settlement of the con¬‚ict such as a
two-state solution. While the narratives have not directly caused the
con¬‚ict, their mutually exclusive representations, and their widespread
acceptance within each group, have made the con¬‚ict™s continuation
easier and the task of peacemakers more dif¬cult.
There have been several striking moments when the two narratives
moved toward mutual acknowledgment. For Israel, the most dramatic
shifts occurred relatively quickly around the Sadat visit to Jerusalem and
the Camp David agreement in the late 1970s, and at the time of the Oslo
accord in the 1990s. On both occasions, Israelis responded very positively
to Arab acceptance and spoke of accommodation and coexistence with
their neighbors. For Palestinians, the decade after the ¬rst Intifada saw a
signi¬cant shift in public discourse moving from a refusal to recognize
Israel™s right to existence to partial acceptance and clear willingness to
accept a viable two-state solution. There was disagreement among
Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

observers, however, about the extent to which this change represented a
genuine change of position or was a tactical maneuver to legitimate the
Palestinians in the eyes of the Europeans and other third parties.
Since 2000, the narratives on both sides have hardened once again into
mutually exclusive positions as each side has engaged in increasing vio-
lence against the other. By 2002, Israel, with American backing, refused to
deal with Arafat, insisting that he ˜˜was no longer a partner for peace™™ and
imposed preconditions on the Palestinians that made negotiations vir-
tually impossible. At the same time, few Palestinians thought there could
be successful negotiations as long as Ariel Sharon headed the Israeli
government; many began to see South Africa as an appropriate analogy
for their situation, vowing that the appropriate strategy was one of
patience until the day when they might achieve a democratic state in the
land that historically was Palestine.


Narratives and performance: ritual enactment
and psychocultural dramas in ethnic con¬‚ict

Contested cultural expressions are frequently focal points in ethnic
con¬‚ict. In these con¬‚icts, psychocultural narratives and identities are
invoked and reinforced through public actions. Participation in these
expressions can be ¬‚eeting or prolonged, mundane or esoteric, active or
passive, and easy or costly. Some actions are highly marked and occur only
on particular days in special, sacred places while others are ordinary,
everyday behaviors (Kertzer 1988). What are crucial to all of them, how-
ever, are the almost automatic affective connections people make between
the symbolic expressions and the within-group bonds they strengthen.
Most public behaviors produce few strong reactions. The public
contentious expressions that do spark strong and contrasting reactions
organized around divergent social and political identities are those of
particular interest here. These expressions provoke intense in-group
feelings that we variously call patriotism, nationalism, ethnic pride, or
group loyalty, as well as out-group fear and anger. At the same time, it is not
the forms of expression themselves that do this; most parades, museum
presentations, athletic contests, concerts, and religious ceremonies are
just reassuring or entertaining. How is it, then, that the range of reactions
to the same cultural expressions varies from reassuring to entertaining to
threatening? The answer is that understanding cultural expressions and
performances means considering not just the nature and content of the
events but also how in-group and out-group audiences respond to them.
A given parade, for example, can, at the same time, comfort, amuse,
entertain, and threaten because divergent group psychocultural narratives
interpret the same expressions or actions so differently.

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

Many of the expressions of interest here are highly ritualistic and are
often mundane behaviors containing powerful symbols that evoke abstract
images and strong feelings. For example, consider the difference between
waving a piece of colored cloth versus a cloth designated as a national ¬‚ag
in front of a crowd. As physical acts these are indistinguishable, but the
reactions to them are often highly divergent. It is this divergence in group
reactions that characterizes cultural contestation and that leads many to
conclude that the differences over them are irresolvable. Also important
in evoking memories and emotions are sacred sites, places that have
intense emotional signi¬cance for people because of their association with
a group™s identity. Sometimes these are religious sites but they can also be
former battle¬elds, monuments, or memorials that are physical links to a
group™s sacred experiences, memories, and identity.1 Other focal points of
con¬‚ict are museums and other cultural expressions, such as those found
in cultural festivals, which recount and legitimize important elements in a
group™s narrative. What joins these different speci¬c cultural expressions
is their signi¬cance for the construction and maintenance of the group, its
identity, and its relationship with other groups.
While explicit con¬‚ict around cultural identities is common, con-
testation and organization around cultural expressions can be more or less
explicit depending upon how the parties “ and particularly the weaker
group “ de¬ne their goals and actions. Anthropologist Abner Cohen
draws our attention to contests, perhaps best described by his term
˜˜masquerade politics,™™ in which ethnic and cultural organizations indir-
ectly, and not necessarily consciously or explicitly, meet important poli-
tical needs when explicit political organization around ethnic identity is
either not possible or not strategically viable. Cohen has examined
˜˜politics articulated in terms of non-political cultural forms such as
religion, kinship, and the arts™™ (Cohen 1993: ix) and he argues that in
urban society it is common for economic and political power struggles to
take place ˜˜in the form of a cultural movement™™ (Cohen 1993:1).
In his early work, Cohen studied the complex relationships between
cultural and political organization in West African cities. In the 1960s he
found that among Hausa traders in the Yoruba city of Ibadan af¬liated
with the Muslim Tijanyi brotherhood, their close religious connections
served political communications, coordination, and identity needs (Cohen

Volkan (1988) uses the term ˜˜linking objects™™ referring to objects or representations that
mediate between the internal and external world.

Narratives and performance

1969). Similarly, he showed how among the Creoles of Sierra Leone, Free
Masonry provided an organizational framework for members of the small,
but well-placed minority to achieve political communication and coor-
dination (Cohen 1981). In both situations, cultural organizations pro-
vided the mechanism for the pursuit of political goals. Cohen further
developed his analysis of this same phenomenon in his study of the
Notting Hill (London) Carnival. The yearly carnival in the heart of
London ˜˜is essentially a cultural, artistic spectacle, saturated by music,
dancing and drama; it is always political, intimately and dynamically
related to the political order and to the struggle for power within it™™
(Cohen 1993: 4).
The linkage between cultural enactment and politics is the focus of this
chapter, which has three sections. The ¬rst examines cultural expressions
as performances and enactment “ spelling out the dynamics of cultural
contestation through a discussion of political rituals, chosen traumas and
glories, pilgrimages, and festivals. The second section develops the con-
cept of the psychocultural drama, derived from Victor Turner™s (1957;
1974) notion of the social drama, as a tool to link cultural expressions and
psychocultural narratives in order to analyze how the parties frame their
own and others™ goals and actions in con¬‚ict, and the important role that
ritual plays in settling them. Placing ritual actions at the center of the
analysis does not mean we should ignore real differences in interests; it
does, however, make us aware of the role of ritual in escalation and set-
tlement of con¬‚ict, as well as the need to ¬nd both ritual and substantive
solutions to bridge the competing parties™ differences. The third section
argues that ritual acknowledgment through inclusive public speech, and
action involving culturally rooted symbolic gestures, offers a mechanism
for bridging emotional differences among groups, lowering the threats
they feel, and achieving some degree of reconciliation in long-term
Chapters 4“10 then go on to offer an analysis of speci¬c cases of
cultural contestation in which identity, collectively held worldviews, and
within-group solidarity are mobilized. In these cases groups often ¬nd it
necessary to establish and legitimate their collective past in order to make
political claims. To do this, people readily turn to cultural evidence.2
Today it is not generally acceptable to make simple biological or racial claims about the
group. This was certainly not always the case. Nineteenth-century nationalist rhetoric
was ¬lled with biological assumptions. The language of self-determination following
World War I was also built around the assumption that national groups were biological,

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

In this process, it is often the case that physical objects such as arche-
ological evidence can have great signi¬cance when it provides material
evidence that concretizes an abstract identity and political claims.3 It
hardly matters that potsherds, ancient jewelry, or building fragments
rarely provide speci¬c evidence for past political and social identity. Rather
what is important is that people believe they do. As the present is read into
the past, a descending anachronism, current identities are mapped onto
ancient places and objects. As a result, intense con¬‚icts occur over the
social and political signi¬cance of ancient objects that embody group
identity and are used to substantiate modern political claims.4 Heritage
from this perspective becomes sacred heritage, and issues of memory,
voice, and control of the past assume central signi¬cance in contemporary
political con¬‚ict.

Cultural expressions as performance

Rituals are behaviors whose central elements and the contexts in which
they take place are emotionally meaningful because of what they repre-
sent. In many rituals, people™s actions are particularly mundane and the
moods and motivations they elicit have to be seen through their con-
nections to the social and political identities. In examining politically
signi¬cant rituals, Geertz™s distinction between rituals that are models of
reality and those that are models for reality is valuable (Geertz 1973b). ˜˜In
the ¬rst, what is stressed is the manipulation of symbol structures so as to
bring them more or less closely into parallel with the pre-established
nonsymbolic systems . . . it is a model of ˜reality™. In the second what is
stressed is the manipulation of the nonsymbolic systems in terms of the
relations expressed in the symbolic™™ (1973b: 93). He then adds, ˜˜Culture

not just cultural, entities. For elaboration of the underlying assumptions about kinship and
family as the basis of ethnic communities, see Horowitz (1985: ch. 2). For a discussion and
analysis of change in the twentieth century from biological to cultural explanations of
groups and the differences among them in the United States in social science and popular
thought, see Jacobson (1998).
This is discussed at greater length in Chapter 6.
During the nineteenth century European nationalism utilized archeological evidence to
trace each nation™s history, and archeology moved from an earlier focus on human
evolution to one of recounting the story of speci¬c nations (Kohl 1998; Kohl and
Fawcett 1995).

Narratives and performance

patterns have an intrinsic double aspect: they give meaning, that is,
objective conceptual form, to social and psychological reality both by
shaping themselves to it and shaping it to themselves™™ (1993b: 93).
Cultural performances are expressions that communicate core parts of a
group™s self-understood identity and history. The cultural performances of
particular interest here are those used to build or bolster political narra-
tives and claims based on them. Normally we think of people as perfor-
mers, but Kirshenblatt-Gimblett (1998) argues that objects in museums™
presentations or public exhibitions, festivals, fairs, memorial and tourist
sites perform as well. Performances, as she analyzes them, simultaneously
re¬‚ect and produce plausible accounts of a group™s past and present.5
Repetitive cultural rituals are a crucial way of creating and solidifying
collective memories that are transmitted over time (Connerton 1989;
Jarman 1997). Participation in a wide range of activities such as festivals
and commemorative ceremonies are important in Connerton™s analysis in
which he emphasizes that rites are not merely expressive; rites are not
merely formal; and rites are not limited in their effect to ritual occasions
(1989: 44). Rituals commemorate continuity and in so doing shape
communal memory (Connerton 1989: 48). Invented rituals often begin
long after the events they mark, as we noted earlier. In addition, ˜˜Ritual is
not only an alternative way of expressing certain beliefs, but that certain
things can be expressed only in ritual™™ (Connerton 1989: 54). Ritual has
its own performative, formalized language encoded in postures, gestures
and movements (Connerton 1989: 58“59). He adds:
I approached ritual not as a type of symbolic representation but as a species of
performative, and to this end contrasted myths, as reservoirs of possibility on
which variations can be played, and rituals, on which no such variation is per-
missible . . . In doing so I underlined the cultural pervasiveness of performances
which explicitly re-enact other actions that are represented as prototypical; and to
this end I itemized the rhetoric of that re-enactment, calendrical, verbal and
gestural. What, then, is being remembered in commemorative ceremonies? Part
of the answer is that a community is reminded of its identity as represented by and
told in a master narrative . . . Its master narrative is more than a story told and
re¬‚ected on; it is a cult enacted. An image of the past, even in the form of a master
narrative, is conveyed and sustained by ritual performances . . . [To be effective
for participants, they must not just be cognitively competent] they must be
habituated to those performances.
(Connerton 1989: 70“71)

This view of heritage also stresses its commodi¬cation.

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

States are keenly aware of the value of ritual performances that
enhance their legitimacy and the political loyalty of their citizens, and all
states have ceremonial occasions, which are moments of high ritual that
assert the state™s power and legitimacy. State rituals mark occasions such
as political transitions, national holidays, military victories, the deaths of
leaders, and the achievements of past and present heroes. State rituals
take many forms and vary along a number of dimensions such as their
size, degree of organization, key participants, and the emotions they
evoke. Some of these celebrations are planned in advance and follow a
calendric cycle, while others are a response to unfolding events. In both,
the state invariably takes the lead in their organization and in determining
the inclusion of national symbols and personalities intended to evoke
strong affective response to the ceremonies. These large-scale rituals
involve elaborate pomp and ceremony, and often large numbers of
To be effective, rituals require an audience that is physically present,
although in the electronic era there is often large-scale participation in
rituals through the media. Increasingly, such events, while requiring a live
audience, are choreographed with the even larger number of worldwide
live viewers in mind. Dayan and Katz (1992) use the term media events to
describe televised historic events “ many of which are state occasions “
that trans¬x a nation or the world. Examples include royal weddings and
funerals, coronations, Olympic games, funerals of world leaders, and
international visits.6 During these high holidays of mass communication,
daily routines are suspended and community is emphasized, and settings
such as homes or schools in which families, friends, and coworkers view
the events are transformed into public spaces. Dayan and Katz (1992)
identify three main themes in the scripts of media events: (1) rule-gov-
erned battles of champions that produce heroes; (2) conquest “ giant leaps
forward in which the hero reaches human limits; and (3) coronation,
recognition, and glori¬cation of the hero. Not all media events, they note,
are pre-planned. Notable examples of media events include the 1963
Kennedy assassination and funeral, the 1994 O. J. Simpson car chase on
the LA freeway, and coverage of the 9/11 attacks on the WTC and the
Pentagon. As restorative events, Katz and Dayan argue that media
events present an idealization of the past that reinforces dominant
paradigms, while at the same time inventing traditions, sometimes quite

We probably should add the live coverage of wars on 24 hour news stations such as CNN.

Narratives and performance

self-consciously.7 Common themes in media events are their emphasis on
communitas (the feeling of connections among people across time and
space) and camaraderie, the personalization of power, and conferring
status on persons and issues.
Rituals and symbols can generate powerful messages about a regime
and its leaders and are routinely part of political mobilization and
opposition. States are well aware of opponents™ potential use of ritual and
at times go to great lengths to limit, and even prohibit them.8 When
opposition is particularly aligned with a society™s social and cultural
cleavages, cultural institutions and practices, such of those of religious
groups, are often a prominent part of an opposition™s political actions.
Examples of this phenomenon include the American Civil Rights
Movement™s reliance on southern black church congregations for orga-
nizational support and the expression of equality demands in broad reli-
gious terms, the use of religious appeals and the mosques to mobilize
support for the Iranian revolution, and Gandhi™s emphasis on Hindu
symbols in his hunger strikes and other non-violent political actions.9
Alongside state-sponsored, or inspired, ceremonies are more low-key
daily activities that involve ritualistic political actions that are rarely
thought about self-consciously. Some of these include displaying symbols
such as national ¬‚ags and photos of present and past leaders, and playing a
national anthem at sporting events and in movie theaters. One is some-
times aware of these only in periods of stress and con¬‚ict when group
identities are contested. In visits to divided societies, the paucity of such
unifying activities is often clear as there are few symbols and rituals which
people in competing groups share. At Queens University in Belfast, ˜˜God
Save the Queen™™ is no longer played at important ritual occasions such as
commencement because perhaps half of the people in attendance see it as
the recognition of a political claim they reject, the union of Northern
Ireland and Britain into the United Kingdom. Rather than provoke two
counter demonstrations at the graduation ceremonies, the university

Princess Diana™s funeral, watched by millions worldwide, offered an interesting
combination of well-known rituals in sacred sites along with new, invented, emotionally
signi¬cant components.
States ban many sorts of events including religious ceremonies, political meetings, parades,
anniversary celebrations, pilgrimages, and memorialization.
It is not an accident that all three of these examples link religious symbols and political
action. Religion is an especially rich source of cultural images and rituals as well as
organizational resources.

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

simply leaves the anthem off the program, a decision that continues to
anger many of the region™s Protestants.
New, revolutionary regimes have a particularly acute problem in that
having rejected the values and practices of the ancien regime, they need to
develop new rituals and symbols that are not linked to the regime they
displaced but still are emotionally meaningful to citizens. Following the
destruction of royal and religious symbols during the French Revolution,
the revolutionary regime self-consciously developed republican rituals
and symbols such as new terms of address, a new calendar, new forms of
dress, and new norms of interpersonal behavior (Soboul 1974). Large
processions and festivals celebrating the revolution and its heroes marked
newly established civic holidays (Lane 1981: 262“66).
A more recent example is that of the Soviet Union following the 1917
Revolution. As in the French case, the new Soviet rulers found little in the
symbolic and ritual past from which they could draw (Lane 1981). To
some extent, Marxist-Leninist ideology and the October Revolution itself
provided a good deal of raw material that was integrated into state symbol
and ritual. After several decades, however, there was a clear realization
that the grand rituals of state were not the only ones the society needed.
In the mid 1960s the Communist Party™s Central Committee ˜˜singled out
the introduction of new secular rituals as an important way to reduce
religious involvement™™ and the Council of Ministers decreed a need for
the elaboration and introduction of new civic rituals (Lane 1981: 46). The
new rituals were intended to provide an emotional expression of the
current way of life, the progressive ideals and communist morality, a
synthesis of the logical and emotional, an atheist direction, inter-
nationalism, and universality (Lane 1981: 47). The result was state-
sponsored invention of ritual throughout the USSR™s Republics that paid
attention to many elements of the yearly cycles and life cycles of ordinary
Lane (1981) describes the wide range of rituals the Soviets developed,
such as familial lifecycle rituals associated with birth, marriage, and death;
rituals linking people to the collectivity including initiation into youth
organizations and coming of age, labor rituals, calendrical cycle holidays,
and patriotic and revolutionary holidays. Responses to the new rituals
were mixed. There was widespread participation in some, while others
languished and participation in them was low. Lane suggests that there
was the greatest acceptance in areas where national churches or religions
were weakest and economic development was greatest (Lane 1981: 242).
Narratives and performance

There was also variation across rituals, and she found there was much
greater acceptance of lifecycle rituals such as those marking marriage and
the birth of a child than for funerals. Similarly, participation in mass
political holidays was far greater than participation in initiations into
social and political collectivities (Lane 1981: 239“51).
Many ritual expressions that are of particular interest here are not state
organized or sanctioned. Sometimes cultural performances that are
meaningful to one group are simply ignored by others. At other times,
however, public cultural performances become politicized (if they were
not already) and provoke counter demonstrations and alternative rituals.
In Israel, as was pointed out in Chapter 2, Jewish Israelis celebrate the
anniversary of Israel™s independence each May. In recent years, Palesti-
nian Israelis publicly commemorate Al Nakba, the catastrophe, which
places the same events in 1948 in an entirely different frame.
Chosen traumas and chosen glories, discussed in Chapter 2, often
contain the core images for memorial celebrations and national holidays
that recount a group™s emotionally signi¬cant narrative. While there can
be signi¬cant variation in the speci¬cs of how they are recounted and
marked, a common feature is that these celebrations are occasions for
retelling a group™s narrative in a participatory format. Participation in
cultural celebrations is a crucial mechanism for maintaining powerful
psychocultural narratives and the memories associated with them,
although there is often great variation in the nature of participation,
ranging from observing a performance that includes festive and solemn
elements to taking part in one that requires months or even years of
preparation and can involve high cost and risk to participants. Some are
solemn, and controversial, acts such as the US government™s decision to
allow confederate veterans to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery
or the creation of Martin Luther King, Jr.™s birthday as a national holi-
day. Others are lighter such as the presidential phone call to the Super
Bowl winners and the obligatory visit to the White House in the fol-
lowing weeks. Through involvement in enactments, the emotional sal-
ience of events is often reinforced in ways that are more powerful
than verbal accounts alone (Jarman 1997, Verba 1961). As a result, the
narrative™s key metaphors and lessons become accessible for everyday
political discourse and, in periods of high stress, political leaders readily
turn to its core images when they seek support for favored action

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

Cultural performances: festivals and pilgrimages
To illustrate the enactment of cultural expressions, I turn to two forms of
performance “ festivals and pilgrimages “ neither of which is usually
contested but which at times become a focal point in ethnic con¬‚ict.
Festivals are commonly organized around calendrical, life cycle, and
religious principles and can sometimes link and sometimes divide groups
and individuals across geographic, kinship, generational, ethnic, and gender
lines. Some culturally signi¬cant rituals are integrated into daily routines,
such as the daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in many American
schools, in ways that render them almost invisible to in-group members
while af¬rming the social order and distinguishing one group from
another. Other rituals are highly visible, offering a distinctive break from
the normal and routine in ways that render them emotionally powerful.
This type of ritual is found where participation requires that people
suspend normal daily activities and engage in special ones in locations
where they might not otherwise go, associate with people whom they
otherwise might not encounter, and behave in ways that they might not
otherwise. While the distinction between routinely embedded and
marked rituals is clear conceptually, it is appropriate to treat them as the
endpoints of a continuum recognizing that many ritual activities combine
elements of each.
Visible rituals vary widely in the degree of commitment required of
participants. For example, in modern industrial societies, most holidays
offer a break from daily routine and are distinctive, but participation in
them is not very demanding. Many adults do not work at their jobs,
children don™t go to school, and families and friends get together for
socializing and celebrating. Participation in visible rituals that involve
high sacri¬ce or risk increases commitment among participants and
emphasizes the boundary between the participants and outsiders. Ritual
participation that entails at least moderate costs to participants can
become contested in polarized con¬‚icts as in the case of festivals
(including cultural fairs and carnivals) and the phenomenon of pilgrimage,
two forms of visible ritual participation.

Festivals, carnivals, and fairs are large-scale organized activities that occur
outside the routines of ongoing social routines. Festivals take diverse
Narratives and performance

forms marking special days for a community and contain both sacred and
secular as well as more private and more public elements. For example,
Warner (1959) describes the combination of elements in the Memorial
Day celebrations he observed in a small New England city in the middle
of the last century. He identi¬ed four stages in the celebration that moved
from diverse rituals separated in time and space to ones that bring
members of the community™s different ethnic and religious groups and
social classes together. Each separate group organized and held their own
activities including separate church services for each of the city™s religious
denominations during part of the day, while later the larger community
came together for speeches and a city-wide parade to the cemeteries to
honor the war dead.10
Sacred festivals, like national holidays, are often af¬rmations of the
political order, although when the regime in power is contested, they
can produce counter rituals and challenges to the order and the rela-
tionship among groups in it. As Cohen notes, ˜˜Generally speaking every
major carnival is precariously posed between the af¬rmation of the
established order and its rejection™™ (Cohen 1993: 3). A festival™s inter-
actions and activities provide a release from the constraints and pressures
of the social order and ˜˜thus carnival connotes sensuousness, freedom,
frivolity, expressivity, merrymaking and the development of the amity of
what Turner calls ˜communitas™ as contrasted with structure™™ (Cohen
1993: 3).
London™s Notting Hill Carnival has been since 1959 an on-going
festival that at times has attracted over a million people; its changing
dynamics illustrate the complex interplay between culture and politics
(Cohen 1993). Cohen argues that the choices about music, instruments,
competitions, house parties, and gala performances became a symbol of
West Indians in Britain ˜˜as well as a mechanism for achieving corporate
identity, unity and exclusiveness™™ (1993: 79) in a context where differ-
ences of island of origin, the decentralized British electoral system, and a
strong distrust of formal organizations made West Indian unity dif¬cult
to achieve (1993: 80“83). Over the thirty years he studied the festival,
Cohen found that points of contention and moments of unity were highly
related to larger political issues in the British“West Indian relationship at

An occasion such as Memorial Day in the USA is often marked differently across regions
and can sometimes be the focus of con¬‚ict over what is and what is not appropriate for
inclusion in activities such as a parade (Wagner 2000).

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

that time. When it began in the 1960s, the Carnival had a multiracial
character. By the 1970s it became a black festival dominated by Trini-
dadian music and masquerading that came to include reggae music and
Rastafarian symbols as well as confrontations between West Indian youth
and the police. During this time it also emerged as an all West Indian
institution (1993: 5). Then by the 1980s the Carnival was more ˜˜con-
tained™™ and the state sought to co-opt and institutionalize it in ways that
threatened West Indian identity and ownership of the festival.
Carnival was signi¬cant in building long-term primary social rela-
tionships among participants; these were particularly associated with
musical presentations and masquerade bands. There were on-going
contests among West Indians and between West Indians and the British
over the production, distribution, and control over the pans, the steel
drums central to West Indian music that showed the community™s
resistance to outside control. At the same time, Cohen makes it clear that
the effort to develop communal forms of organization was not a direct
and conscious one, and took the form of a search for common ˜identity™
and exclusive culture™™ (1993: 84). Carnival met both cultural and political
needs, he says, and the revival of traditional forms it stimulated was not
regression to the past, but served new purposes (1993: 89“90). Festival
participation can represent a signi¬cant commitment as it does for the
organizers and musicians in Notting Hill. For many attendees, however,
participation is far more modest and represents perhaps half a day and a
trip on public transportation.

Pilgrimage, travels to sacred sites where people participate in rituals and
other activities, has a long history in virtually all religious traditions and
generally involves a major commitment on the part of the pilgrim.
Muslims may travel thousands of miles to go to Mecca and Medina,
Catholics walk from the cathedral in Chartres near Paris to Santiago de
Compostela in Spain. Hindus journey to the holy city of Varanasi.
Mexicans travel in large numbers to see Our Lady of Guadeloupe.
However, pilgrimages may also involve groups and sites that are not
religious; for example, visits by veterans and others to battle¬elds or to a
memorial such as the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington.
Pilgrimage can fuse culture and politics in particularly explosive
ways as leaders manipulate it in pursuit of their own goals. Some of
Narratives and performance

pilgrimages™ crucial elements, including the frequent presence of religious
symbolism, are easily adapted to political action. One dramatic example of
this fusion, discussed in Chapter 8, took place in 1938 when Afrikaner
nationalists set out from Cape Town in ox-drawn wagons to mark the
100th anniversary of the Great Trek from the coast to the interior. The
reenactment created tremendous enthusiasm and built widespread sup-
port for Afrikaner nationalist goals and political leaders. Another example
is from 2000 when Zapatista rebel leaders in Chiapas, Mexico, accepted
President Vincente Fox™s invitation to discuss their demands in Mexico
City. However, instead of coming directly to the capitol, they organized a
bus caravan that followed a circuitous route passing through and stopping
at most major indigenous population centers, to bolster their claims that
they were the defenders of the rights of Mexico™s indigenous peoples.
Traveling through the countryside is, of course, a well-known political
campaign strategy and is seen in whistle-stop campaigning and trips such
as the 1992 Bill Clinton“Al Gore bus tour in the American Midwest that
generated great excitement and jump started their campaign.
Turner describes pilgrimage as a ˜˜total process,™™ meaning it is the
entire focus of the pilgrims™ activity, in which ˜˜normative communitas
constitutes the characteristic social bond among pilgrims and between
pilgrims and those who offer them help and hospitality on their holy
journey™™ (Turner 1974: 169“70). Normative communitas is a pattern of
social organization, different from that of structured instrumental groups,
that ˜˜began with a nonutilitarian experience of brotherhood and fellow-
ship the form of which the resulting group tried to preserve™™ (Turner
1974: 169). Pilgrimage is often a matter of obligation but it is also a
voluntary act involving a vow. ˜˜Even when there was obligation, it should
be voluntarily undertaken, the obligation should be regarded as desirable™™
(Turner 1974: 174). Turner notes that pilgrimage shrines tend to be
arranged in a hierarchy ˜˜with catchment areas of greater and lesser
inclusiveness™™ (Turner 1974: 179). These areas spread across political
boundaries as pilgrimage emphasizes universality.11 Pilgrimage, for
Turner, is an inclusive ritual in its organization of pilgrim centers and the
relationships among the pilgrims themselves (Turner 1974: 186).

Turner notes that ˜˜the paradox of the Middle Ages [is] that it was at once more
cosmopolitan and more localized than either tribal or capitalist society™™ (Turner 1974:

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

Pilgrimage can be viewed as both a religious and political activity. It is
often a religious act that can deepen commitment and belief. However, it is
also political in important ways. Most obvious is its role in connecting indi-
viduals to the larger community of believers. Pilgrimage is also a powerful
mechanism for mobilizing sentiment and action in favor of speci¬c political
goals. While pilgrimage reinforces identi¬cation with existing communities
it often offers the image of an ideal community that does not yet exist.
At its core, pilgrimage, like many ritual actions, is a simple, easily
understood activity “ traveling (often meaning walking) to a sacred place “
which is well suited for political action. Often the mixture of religious and
political elements captures popular imaginations in dramatic ways.
Gandhi™s march to the sea in 1930 to pressure the British government to
rescind the salt tax mobilized local and world opinion against British
colonial practices. Martin Luther King™s 1965 Selma to Montgomery
march brought national and international attention to American mis-
treatment of blacks in the South and mobilized support for the passage of
the 1965 Voting Rights Act.12

A pilgrimage that combined religious and political symbols in 1990
played an essential role in the dramatic transformation of Indian politics.
Since the mid nineteenth century, Hindu nationalist voices in Ayodhya,
an important Hindu pilgrimage center, claimed that the sixteenth-century
Babi Masjid mosque stood on the spot that was the birthplace of the
Hindu god Rama and an eleventh-century Hindu temple (van der Veer
1994: 2“11). Shortly after independence in 1947, a statue of Lord Rama
was placed in the mosque one night. Following this incident, a court ruled
that the statue could not be removed, effectively closing the mosque.
Periodically, the con¬‚ict over the site became intense and violent as it did
after 1990 when ˜˜the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] and its confederate, the
Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) . . . planned to retake the so-called Ram
janmabhoomi (birthplace of Rama), to destroy the mosque, if necessary,

One could analyze many parts of the American civil rights struggle in the 1960s in terms
of its use of pilgrimage “ meaning traveling to particular places that built commitment
within the movement, mobilizing support from outside, and creating a series of crises that
the country could no longer ignore. The Freedom Rides in 1960, various marches in the
South, the march on Washington in 1963 all have many of the key elements of pilgrimage
and communitas that Turner identi¬es.

Narratives and performance

and build a magni¬cent new temple to Rama to consecrate the sacred
site™™ (Davis 1996: 28). A few years earlier, Indian state television aired an
eighteen-month-long serial based on Rama™s life and teachings that had
come to be written down over the centuries (Rudolph and Rudolph
1993). It was the most successful Indian television program ever,
attracting 100 million viewers, and priming Hindus for the subsequent
appeals calling for Hindu mobilization in general and the call to rebuild
the temple on what they believed to be Rama™s birthplace in particular.
Shortly after the series ended, in 1989, the VHP asked people
throughout North India to make sacred bricks inscribed with Rama™s
name and to join processions bringing them to Ayodhya for the new
temple. Many did so and their actions unleashed both riots and tre-
mendous popular support including prominently exhibited bricks from
the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, and South Africa (Davis 1996:
40“41; van der Veer 1994: 4).
The 1990 procession featuring Rama™s chariot (a decorated Toyota
van) and BJP leader Lal Krishan Advani began in Somnarth, the site of a
famous episode of Muslim temple destruction in 1026,13 and ended at
Ayodhya, covering 10,000 kilometers through eight states in Northern
India in thirty-¬ve days. The circuitous route passed through a maximum
number of north Indian states representing the Hindu heartland and the
BJP electoral target. In its journey, the pilgrimage was able to call upon
various symbols invoking a range of emotions that built great interest and
support for the event and for its political goals.
Perhaps the most resonant icon the VHP disseminated, however, was the depic-
tion of baby Rama, the cherubic child held prisoner in a Muslim religious insti-
tution at the very site of his birth. The imagery again drew on the family as an
overarching metaphor and enlisted another type of devotional sentiment on behalf
of the mobilization. If the aggressive young warrior Rama of the posters served as
a militant role model for Hindus taking control of their homeland, the infant
Rama called upon maternal devotion from those who would nurture the young
reincarnation of Hindu nationhood.
(Davis 1996: 41)

Davis characterizes the procession™s message as operating on two levels;
˜˜hard-core™™ militant, aggressive religious imagery coexisted alongside the
more ˜˜soft-core™™ BJP anti-secularist (but not anti-Muslim) politics.

The temple was rebuilt in 1950 ˜˜as a symbol of Indians™ nationhood and Hindu
dominance in Gujarat™™ (Davis 1996: 43).

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

When the pilgrimage procession ¬nally arrived at Ayodhya and tried to
reach the mosque, the police ¬red on the crowd and managed to turn it
back. The VHP then campaigned against the police action and de¬ned
those who had died as martyrs, carrying their bones and ashes in special
pots before immersing them in holy water. Tensions increased over the
next two years and on December 6, 1992, the VHP and BJP organized a
successful attack on the mosque that resulted in its complete demolition.
Deadly riots followed in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and even Britain.
The intensity of the violence shocked many and van der Veer suggests
that ˜˜If we want to penetrate the very real passions and violence evoked
by the temple-mosque controversy, we must understand how this con-
troversy is related to fundamental orienting conceptions of the world and
personhood™™ (van der Veer 1994: 8).
The 1990 procession created great popular support for the Hindu
nationalist position in general, and in particular the BJP, which doubled
its national vote in 1991 and moved from its position as a small fringe
party to be the country™s ruling party in a few short years. In their cam-
paign, references to Ayodhya invoked a powerful narrative of Hindu
humiliation resulting from Muslim conquest centuries before that served
as a rallying cry for Hindu nationalists. The con¬‚ict over religious claims
became, in part, transformed into one of personalities, pitting Rama, one
of the most widely celebrated Hindu gods, against the Turko-Mogul
Babur, who had invaded India and founded an alien Muslim empire
(Varshney 2002: 81). The chosen trauma involving the conquest
emphasizes Hindu humiliation and defeat and an essentialism in which
fourteenth-century Muslim conquerors are equated with the country™s
present-day Muslim population, while ignoring the great heterogeneity
within Hinduism itself (Davis 1996; Friedland and Hecht 1998; van der
Veer 1994). ˜˜By transforming the mosque in Ayodhya from a local shrine
into a symbol of the ˜threatened™ Hindu majority, the VHP has been
instrumental in the homogenization of a ˜national™ Hinduism™™ (Ludden
1996: 8). In addition, Varshney argues:
Muslim leaders kept harping on the religious meaning of Ayodhya, refusing to
encounter the nationalistic meaning. Worse, the various mosque action com-
mittees (and the secular historians) initially argued that Rama was a mythological
¬gure, for there was no historical proof for either Rama™s existence or his birth-
place. This was a gratuitous argument. Core beliefs of many religions, after all,
¬‚ourish without proof.
(Varshney 2002: 82)

Narratives and performance

These Muslim denials combined with a refusal to even discuss possibly
moving the mosque enraged many Hindus and ˜˜gave the appearance of
utter intransigence™™ (Varshney 2002: 82) leading Hindu nationalists to
initiate independent action.14
In Ayodhya, the fusion of religious and political appeals, the perfor-
mative elements of the pilgrimage, and the large-scale participation
through activities such as making bricks for the new temple and turning
out for the procession, all captured the popular imagination of many
Hindus in Northern India. While Ayodhya had been a site of Hindu“
Muslim con¬‚ict for almost 150 years, the VHP appeals and the Rama TV
serial all heightened awareness around a speci¬c humiliation, homo-
genizing Muslims and linking them across time and space, rendering the
militant political actions more plausible. The personalization of the
con¬‚ict pitting Rama as the defender of Hindu culture against the alien
invader only further escalated emotions in an already tense situation.15

Psychocultural dramas
So far I have identi¬ed some of the forms that politically relevant cultural
performance takes. Next I propose a general concept “ the psychocultural
drama “ to describe and to examine cultural contestation that involves
perceived threats to identity. Through the lens of psychocultural dramas,
the multiple levels of these con¬‚icts come into clearer view as both bar-
riers to, and opportunities for, their constructive management are better
understood. Psychocultural dramas sometimes reveal deep structure and
vulnerable aspects of identity in a system that might otherwise remain
hidden in a con¬‚ict (Turner 1974:34).
Psychocultural dramas are con¬‚icts between groups over competing,
and apparently irresolvable, claims that engage the central elements of
each group™s historical experience and contemporary identity. The
manifest focus of a psychocultural drama can be over the allocation of
material resources, or can involve differences about cultural questions
such as language, religion, social practices, or music and popular culture

Intransigence marked by humiliation, fear, and denials is also a feature of the con¬‚ict
around Jerusalem™s holy sites discussed in Chapter 6 (Friedland and Hecht 1991).
When archeologists became involved, their results were used for making exclusive
political claims built around pristine identities that were at odds with the complexity of
peoples and religious ¬‚uidity of the area (Meskell 1998; Shaw 2000).

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

that are connected to a group™s core identity. At a deeper level,
psychocultural dramas are polarizing events about non-negotiable cul-
tural claims, perceived threats, and/or rights connected to narratives and
metaphors central to a group™s identity. As psychocultural dramas unfold,
they produce reactions which (a) are emotionally powerful; (b) clearly
differentiate the parties in con¬‚ict; and (c) contain key elements of the
larger con¬‚ict in which they are embedded. As psychocultural dramas
unfold, their powerful emotional meanings link events across time and
space, increasing in-group solidarity and out-group hostility (LeVine and
Campbell 1972; Volkan 1997).16
The idea of the psychocultural drama is adapted from Victor Turner™s
(1957, 1974) concept of the social drama (Ross 2001). The term psy-
chocultural, rather than social, emphasizes the deeply rooted identity
dynamics in con¬‚icts that link large-scale cultural processes through
micro-level psychological mechanisms. Turner, particularly in his earlier
work, showed little, if any interest, in the psychological dimensions of
con¬‚ict or the concept of identity and focused exclusively on the level of
social organization. Extending Turner™s analysis in this manner is very
useful for analyzing cultural contestation in ethnic con¬‚ict.
The social dramas Turner analyzed are con¬‚icts that are not ever fully
resolved, but they are settled for a time when the con¬‚ict is rede¬ned
away from incompatible principles to the symbolic and ritual domain
where disputants can emphasize shared concerns and superordinate goals.
The social dramas Turner described took place in a society with shared
core values. Yet despite shared values, con¬‚ict regularly arises over serious
breaches in the social order where there is disagreement over the relative
importance of the competing principles that groups or individuals invoke
to support their divergent positions in the absence of a jural mechanism to
choose among the competing principles (Turner 1957: 89“90).
Turner de¬nes four phases through which social dramas pass: breach of
social relations or norms, mounting crisis, redressive action, and reinte-
gration or recognition of schism (1957: 91“92; 1974: 38“42). ˜˜In a social
drama it is not a crime [that constitutes the breach], though it may for-
mally resemble one; it is in reality, a ˜symbolic trigger of confrontation or
encounter™™™ (1974: 38). As a social drama unfolds, tensions mount and the

Not all con¬‚icts are psychocultural dramas. I exclude disputes that do not meet these
three criteria, meaning both those that fail to mobilize intense feelings and those which do
not divide a community on group lines.

Narratives and performance

con¬‚ict escalates as each side works vigorously to strengthen its position
and to draw in new allies. New issues are easily interjected into the
con¬‚ict, including memories of past disputes and latent feelings of hos-
tility that resurface as social dramas unfold. Social dramas that are
especially dif¬cult to resolve involve structural contradictions between
norms that cannot be easily settled in the absence of centralized autho-
rities able to render an authoritative and acceptable decision. In these
cases, Turner emphasizes the importance of ritual mechanisms of redress,
especially when jural mechanisms such as a judicial system, an adminis-
trative process, or legislative process that the parties accept as legitimate
either do not exist, or are inadequate because none of the competing
principles is clearly more important than any of the others. In these
con¬‚icts, the scope and intensity of disputes quickly escalates and the
initial con¬‚ict grows into a crisis.
Movement between the phases is often uneven and some disputes remain
mired at the crisis phase. Although Turner ¬rst developed his ideas while
studying the Ndembu in Zambia, a society with little centralized authority,
in divided societies such as Northern Ireland, Israel“Palestine, or Sri Lanka
the inability to produce authoritative decisions that both majority and
minority communities accept as legitimate produces a parallel impasse.
Turner proposes that, at times, ritual can serve as a crucial mechanism to
lower tension by emphasizing what the competing parties have in common,
allowing the parties in con¬‚ict to continue to live together in a more or less
peaceful manner without necessarily having resolved their differences.
Among the Ndembu, redressive action through ritual often focused on
matters, such as fertility, which were manifestly unrelated to an ongoing
crisis over village leadership selection that was a continuing source of
tension. Mobilization of the wider community, including many who might
have had little involvement in the original dispute, for the performance of
reparatory rituals refocused peoples™ emotional energy and situated the
con¬‚ict in a context where disputants emphasized shared norms and goals.
Because ritual activity linked disputants through af¬liations such as ritual
cults or age organizations, it cut across existing communities and lines of
cleavage. As a result, it was not so much that the original con¬‚ict was
resolved in any profound sense since the competing norms were still present.
Rather, either the emotional signi¬cance of differences diminished suf¬-
ciently for people to ¬nd a ˜˜solution™™ that lowered tension so that they
could return to their daily routines in relative harmony; or, there were
outcomes such as the peaceful ¬ssion of a village into smaller ones. It is
Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

na±ve to think that reintegration is immediate even following redressive
action. ˜˜The reintegration of the disturbed social group or the social
recognition and legitimation of irreparable schism between the contesting
parties™™ frequently happened in Turner™s cases only after several years
(Turner 1974: 41).
Turner posits that ritual is likely to be especially important as a
mechanism of con¬‚ict mitigation in situations where structural conditions
regularly give rise to hard-to-resolve con¬‚icts, a condition that is by no
means limited to the speci¬c communities he ¬rst studied. In many
societies, for example, parties to such con¬‚icts mark its termination with a
ceremonial meal in which special foods are cooked and consumed toge-
ther. In institutions such as courts or legislatures, decisions are taken and
marked in a particular ritualistic fashion that separates the content of the
outcome from the personalities of the parties. Power transitions are
periods of high stress marked by signi¬cant ritual action designed to offer
reassurance to people in a period of uncertainty. Central to ritual for
Turner are communitas and liminality, conditions outside everyday life
that emphasize root metaphors and conceptual archetypes associated with
deeper shared meanings than those associated with everyday structure.
Turner™s observation, that the intensity of social dramas can be diffused
through the transformation of disputes over competing interests into ritual
actions emphasizing what the parties share, has important general impli-
cations for con¬‚ict mitigation in situations where it becomes possible for
opponents to participate in mutual or joint ritual expression. Psycho-
cultural dramas arise over competing claims that evoke deeply rooted
images and cannot be settled by reference to more general rules or higher
authority. This is, of course, what characterizes many ethnic con¬‚icts, and
what has to be addressed before politics and negotiations can occur. While
psychocultural dramas have great political signi¬cance, they are not nar-
rowly political events, particularly in their early stages. This is because the
contending parties emphasize competing positions in such a way that
negotiation, rede¬nition of goals, or compromise is not possible. For
example, when a group believes it is ful¬lling God™s commands, com-
promising its goals and modifying behavior become blasphemy.

Ritual acknowledgment and reconciliation
Cultural contestation in long-term con¬‚icts is played out through psy-
chocultural dramas in which the images and metaphors of the opposing
Narratives and performance

sides™ core narratives play a crucial role. As they develop, opponents
frequently operate from such different frames that they misunderstand
each other and fail to see how their own actions might be contributing to
the escalatory spiral. As long as each side continues to simply reassert its
positions, feelings harden and there is escalation and an attempt to defeat
a threatening adversary. As violence emerges or increases, the chances of
moving toward accommodation diminish. So how do cultural identity
con¬‚ict cycles end? There are at least four answers to this question. One
outcome is that in which one party prevails over the other militarily.
Another is that change in external conditions can move one or more of the
parties toward accommodation. A variation on this is that outsiders,
regional neighbors, the UN, or a coalition of countries intervene to end
the con¬‚ict. A third idea is that what Zartman (1986) calls the ˜˜hurting
stalemate,™™ one in which the parties ¬nd the cost of continuing the
con¬‚ict greater than searching for a resolution of it. A fourth is that the
parties come to see their own positions and those of an opponent as less
incompatible than they had before and they move toward a negotiated
settlement. It is possible, of course, for an outcome to combine elements
of two or more of these possibilities.
It is the last possibility “ the one in which the parties, with or without
the assistance of outsiders, modify how they understand themselves and
their opponents “ that is my main focus. In this scenario psychocultural
narratives and dramas play a major role. My argument so far is that
when worldviews shift they make actions “ including symbolic and ritual
ones “ possible that allow the opposing groups to respond constructively
to each other. The next seven chapters will explore this dynamic and
offer cases where the movement toward more inclusive framing of the
parties™ positions did and did not occur. Central to this dynamic is mutual
acknowledgment of each other™s perceptions and concerns; such acknow-
ledgment is often implicit rather than explicit, and may not involve
acceptance of the other™s point of view. The question of how acknowl-
edgment is communicated is important and it is only when we consider
ritual and symbolic gestures that we can begin to make sense of this
complicated matter.
In recent years, many of these processes have been discussed in the
context of the concept of reconciliation as scholars and practitioners have
focused on it as a critical aspect of peacemaking between long-term
adversaries. Informed by the South African experience and the more than
three dozen Truth and Reconciliation Commissions throughout the
Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

world, scholars need to ask how political reconciliation between large
groups can be promoted through the development and expression of
inclusive symbolic and ritual gestures.
As public expressions, more inclusive ritual communicates a change in
relations, a notion of shared concerns, and a vision of a joint future. It can
make the emotional barriers between the identity groups in con¬‚ict more
permeable in ways that facilitate negotiations or the implementation of
agreements. My argument recognizes that attending only to substantive
interests in peace processes is incomplete, and that peace processes need
to address the long-standing negative feelings and highly problematic
relationships opponents have. As in the case of Nelson Mandela and
F. W. de Klerk in South Africa, putting aside an awkward personal
relationship to pursue a shared political agenda can in itself be very
dif¬cult. Much more challenging, however, is the need to persuade
skeptical populations that a change in relations is not more threatening
than continuing the con¬‚ict. Such persuasion requires that each side deal
with two different audiences: the opposing group that has to agree to
come to the table where substantive differences can be negotiated and an
agreement can be implemented, and dissenting groups within its own
community likely to argue that the group™s interests are being sold out in
any negotiation. The dilemma is like a two-level game in which the
rewards for in-group political success are often antithetical to those that
promote between-group cooperation.
Reconciliation in this sense is about changing the relationship between
parties in con¬‚ict both instrumentally and emotionally in a more positive
direction so that each can more easily envision a joint future. Reconci-
liation, from this perspective, is not just an outcome, but a process that is
best thought of on a continuum, meaning that there can be degrees of
reconciliation rather than just its presence or absence (Kriesberg 2003;
Long and Brecke 2003). In the ¬nal chapter, I develop the connection
between cultural contestation and reconciliation and the development of a
vision of a shared future that does not deny, but integrates, memories of
the past into a more inclusive narrative and symbolic landscape.
Symbolic and ritual action is integral to reconciliation processes for a
number of reasons (Ross 2004): (1) direct apology is dif¬cult, whereas
symbolic action can be easier for former enemies to express; (2) words are
seen as easy to utter, whereas symbolic actions may be viewed as more
sincere; (3) verbal acknowledgments, including apologies, are more cog-
nitive, whereas symbolic actions are affective. The argument is not that
Narratives and performance

symbolic actions are more important than verbal ones but rather that
because the two work differently, both words and actions can contribute
to reconciliation processes. Symbolic actions are behaviors whose sig-
ni¬cance is less in the actions themselves than in the meanings individuals
and groups accord to them. Symbolic actions, including verbal state-
ments, take many forms and their signi¬cance lies in the capacity of
symbols and rituals to evoke narratives about the past to make sense of the
present (Buckley 1998: 9).
Use of symbolic action entails the development of inclusive rituals that
link different communities, or rede¬nition of older rituals so they are no
longer highly threatening and exclusive. Most commonly we think about
the divisive role symbolic and ritual action takes in ethnic con¬‚ict. There
is no doubt that ethnic entrepreneurs, political leaders interested in short-
term gains, and even sincere patriots at times mobilize support through
emotionally appealing symbolic appeals. It is easy to berate ¬gures such as
Ariel Sharon for further polarizing Jews and Palestinians with his visit to
the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary in September 2000 or Slobodan
Milosevic for his constant invocation of the Serb defeat in the battle of
Kosovo in 1389 to mobilize support throughout the 1990s; however, the
central issue is not about leaders™ motives but about why followers
respond as they do. The question is less about the ˜˜sellers,™™ for it is
obvious what they hope to gain from their action, than about the moti-
vation of the ˜˜buyers,™™ the followers who respond positively to them. The
answer seems to lie in the dynamics of social identity in which individuals
see their fate and self-esteem as intimately tied up to that of the group
(Brown 1986; Tajfel 1981). Recent psychodynamicly informed theorizing
gives a similar answer suggesting that leaders play on followers™ need
for attachment and on their vulnerability to assertions that the signs of
their identity are at risk (Ross 1995; Volkan 1988; 1997). My analysis
recognizes that these escalatory dynamics often occur and are common,
but turns as well to the possibilities of mobilizing symbolic and ritual
policies for bridging differences.

Good enough solutions to bitter con¬‚icts are ones that set the parties on a
more constructive course (Ross 2000b). Constructive con¬‚ict manage-
ment does not involve the denial of divergent narratives, but makes space
for them to coexist while rede¬ning substantive issues in a way that
Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

permits the parties to feel there is something about which they could talk
with an opponent (Kelman 1987). This is where symbolic and ritual
expressions can come into play. Particularly in high anxiety situations,
ritual is crucial in helping the parties reframe or rede¬ne the symbolic and
emotional aspects of the con¬‚ict so that the parties can move beyond
signed agreements and develop the institutions and practices needed to
avoid future confrontations.
Most fundamentally, ritual is a signi¬cant mechanism for commu-
nicating inclusion and exclusion. ˜˜Symbols instigate social action™™
(Turner 1974: 55) and when they are embedded in ritual, symbols
˜˜condense many references, uniting them in a single cognitive and
affective ¬eld™™ (55). In some situations the result is a real transformation
of social relationships.
If communitas can be developed within a ritual pattern it can be carried over into
secular life for a while and help to mitigate or assuage some of the abrasiveness of
social con¬‚icts rooted in con¬‚icts of material interest or discrepancies in the
ordering of social relations.
(Turner 1974: 56)

While transformation is not necessarily common, the challenge of ethnic
con¬‚ict mitigation is to enhance the likelihood of its taking place.
Through this process rituals can build affective connections among wary
opponents who begin to bridge their substantive differences. Of course
effective rituals must be grounded in contextually meaningful symbols,
and the greatest challenge, as we will see in the succeeding chapters, is the
dearth of shared symbols that evoke similar reactions from opposing
communities. Ritual is especially useful in con¬‚ict situations when it can
enlarge a sense of participation and help rede¬ne issues in less exclusive
terms that reduce fear and threat.17
The discussion in the next seven chapters suggests that when it is
possible for ritual and political action to go hand-in-hand, constructive
settlement of psychocultural dramas becomes possible even in once bitter

In this process cultural expressions can facilitate or inhibit what Zolberg and Woon
(1999) call boundary crossing, boundary blurring, and boundary shifting through cultural
confrontations. Analyzing similarities and differences between confrontations over
religion in Europe and language in the US, they hypothesize that language con¬‚icts
are likely to produce assimilation and religious ones greater pluralism. My sense is that
this hypothesis is more likely to be correct with regard to immigrant minorities than it is
in the case of indigenous or territorially based groups, as Kymlicka (1998) argues in the
case of language.

Narratives and performance

ethnic con¬‚icts. Focusing on cultural disputes in ethnic con¬‚icts is a
device for understanding how this might be accomplished at propitious
moments in some long-term, intense con¬‚icts. The argument has a cer-
tain paradoxical side to it arising from the recognition that the cultural
issues the groups ¬ght about so bitterly, such as parades in Northern
Ireland, the confederate ¬‚ag in the United States, language in Canada, or
even the holy sites in Jerusalem, are not really what the deeper con¬‚ict is
about. Rather, they are surface manifestations that are signi¬cant because
in the battles over these issues, the deepest feelings and fears of the parties
on the deeper issues emerge. In the psychocultural dramas I examine,
these polarizing fears produce con¬‚ict; at the same time the analysis
suggests how ritual redress can, and must, be incorporated into any set-
tlement for mitigation of the larger con¬‚ict within which they are
embedded to occur.


Loyalist parades in Northern Ireland as
recurring psychocultural dramas

Marches are not simple political demonstrations in Northern Ireland. Rather they
are emotionally charged, historical re-enactments of communal triumphs and
suffering. The insistence on being allowed to march through the other™s neigh-
borhood reveals the territorial and defensive nature of marching.
(Farren and Mulvihill 2000: 31)

Protestant Loyal Order1 parades in Northern Ireland (introduced in
Chapter 1) are contentious cultural performances that evoke the core
narratives, and the intense emotions associated with them, for large parts
of the Protestant and Catholic communities. Parades in Northern Ireland
are an idiom of contestation serving as a forum both for demand making
and for communication in the region™s on-going con¬‚ict. These cultural
enactments are political statements “ provocations and challenges, rights
claims, assertions of power, and public acts of commitment. As public
performances in which central elements of the Protestant narrative are
presented, parades foster widespread mobilization among participants,
spectators, and opponents. ˜˜Parades are rituals of both celebration and
commemoration: they are regarded as a celebration of culture, a
demonstration of faith and a commemoration of past sacri¬ces. They are
also displays of collective strength, communal unity and of political
power™™ (Jarman 2003: 93).

The Loyal Orders are Protestant ritual groups who strongly support Northern Ireland™s
continued membership in the United Kingdom and express this through loyalty to the

Loyalist parades in Northern Ireland

Widespread participation and engagement in parades reinforces the
relevance of the Protestant narrative and the immediacy of the con¬‚ict it
describes to the many people directly involved, and many more that
follow the related events. One loyalist website in Northern Ireland claims,
˜˜The Annual [July] Twelfth celebration in Ulster is the largest cultural
festival in Europe.™™2 Perhaps, but size, however it is measured, is not the
issue here. For my analysis the crucial point is that these parades engage
people emotionally in ways that increase within-group solidarity and elicit
strong out-group hostility, since the very same things that make Protes-
tants proud evoke anger and threat and fear from Catholics.
Parade disputes are not fundamentally about parades; rather, they
reveal each side™s different understanding of the region™s con¬‚ict and
each side™s basic fears and hopes that must be addressed in a successful
settlement. Since the 1994 paramilitary cease¬res in Northern Ireland,
con¬‚icts over parades have increased in intensity as many ˜˜tensions and
frustrations found their outlet in bitter disputes over commemorative
parading™™ (Fraser 2000b: 1). In parade disputes, each side emphasizes
issues of recognition, respect, and identity through carefully orchestrated
symbolic and ritual expressions. Parade disputes reveal powerful
feelings for both Protestants and Catholics because the parades, their
imagery, and the rituals that surround them hearken back to the mutually
exclusive narratives that have divided Protestants and Catholics in the
region since the early seventeenth century. For Protestants, the parades
evoke an idealized past of control and defense of the community as well
as themes of siege, resistance, and self-reliance (Bryan 2000; Buckley
1998; Buckley and Kenney 1995). For Catholics, when Loyal Order
parades pass through their communities they are humiliating reminders
of no longer tolerable Protestant domination, discrimination, and
Protestant and Catholic worlds in Northern Ireland are socially dis-
tinct but politically interdependent as each side™s political activity is
rooted in the presence, and assumed hostility, of the other. This chapter
analyzes this complicated relationship through parade con¬‚icts as psy-
chocultural dramas. First, I introduce some basic background to the
Northern Ireland con¬‚ict, recognizing that any version of events about a
divided society will almost by de¬nition provoke some disagreement from


Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

partisans in each community.3 My goal here is not to arbitrate between
Protestant and Catholic narratives, but to help a reader who might not be
very familiar with the region understand why parades are so contentious.
In this section, I highlight key features of the competing Protestant and
Catholic narratives to make sense of the intense emotional meanings they
Second, I examine parade con¬‚icts as psychocultural dramas, ¬rst
looking at the parading tradition in the region and then comparing parade
con¬‚icts in two cities “ Portadown, about an hour south of Belfast, and
Derry/Londonderry,4 the region™s second largest city. In Portadown since
1995, the Orange Order™s yearly Battle of the Somme commemorative
parade is the focal point of an intense crisis that mobilizes thousands of
British security forces, has led to violence and deaths, and remains
unresolved. In Derry, the Apprentice Boys of Derry parades were highly
contentious and unleashed signi¬cant violence in the mid 1990s. How-
ever, within a few years the Apprentice Boys, the Catholic Bogside
Residents™ Association, and community leaders launched negotiations that
addressed the parties™ core concerns, offered at least partial mutual
acknowledgment, and resulted in the ritual rede¬nition of the Loyal
Order parade as part of a broader, more inclusive cultural festival that
celebrates and recognizes the city™s Catholic and Protestant history.
This ritual rede¬nition produced signi¬cant shifts in the yearly psy-
chocultural dramas surrounding Derry™s parades that the ¬nal section
tries to explain. In so doing, it considers the opportunities for, and limits
to, ritual and symbolic contributions to con¬‚ict mitigation in places
where there is no simple, readily available formula for deciding between
competing principles nor authorities who have the legitimacy to render a
decision both sides will accept. This is surely the case since in Northern
Ireland many Catholics have never accepted the political legitimacy of the
post-1920 state, and the full implementation of the 1998 political
agreement has not yet taken place. In this context, while symbolic and

Strong partisans, here and elsewhere, typically offer mutually exclusive accounts that focus
on the in-group and the injustices it has experienced while saying little about the out-
group and its perspective. This strong mutual denial is one of the challenges to
peacemaking and peacebuilding that requires broadening each narrative to include some
acknowledgment of the other side™s experience. Broadening, however, does not mean that
the opponents need to abandon their own version of the past.
The disagreement over the name provoked one disk jockey to go on the air and announce
he was broadcasting from ˜˜stroke city™™ referring to the ˜˜/™™ that often appears. For
simplicity, I use the name Derry rather than the longer name.

Loyalist parades in Northern Ireland

ritual gestures can matter, it is foolish to think that they can, by themselves,
do the job of peacemaking and peacebuilding. Rather, they will be most
effective when they complement political actions “ either reinforcing
initiatives that groups or leaders take, or instigating change, which can
happen when political leaders interpret ritual reconciliation as signs that
there is community support for negotiations and accommodations.

Competing narratives in Northern Ireland
Competing Protestant and Catholic narratives about Northern Ireland
are surprisingly different considering that each addresses a shared history
in a small place. Each has divergent core themes and images that make
little emotional space for the other. Both narratives have developed and
changed over the years and illustrate the nine features of narratives
identi¬ed in Chapter 2: past events as metaphors and lessons; narratives as
collective memories; selectivity; fears and threats to identity; in-group
conformity and externalization of responsibility; multiple within-group
narratives; evolution of narratives; enactment of narratives; and ethno-
centrism and moral superiority claims.

Background to the con¬‚ict
Northern Ireland has a population of almost 1.7 million people, about 55
percent of whom are Protestants. However, the region™s Catholic popu-
lation is younger and growing faster and it is widely assumed that there
will be a Catholic majority in a few decades. People in each tradition lead
quite separate lives. Not only do they attend different churches, but also
they live apart, especially in the cities that have become much more
segregated since the ˜˜Troubles,™™ meaning the paramilitary violence and
the British army™s response to it, that began in the late 1960s. Work
settings, except for the largest ones, tend to be ethnically homogenous
and there are separate Protestant and Catholic school systems, so that
fewer than 5 percent of the region™s primary and secondary school pupils
attend ˜˜integrated™™ schools (Boyle and Hadden 1994).
Communal con¬‚ict between Protestants and Catholics in Northern
Ireland goes back at least to the seventeenth century when colonization by
Scottish and English Protestants on crown-appointed land (the Planta-
tion) put them in direct competition with the indigenous Irish
Catholic population. Ruane and Todd (1996) place English expansion
Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

into Scotland, Wales, and Ireland in the context of European emergence
from the world of medieval feudalism. Although there had been English
colonization in Ireland as early as the twelfth century, Ruane and Todd,
like others, identify the early seventeenth century and the colonization
accompanying it as the period of shift from efforts at conciliation and
bringing the Irish into the framework of law and government to one of
coercion and displacement (Ruane and Todd 1996: 19). Ireland, and


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