Mapping the Field: Key Concepts, Debates, and Problems


Sexual violence in armed conflict is not just one form of war atrocity but a violent act that also occurs in peacetime. On the one hand, it exists on the borderline of official acts, military practices and intimate behavior. On the other hand, it is an act between gendered actors hierarchically positioned to each other. How do we analyze the various understandings of war and/or armed conflict as a framework for this specific form of violence? What are current conceptions of war and conflict, and the differences between the states of violence? How does the respective understanding of war and peace shape knowledge, practices and remembrance of sexual violence?

  • War: as a state of society, as an exceptional situation, a means of conflict resolution
  • Armed conflict: as a field of forces, spectrum of violence
  • Cultures of war: legitimation, strategies, normative frameworks
  • Military: cultures, hierarchies, orders
  • Warriors: identities, euphorias, experiences
  • Peace-war-peace: traditions, (dis)continuations, memories and politics of remembering


If we assume that the practice of war is based on gendered power positions, then how do we understand sexual violence in terms of these power positions and their underlying conditions (economic dependency, for instance)? How do we understand the different constellations of victims and perpetrators in this field of forces? How do changing national and international contexts shape responses to sexual violence? How do normative understandings of sexual violence in armed conflict emerge? Where are the gray zones or the irritations?

  • interpretative authority
  • agency
  • participation
  • disempowerment/powerlessness
  • constellations of victims and perpetrators
  • national and international political and legal contexts


The practice of war and the practice of wartime sexual violence are based on practices of violence. Violence, and distinctly sexual violence, is not only a rational behavior, but also an expression of affects and emotions. How is violence, in particular sexual violence, acted out, and against whom is it directed? How do belligerents treat this emotional and affective energy? How do victims experience it? How do we grasp this bodily aspect of sexual violence? And how do we link it to the collective practices of violence in war?

  • violence as phenomenology, practice
  • legitimation of violence
  • rape as a calculated ‘weapon or strategy of war’
  • fascination of violence
  • affect/emotion
  • ‘lust rape’ vs. ‘evil rape’?
  • containment: law, norms, ethic, morale


Cultural definitions and rules of sexuality represent social and political interests and aims in a specific social formation. Acts of sexual violence in armed conflict are not merely an expression of violence in the ‘exceptional situation’ of warfare. They are also closely linked to everyday sexual practice in a respective normative framework. How can we grasp the impact of these constructions of sexuality on the practices of sexual violence in armed conflict? What is the relationship between sexuality and violence in war? What is sexual about sexual violence? How can we grasp interpersonal relations such as love/intimacy in these contexts? How can the gray zones between consensual relations, commercial sex, bartering and sexual violence be described?

  • dispositives of sexuality
  • lust, desire, reproduction
  • disposal of the body
  • sexualized and gendered bodies
  • violence and sexuality as overwhelming bodily experiences
  • love, intimacy
  • possibilities of survival
  • instrumentalization of sexuality and violence

Sex and Gender / Engendering

Gender structures armed conflicts. Gender also shapes patterns of sexual violence in conflict. In times of combat and occupation, gender relations often undergo change and uncertainty. ‘Engendering’ is a complex intersectional process, operating between ethnicity, race, nation, as well as other social divisions such as caste or class. How can we examine military practices and strategies of gendering both combatants and civilian population? Do these practices and strategies shape patterns of sexual violence in war? What is the impact of sexual violence in conflict upon the post-war social order? Does it repeat or disrupt gender norms of masculinity and femininity? How are these norms tied to ideas of nation, ethnicity, community?

  • Gendered scripts
  • Relationship between sex and gender
  • sexual violence at the intersection: race, ethnicity, nation, class, caste, communalism, religion
  • historical, cultural, anthropological gender narratives
  • gendered victims, gendered perpetrators, gendered heroes
  • pre-war origins and postwar effects of forms and patterns of sexual violence
  • different gendered patterns of sexual violence such as male-male rape, or female perpetrators
  • What is gendered/engendering about sexual violence?


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