Constellations & Dynamics of Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict

6 – 7 July 2012, Sciences Po Paris, France

During the last workshop, »Perpetrators – Reactions and Responses« (Coimbra 2011), we discussed how different social actors identify certain perpetrators of sexual violence and ignore or remain silent about others. In the course of our discussion we started to examine different constellations, i.e. the question of whether the gender, age, religion, institutional affiliation, or political position of the perpetrators as well as the victims make a crucial difference in the process of identification, representation, and dealing with the (individual and societal) harms and effects of sexual violence. During this upcoming workshop, we would like to take this observation as a point of departure and further explore different constellations as well as the situational dynamics in which sexual violence in armed conflicts emerges.

To deepen our understanding, we would like to think about the act of sexual violence as a dynamic field in which different actors/agents are situated. Our aim is to bring the different actors involved (the victim, the perpetrator, potential spectators, confidants of victims and perpetrators as well as the respective societies and their complex relations) and their actions, interpretations, and representations into the picture as well as to grasp the dynamics of time and space. We would thus like to ask everyone to reconsider her/his empirical material and ask whether the given »event« of sexual violence that you explore can be described as a dynamic field.

I. Constellations

Since we started our discussion with the workshop »The Pervasiveness of Sexual Violence in Wartime« (Hamburg 2008), we have tried to bring the question of male victims and female perpetrators/instigators of sexual violence into the picture. Time and time again, however, we discovered that we lacked sufficient empirical sources and, furthermore, that in research different constellations are often conceptualized and interpreted within the by now established framework of wartime rape – regardless of sex and gender.

In this upcoming workshop, we would like to analyze different constellations, their occurrence and representations, more systematically.

  • Can you make out different constellations in your empirical evidence?
  • Is there a difference in dealing with these different agents and constellations, and if yes, how can you describe it?

There seem to be certain communicative rules that determine the ways that different constellations in different times are spoken (or not spoken) about. Indeed, some constellations seem to be »unspeakable« in certain situations or times.

  • If you are not able to identify different constellations, do you assume they do not exist or that the silence is due to a lack of representation/sources?
  • Do you believe that the fact that certain constellations are not given much attention is rooted in the theoretical conception?

II. Positionality

Individuals understand themselves and are understood by others in relation to each other. The self-understanding of a person as well as the identity she/he is ascribed are informed by and articulated in power relations. Consequently, the way an individual experiences sexual violence (as victim, as perpetrator, as spectator, confidant or member of a group or society) is permeated by societal norms and structures of dominance and subordination.

  • How can we take this into account when talking about different constellations of sexual violence?
  • How can we, for instance, grasp and represent victims who are at the same time or become perpetrators?

It may be assumed that the positionality of an individual also has an effect on the specificity of a violent interaction.

  • How do individuals in certain constellations react towards each other? Do specific constellations educe certain forms of behavior and action?
  • In which ways does the capacity for action, the capacity to affect and/or to be affected, vary in specific constellations? Who resists sexual violence in what situation/constellation?

III. Field of Forces

The perpetration of sexual violence is not a static event that involves only the victim and the perpetrator. Much rather, the behavior and the experience of the victim are influenced, represented, and perpetuated by her surroundings, for instance by popular culture, by depictions of rape in the media, by the law, and by what others say about rape. Indeed, cultural messages that influence the behavior and the experiences of the victims also influence how the perpetrators conceptualize and experience their perpetration of violence.

  • What are the factors and actors that, on the one hand, have an impact on our understanding of sexual violence and that, on the other hand, »act« upon the perpetration of sexual violence itself?
  • In which ways can you contextualize your empirical evidence in order to grasp a better understanding of what happened? What are the different manifestations of sexual violence in varying constellations?

IV. Dynamics of Time

Sexual violence is not a single event that is forgotten over time. As we have discussed during our previous workshops, perpetrators of sexual violence draw upon cultural patterns in pre-war times and, furthermore, sexual violence also has an impact in post- war gender- and sexual relations. If we transfer this conception of the longue durée not only to the perpetration of sexual violence but more generally to the behavior, experience, and representation of the different actors, we have to ask:

  • In what way do the multiple and complex relations between all actors involved and all people affected have an impact on the practices of violence itself, on social status, identity, and self-description?

By considering these aspects in their complexity, we hope to also contribute to some of our initial questions: what is sexual about sexual violence? How can we understand the pervasiveness of sexual violence in armed conflict?


Friday, 6. July

Elissa Mailänder / Fabrice Virgili

Regina Mühlhäuser & Gaby Zipfel

Introductory Roundtable 

Session 1: Constellations
Short Inputs: Debra Bergoffen / Gabi Mischkowski 
Moderation: Gaby Zipfel

Screening of Documentary Film Clips
from »Woman See Lot of things« (Meira Asher, 2006)
Introduction: Gabi Mischkowski / Gaby Zipfel

Session 2: Positionality & Field of Forces I 
Short Inputs: Anna von Gall / Louise du Toit
Moderation: Debra Bergoffen

Session 3: Positionality & Field of Forces II 
Short Inputs: Pascale Bos / Regina Mühlhäuser
Moderation: Julia Garraio

Saturday, 7. July

Screening of Movie Clips
from »In the Land of Blood and Honey« (Angelina Jolie, 2011) 
Introductiont: Elissa Mailänder / Fabrice Virgili

Session 4: Dynamics of Time
Short Inputs: Elissa Mailänder / Fabrice Virgili
Moderation: Lisa Gabriel

Final Discussion
Central Results Topics and Perspectives for further Research
Moderation: Regina Mühlhäuser


  • Miranda Alison, Associate Professor, Department of Politics & International Studies, University of Warwick, UK
  • Debra Bergoffen, Emerita Professor of Philosophy, George Mason University, Washington D.C., USA
  • Pascale Bos, Associate Professor, Center for European Studies, University of Texas at Austin, USA
  • Raphaelle Branche, Assistant Professor, Department of History, University Paris-1 (Panthéon-Sorbonne), France
  • Louise du Toit, Senior Lecturer, Department of Philosophy, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa
  • Lisa Gabriel, Assistant Working Group »War & Gender«, Hamburg Institute for Social Research, Germany
  • Julia Garraio, Researcher, Center for Social Studies, University of Coimbra, Portugal
  • Monika Hauser, Executive Board, Medica Mondiale, Germany
  • Elissa Mailänder, Associate Professor, Centre d’histoire de Sciences Po Paris, France
  • Gabriela Mischkowski, Program Advisor for Gender Justice, Medica Mondiale, Germany
  • Regina Mühlhäuser, Researcher, Hamburg Institute for Social Research, Hamburg, Germany
  • Madeleine Reese, General Secretary, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Switzerland
  • Atreyee Sen, Researcher, Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in the Arts, University of Manchester, UK
  • Fabrice Virgili, Research Director of IRICE/CNRS, University of Paris1 (Panthéon-Sorbonne), France
  • Anna von Gall, Program Director »Gender and Human Rights«, European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, Germany
  • Hyunah Yang, Professor of Law, Seoul National University, South Korea
  • Gaby Zipfel, Editor Mittelweg 36, Hamburg Institute for Social Research, Germany

This workshop was kindly supported by the Hamburg Foundation for the Advancement of Research and Culture, the Hamburg Institute for Social Research, Sciences Po Paris and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.