Traps and Gaps

The Politics of Generating Knowledge

16 – 18 June 2016, International Institute for Social Science, The Hague, Netherlands

Our previous workshops have explored how we generate knowledge about conflict-related sexual violence, whether through methodological questions of sources or conceptual questions of embodiment or culture. The conference last year has now challenged us to ask the next question: What is it we assume when we deal with this subject, and which gaps do we leave unreflected upon? Or to be more precise: What are the ideational underpinnings of our knowledge? And what are the political formations that these ideational frameworks structure and support?

The challenge of exploring conflict-related sexual violence appears to involve more than typical scholarly problems of producing impartial or rigorous knowledge, or of recognising the subjective/situated position of the researcher or practitioner. Instead, it seems that sexual violence both presumes and provokes particular ideas, images and affects. Such ‘imagined realities’ shape the approach of the researcher and practitioner towards conflict-related sexual violence as well as the knowledge she/he produces.

Furthermore, this epistemological relationship is not removed from the wider social imaginaries of practices of conflict-related sexual violence. Rather, we confront the complex emergence of this research field in and through such ideas, affects, and images.

In order to unpack these issues and to explore the politics of generating knowledge on sexual violence in armed conflict, all participants are asked to reflect on their practices of investigation through engagement with their sources and methods of work. Which formation of ideas emerges in your work? How can we grasp the frameworks that these ideas presuppose? And how do these frameworks illuminate or obscure the complexity of the phenomenon?

I. Ideational Frameworks

The discussions during the conference revealed that we may share particular assumptions about sexual violence in conflict, but that we also have different notions of, for example, the ways in which gender, ethnicity or religious affiliation inform and shape the perpetration and experience of sexual violence. What are the kind of assumptions that you feel are at work in your own case study? And which ideational underpinnings inform these assumptions? What contextual factors frame your research?

As a provocation to thought, we suggest that the ideational underpinnings of our investigation and knowledge of sexual violence in conflict may include the spectacle (visual, bodily), language (discourse), and fields (disciplinary and area knowledges). Is it fruitful for your empirical case to think along these lines? How do you, then, think about how these different forms shape your investigation and knowledge of sexual violence in conflict? Are there other forms that you might find obstructive or useful in your investigation of sexual violence? What is the relationship between the different forms? And how do we move and translate knowledge across them?

How do these forms capture (or not capture) the practice of sexual violence, which is both not immediate to the bodily sense of the researcher/practitioner and yet also is an embodied and phenomenological experience? And when do these forms involve instrumental approaches as in rumour, propaganda, or instrumental deployment?

II. The Operations of Ideas: Affect, Imaginary, and Pracctice

Ideational underpinnings operate in certain ways to generate our knowledge of sexual violence in conflict. One way to further unpack the operation of ideas, images and affects on our investigations is to examine the contradictions and effects of these underpinnings. Are there contradictions within these ideas in your empirical case? And if yes, how are such contradictions revealed or covered up?

How do we account for the satisfactions and dissatisfactions (pleasures and horrors) that are invoked by scenes of conflict-related sexual violence? How do these scenes situate their spectators – whether as observers, practitioners or researchers? How do they shape structures of feeling? What emotional investments do they call upon?

Do scenes of conflict-related sexual violence involve complicity in sexual violence in reading and describing them? What are the cultural symbols and structures that such scenes invoke? What kinds of representational practices do these interpretations use? How do we identify the work of translation required to move between languages and disciplines?

How do we account for the ambivalence and instability of these practices of knowledge and violence? And how do we account for the operation of ideas in our own case studies and reading of sources?

III. The Politics of Investigation and Knowledge

Particular presumptions and internalisations structure and limit our perspectives upon, and investigation of the complex phenomenon of conflict-related sexual violence. How do these attachments and absences shape the investigations of our case studies? What are the traps and gaps that these attachments and absences produce? Reflecting on your own work, how do you engage with these traps and gaps?

Given that our own work is part of the field, how do we participate in the politics of knowledge of conflict-related sexual violence? How do you situate your research in the field? How is it situated? Is there a difference?

Or to put it more broadly: what are the conditions – material, psychic, institutional, political –- that produce traps and gaps in the field? What are the implications of these conditions for what and how we know? For example, this field emerges also in wider national and international contexts. How do these broader contexts affect our research? How do domestic and international (geo-)politics impact both the visibility/exposure and invisibility of particular aspects and constellations? How do intersections of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, religion and migration and citizenship work in generating knowledge (for example in producing ontological and epistemological positions of victims and perpetrators, as well as of 'intervening community')?

Finally, are there ways to avoid reproducing these traps and gaps?


Thursday, 16 June

Marnie. Revisiting Hitchcock's film
Input: Gaby Zipfel

Friday, 17 June

Welcome: Dubravka Zarkov

Opening Remarks: Kirsten Campbell, Regina Mühlhäuser, Gaby Zipfel 

Introductory Round

Part I: Framework of Research

  • positionality of the researcher, points of departure
  • disciplinary and institutional approaches
  • epistemological interests/ divergencies of interest
  • methodologies and methods
  • transfer of knowledge (over time, across national, cultural, linguistic boundaries)

Moderation: Gaby Zipfel; Notes: Atreyee Sen

Part II: Objects of Research in War and Non-War

  • constellations of conflict / practices to carry out conflict
  • politics of identities (gender, race, religion, sexual orientation)
  • normative frameworks (justice, definitions of wrongdoing, societal awareness)
  • understandings of sexuality and violence in war and non-war times
  • relationship between pattern of conflict and occurrence of sexual violence

Moderation: Kirsten Campbell; Notes: Elissa Mailänder, Christa Hämmerle

Saturday, 18 June

Part III: Gendered Subjects of Research

  • victims (social positioning, self-positioning, scope of action, e.g. survival strategies)
  • perpetrators (positionality in the social and institutional context, individual motivation vs. institutional cultures, interests and constraints)
  • bystanders (agreement/disagreement, complicity, voyeurism)
  • beneficiaries (establishing hierarchies, defining scopes of interpretation and action)

Moderation: Regina Mühlhäuser; Notes: Dubravka Zarkov, Lisa Gabriel

Final Discussion / SVAC Perspectives

Position Papers

  • Xabier Agirre Aranburu, Shifting paradigms in the understanding of wartime sexual crimes
  • Aaron Belkin, Making the US military a more inclusive institution
  • Debra Bergoffen, The Violence of Dialogue
  • Pascale Bos, Nazi sexual enslavement of Jewish women – making and unmaking of myths?
  • Joanna Bourke, Sexual violence during military training
  • Kirsten Campbell, New research directions
  • Júlia Garraio, Lost in exhibition? On three photos of the Portuguese colonial war
  • Patrick Hönig, Mobile courts, transitional justice and hybrid normative orders in Eastern DRC
  • Regina Mühlhäuser, Sexual violence as weapon of war. The case of the German Wehrmacht
  • Atreyee Sen, When rape is not rape/ when rape is not rape
  • Yuki Tanaka, Imagined realities entertained by women promoting “comfort women bashing”
  • Laura Wolters, Tahrir Square’s “Circle of Hell”
  • Hyunah Yang, The “2015 Agreement” between Korea and Japan on “comfort women”
  • Dubravka Zarkov, Cooption, complicity, co-production: Feminist politics on war rape


  • Xabier Agirre Aranburu, International Criminal Court, The Hague, Netherlands
  • Aaron Belkin, Palm Center, San Francisco, USA
  • Debra Bergoffen, Department of Philosophy, George Mason University, Washington, USA
  • Pascale Bos, Department of Germanic Studies, University of Texas at Austin, USA
  • Kirsten Campbell, Department of Sociology, Goldsmith College, University of London, UK
  • Karen Gabriel, Department of English Studies, University of Delhi, India
  • Lisa Gabriel, Hamburg Foundation for the Advancement of Science and Culture, Germany
  • Júlia Garraio, Center for Social Studies, University of Coimbra, Portugal
  • Christa Hämmerle, Department of History, University of Vienna, Austria
  • Patrick Hönig, Hamburg Foundation for the Advancement of Research and Culture, Germany
  • Elissa Mailänder, Centre d’histoire de Sciences Po Paris, France
  • Gabi Mischkowski, Advisor for Gender Justice, medica mondiale, Köln, Germany
  • Gorana Mlinarevic, Goldsmiths College, University of London
  • Regina Mühlhäuser, Hamburg Foundation for the Advancement of Science and Culture, Germany
  • Atreyee Sen, Department of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Toshiyuki Tanaka, Department of History, Hiroshima University, Japan
  • Laura Wolters, Hamburg Institute for Social Research, Germany
  • Hyunah Yang, Department of Law, Seoul National University, Korea
  • Dubravka Zarkov, International Institute of Social Studies, Netherlands
  • Gaby Zipfel, Hamburg Foundation for the Advancement of Science and Culture, Germany