IWM Junior Visiting Fellows’ Conferences, Vol. XXVII
© 2011 by the authors
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Preferred citation: Carpenter, Shelby E. 2011. Preface: Themes of Displacement in Israel and Sierra Leone. In: Themes of Displacement,
ed. Shelby E. Carpenter, Vienna: IWM Junior Visiting Fellows’ Conferences, Vol. 27.
Preface: Themes of Displacement in Israel and Sierra Leone
Shelby E. Carpenter
I chose the title “Themes of Displacement” for our Junior Visiting
Scholars’ Volume because it lends itself to a wide range of considerations
within different academic disciplines. In particular, “Themes of Displacement” challenges
anthropologists and political scientists to reexamine some of our preconceived
assumptions about peoples and places.
For example, my anthropological research was in Sierra Leone, where the 1991-2002
civil war forced millions of Sierra Leoneans to flee across national borders
to settle temporarily or permanently in environments in which they had few
cultural connections, uncertain legal rights, limited control over their lives,
poor economic prospects, and significant risks to health and survival. Although
refugees the world over experience similar problems, beleaguered aid agencies
tend to see all refugees in the same light. In fact, different refugee populations
have very distinct collective identities. They do not tell the same story.
Conventional labels such as refugee, internally displaced person, and even
rooted terminology such as citizen, create a sort of normalization of place
that limits our understanding of a continuously changing reality. In both the
anthropological and psychological literature of “cultural bereavement” and
trauma, there is a presumed pathology resulting from being dislocated or displaced.  How
might we reevaluate these biases and rethink these categories in terms of varied
considerations such as prolonged military occupation, globalization, or long-term
conflict? How is identity shaped by (forced) migration, or a (forced) sedentary
lifestyle? What does displacement mean to multiple generations of refugees
who might never become citizens?
Within anthropology, Appadurai has framed the problem as, “…The task
of ethnography now becomes the unraveling of a conundrum: what is the nature
of the locality, as a lived experience, in a globalized, deterritorialized
world?” In other words, how
are understandings of individuals, communities, and regions formed and experienced?
In our short collection of articles, we look at displacement and how it has
shaped lives through various social processes in Israel/Palestine and among
Sierra Leoneans living in post-conflict Freetown.
Michal Biletzki’s article “Citizenship in Crisis – The
Palestinian Citizens of Israel: A Counterintuitive Account,” examines
the conception of citizenship through two discourses – the civic-republican
and the liberal-democratic. Using three distinct case studies, Michal compares
the violations of Palestinian rights by the Israeli state over time. She examines
how a self-identified democratic state, which shoots and kills its Palestinian
citizens, can go from seeking justice for those whose rights were violated
to failing to seek similar justice a mere four decades later.
Shelby Carpenter’s article “Trust Building in Post-Conflict Sierra
Leone,” explores the topic of distrust and trust through the lens of
ordinary Sierra Leoneans living in Freetown after the civil war. I examine
how trust might be altered by trauma and displacement, and what alternative
social structures (to kinship and contract) might actually help promote trustworthy
We would like to thank the IWM for their support during our 2009 tenure in
Vienna and for their continued interest in our research at Boston University.
We would also like to thank the IWM research staff and administration for their
friendly assistance throughout our participation as junior visiting scholars.
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al. 2008; Gupta and Ferguson, 1997; Malkki, 1990, 1992, 1995a, 1995b, 1997.
2. Appadurai, 1991:196.