On February 16, 2022, the Auschwitz Institute for the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities (AIPG) held a virtual book launch for the latest publication by AIPG’s Director of Research and Online Education, Dr. Kerry Whigham entitled Resonant Violence: Affect, Memory, and Activism in Post-Genocide Societies. The event featured an introduction by AIPG’s Director of Academic Programs, Dr. James Waller, followed by a presentation by Dr. Whigham on the book’s contents, before concluding with an interactive Q&A session with nearly one hundred attendees from around the world, including representatives from governments, civil society, and academia.
Resonant Violence: Affect, Memory, and Activism in Post-Genocide Societies is the product of over ten years of research conducted by Dr. Whigham, in which he analyzes how the enduring violence of genocides and their damaging legacies can lead to continued violence and social division in societies. The book also examines the varied ways states and grassroots collectives respond to — and transform — this violence through memory practices and activism, highlighting specific lessons from the Holocaust, Latin American dictatorships, and settler-colonial societies worldwide. Dr. Whigham explained:
Resonant Violence is my attempt to reconceptualize our understanding of genocidal violence as something that lives on for entire societies continuing to impact them long after the physical violence of killing comes to an end. More than that, it is an exploration of the creative practices that many people have developed first to acknowledge that violence and then to transform it into new forms of agency and power.
Throughout the text, Dr. Whigham demonstrates the ways in which harmful legacies of past human rights abuses are perpetuated through preferential social structures that benefit distinct groups at the expense of others. Although the systematic killing of victims might be front-ended, Resonant Violence explores how the affective environments that allowed the violence to occur in the first place do not disappear immediately, until it is transformed through mitigations actions.
As Dr. Whigham described, genocides can continue after physical violence ends because their legacies continue to work against victim groups in “less visible, more obscure ways.” Survivors are often forced to deal with the enduring trauma of the harm they experienced, leading them to experience economic and social violence. An example of this is the Standing Rock Reservation, where abuse continues for Native peoples. Non-Native communities continue to benefit from stolen land and a system of impunity that allows police officers to exercise excessive force against peaceful protesters defending the reservation. Dr. Whigham explains:
The abuse does not only live on in the blood of those most directly victimized, but it also lives on the bodies and blood of all members of society because it becomes part of everyone’s identity. Whether you are a victim, a bystander, a collaborator, or even a perpetrator.
In his presentation, Dr. Whigham also explained different kinds of mitigation actions, such as memorialization and “co-embodied practices.” He illustrated the evolution and shift of memorialization practices over the past 70 to 80 years through a map of memorials in Berlin (found in one of the book’s chapters), and added:
What we see by looking at these memorials is an increase of distrust in traditional monument mentality and in permanence… a move away from literal representation towards abstraction. Today, there is an amplifying focus on the subjective and emotional experience of the visitor, and the construction of these sites is not enough to respond to that powerful force of resonant violence. These sites become powerful when they are filled with bodies and filled with actions.
As for “co-embodied practices,” Resonant Violence analyses cases where groups of people have come together to respond to and potentially transform resonant violence through these practices in public spaces. An example is seen in the Escraches demonstrations in Argentina, where individuals work together towards a shared goal to demand justice for the victims of the military dictatorship.
Following Dr. Whigham’s presentation, event attendees were invited to participate in a Q&A session with Dr. Whigham and Dr. Waller. The subsequent discussion focused on themes such as the role of women in memorialization, increasing cases of the vandalism of memorials, and the different kinds of transformative actions that have taken place in countries like Colombia and Argentina.
Resonant Violence: Affect, Memory, and Activism in Post-Genocide Societies is now available globally and can be ordered directly from Rutgers University Press, as well as through online retailers such as Amazon (in both Kindle and hardcover formats), and local booksellers.