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Killing Your Neighbors

Friendship and Violence in Northern Kenya and Beyond

Jon Holtzman (Author)

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October, 2016.
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Neighboring communities who once lived together in peace have committed some of the most disturbing genocidal violence in recent decades: ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia; the slaughter of Tutsis in Rwanda; or Sunni-versus-Shia violence in today’s Iraq. As these instances illustrate, lethal violence does not always come at the hands of outsiders or foreigners—it can come just as easily from someone who was once considered a friend.

Employing a multisited, multivocal approach to ethnography, Killing Your Neighbors examines how peaceful neighbors become involved in lethal violence. It engages with a set of interlocking case studies in northern Kenya, focusing on sometimes-peaceful, sometimes violent interactions between Samburu herders and neighboring groups, interweaving Samburu narratives of key violent events with the narratives of neighboring groups on the other side of the same encounters. The book is, on one hand, an ethnography of particular people in a particular place, vividly portraying the complex and confusing dynamics of interethnic violence through the lives, words and intimate experiences of individuals variously involved in and affected by these conflicts. At the same time, the book aims to use this particular case study to illustrate how the dynamics in northern Kenya provides comparative insights to well-known, compelling contexts of violence around the globe.
Jon Holtzman is the author of Uncertain Tastes: Memory, Ambivalence, and the Politics of Eating in Samburu, Northern Kenya and Nuer Journeys, Nuer Lives: Sudanese Refugees in Minnesota. He is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Western Michigan University.
"Jon Holzman has written a thoughtful, multilayered meditation on the complexities, contradictions, and cultural contexts of violence and ethnographic research: How do friends become enemies, and enemies friends? Can we make sense of the often ambiguous stories people tell to justify or explain violence? How can we study violence between people and groups ethnographically?"—Dorothy Hodgson, Professor of Anthropology, Rutgers University

"Killing Your Neighbors takes us to the heart of a highly topical predicament arising in almost manic shifts between peace and vendetta verging on feud. Holtzman’s fresh and humane insights are about a remarkable ethnographic crossover. Evoking ‘the certainty of uncertainty’ through incompatible perspectives, Holtzman reveals important comparative lessons about the social and cultural force of memories and stories of violation, treachery, and failed amity."—Richard Werbner, author of Tears of the Dead and Emeritus Professor in African Anthropology, University of Manchester

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