I found Christine Sylvester’s reflections on critical war studies insightful.
I tend to agree with Parashar that International relations has focused more on the causes of war and how they end rather than the ‘period between these two moments’ ( Sylvester, p. 669) .
Sylvester’s work recognises the need to focus more on the ontology of war, its essence and existence. Kevin Power’s metaphorical description in his book , the Yellow Birds’ that ‘the war tried to kill us in the spring.’ ( Sylvester, p.669) lends credence to the idea that war has an existence of its own as ‘the Prime Knower’.
Powers alludes to the idea that such collective violence is in far more control of the outcomes’ than the very architects of such collective violence.
As such, theorising on the political causes and correlations of such collective violence fails to take into account ‘what war knows.’, that of the ‘multiple, disparate and perhaps contradictory agent, victim and spectator involvements associated with the execution, endorsement , opposition and pain of violence associated with shooting wars.’ (Sylvester, p.670)
Critical war studies thus does not flinch from embracing the war experiences of those whose moments include being brutally attacked, tortured or raped in Rwanda, Sri Lanka or Myanmar.
Such studies should also include the ‘phenomenological and experiential’ effects of such genocidal wars which include ‘acute awareness, common guilt, mutual recognition amongst shifting identities, optimism and what appears to be joy in the face of ubiquitous memorials to loss.’ experienced by agents and victims of war. ( Sylvester, p.672).
For instance, the ‘Killing Fields’ of the Cambodian Regime under Pol Pot continues to color the memories and relationships of the victims and their perpetrators till today as evidenced by those individuals who attended and testified at the UN backed Khmer Rouge Tribunal some 30 years after the atrocities.
Shapiro ‘s work on the complexities on contemporary political topologies on US warfare challenges the traditional boundaries of public and private spheres of life which contextualises our understanding of war.
Shapiro draws an interesting distinction between Arendt’s and Ranciere’s conceptualization of ‘ways in which events impinge upon the relationship between space and political action.'( Shapiro, p.111).
‘The polis for Arendt is the organisation of the people as it arises out of acting and speaking together.’ ( Shapiro,p.111).
In contrast, ‘Ranciere sees the political as an event of dissensus’ ‘instead of seeing the political as emerging from collective responses to events,’. ( Shapiro, p.111)
Shapiro’s juxtaposition of the views of these two approaches to the ‘ways in which war is connected to domesticity’ highlights the devergent views on what constitutes a political response to war.
Adopting Arendt’s perspective, a politically engaged individual who opposes the Syrian war would be one who ‘must exit the domestic space’ ,and in a concerted effort together with like minded individuals speak out with one voice against the atrocities committed by the Syrian and Russian regimes.
Ranciere, however, does not assume that there exists a bounded political space that people enter once provoked by events’;
‘The domain of the political is not a pre-existing space; it emerges through action that is addressed to a wrong.’ (Shapiro, p. 111) .
So the tweets of 15 year old Muhammad Najem of Ghouta accusing the Syrian president Bashar Al Assad of ‘killing his childhood’ and calling on the international community to take action would , in Ranciere’s typology, very likely constitute a political action for change. Both Arendt and Ranciere’s views,however, continue to resonate with International Relations scholars.
Sylvester, C. 2013 ‘Experiencing war: a challenge for International Relations’, Cambridge review of international affairs, 26:4, pp.669-67.
Shapiro, M. J. (2011) ‘The Presence of War: “Here and Elsewhere” International Political Sociology , 5:2, pp.109-125.
‘The Syrian Teenager Tweeting the Horror of Life in Ghouta.’ The Guardian, 24 February 2018,