Ethnicity, Identity and Violence

The category of Ethnicity, and the associated field of knowledge ‘ethnic studies,’ has been both a strategic position and a perspective for the Centre since its inception. Scholarship on the newly-independent Ceylon, like many postcolonial ‘new nations’ of Asia and Africa was dominated by ideas of ‘nation building,’ as exemplified in the work of the Committee of New Nations, at the University of Chicago.

Past literature lacked an analytical vocabulary, where both dominant and subordinate nationalisms could be understood with equal care, within one frame. “Communalism” was the unsavoury, pathologizing epithet that each nationalism would throw at the other, leading to an interruption of scholarly and reasoned dialogue. The idea of Ethnicity as a category in the human sciences, perhaps mooted by international foundations given other imperatives, becomes a strategic answer, to the difficulties of the category, “Communalism.” The Social Scientists’ Association conference, “Ethnicity and Social Change,” in 1979, is an important landmark in the shift to ‘Ethnicity,” and the founding of ICES in 1982, is its full realization.As in the past, ICES will continue to conduct research under the thematic area of Ethnicity, Identity and Violence, in a way that reflect this genealogy. On the one hand, research into all forms of nationalism, especially in the postcolonial world has been important, and work on subaltern domains, within both dominant and subordinate nationalisms is crucial. On these issues, the fifth bi-annual subaltern studies conference, co-organized by ICES, in 1995 in Colombo, resulted in the important volume of essays, Subaltern Studies XI: Community, Gender, Violence (2001). In addition to work on the subaltern domain of politics, work on marginalized social identities, and small minority groups, is also central to this thematic area. In recent years, violence has emerged as a newly visible phenomenon, both in popular and scholarly contexts. Both practices and institutions that allow for the perpetration of violence on the one hand, and practices of survival, which include the work of mourning and grief, on the other, will continue to be important areas of inquiry. The important volume of articles, Mirrors of Violence (1991), which emerged out of an ICES organized conference, was an early milestone in this regard, as has been the project on Social Suffering, which was a component of the NORAD Sri Lanka Studies Program.The refereed research journal Domains, has already published several articles and issues, which contribute to this theme.

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Programme Objective:

  • To protect the endless diversity of identities, and promote coexistence through rigorous research of subaltern groups, and to shape an alternative discourse in ‘ethnic studies’ through subaltern perspectives.
  • To continue to understand the problem of the perpetration, witnessing and survival of violence


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Past and Future Directions

ICES has pioneered and shaped the field of knowledge ‘ethnic studies’ as both a strategic position and a perspective for the Centre. Building on its 25 years of academic contribution to the field, the primary focus of the new programme will be research, publications, and the creative arts.