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Moral spaces, and sexual transgression: understanding rape in war and post conflict

Porter, Holly E. (2019) Moral spaces, and sexual transgression: understanding rape in war and post conflict. Development and Change, 50 (4). pp. 1009-1032. ISSN 0012-155X

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Identification Number: 10.1111/dech.12499


When it comes to rape in war, evocative language describing rape as a ‘weapon of war’ has become commonplace. Although politically important, overemphasis on strategic aspects of wartime sexual violence can be misleading. Alternative explanations tend to understand rape either as exceptional — a departure from ‘normal’ sexual relationships — or as part of a continuum of gendered violence. This article shows how, even in war, norms are not suspended; nor do they simply continue. War changes the moral landscape. Drawing on ethnographic research over 10 years in northern Uganda, this article argues for a re-sexualization of understandings of rape. It posits that sexual mores are central to explaining sexual violence, and that sexual norms — and hence transgressions — vary depending on the moral spaces in which they occur. In Acholi, moral spaces have temporal dimensions (‘olden times’, the ‘time of fighting’ and ‘these days’) and associated spatial dimensions (home, camp, bush, village, town). The dynamics of each help to explain the occurrence of some forms of sexual violence and the rarity of others. By reflecting on sexual norms and transgressions in these moral spaces, the article sheds light on the relationship between ‘event’ and ‘ordinary’, rape and war.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2019 The Author
Divisions: IGA: Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa
International Development
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Date Deposited: 14 Feb 2019 14:45
Last Modified: 20 Oct 2021 02:36

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