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Demonic violence and moral panic in post-war Sri Lanka:explaining the “Grease Devils”

Venugopal, Rajesh ORCID: 0000-0002-7498-7712 (2015) Demonic violence and moral panic in post-war Sri Lanka:explaining the “Grease Devils”. Journal of Asian Studies, 74 (3). pp. 615-637. ISSN 0021-9118

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Identification Number: 10.1017/S0021911815000522


How can episodes of crisis, breakdown, violence and collapse be explained in the social sciences? This paper addresses this broad question by studying an extraordinary episode of mass tension and anxiety in post-war Sri Lanka caused by a mystery male predator known as the ‘grease devil’. Reports over widespread attacks on women by this shadowy, ubiquitous, and powerful being led to heightened levels of vigilance and fear across large parts of rural and peri-urban Sri Lanka in mid-2011. It had a particularly strong impact on the formerly war-torn north-east of the island where it led to violent confrontations between affected communities and the police and military, who were widely held to be complicit. This paper attempts to reconstruct and understand the grease devil crisis by drawing on primary materials, including fieldwork, and by engaging with a range of concepts and analytical vehicles across the historical and social science literature including the sociology of moral panics, the anthropology of magic, Sri Lankan demonology,and hegemonic control. In doing so, it identifies three different ways to understand the crisis: (i) causal; (ii) instrumental/functional and; (iii) event as metaphor; and engages in a critical evaluation of the extent to which each of these relate to the available evidence to produce analytically relevant insights.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2014 The Author
Divisions: International Development
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General)
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Date Deposited: 30 Jun 2014 16:44
Last Modified: 16 May 2024 01:59

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