Performing Trauma in Central Africa

Performing Trauma in Central Africa

Shadows of Empire
Laura Edmondson
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 03/26/2018
Format: Paperback 17 b&w illus., 1 map
ISBN: 978-0-253-03247-8
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What are the stakes of performance in a time of war? How is artistic expression prone to manipulation by the state and international humanitarian organizations? From the standpoint of empire, Laura Edmondson explores cultural production that responds to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the twenty-year civil war in northern Uganda, and regional conflict in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She examines memorial ceremonies, plays, indigenous performance, NGO media campaigns, and contemporary dance to reveal how artists and cultural workers challenge state and humanitarian narratives in the shadow of empire and how empire, in turn, infiltrates creative capacities. Carefully contextualizing these narratives within the charged political terrain of the Great Lakes Region, Edmondson deepens our understanding of the role of creative expression and cultural agency in conflict and postconflict zones.

Author Bio

Laura Edmondson is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Theater at Dartmouth College, where she is also affiliated with African and African American Studies. She is author of Performance and Politics in Tanzania: The Nation on Stage.


“Passionate and brilliantly argued, Performing Trauma in Central Africa illuminates the complicities, paradoxes, and problematics at the intersection of humanitarian activism and the performance of trauma. While performance studies has at times succumbed to a naïve faith in the transformative power of performance in zones of conflict, Edmondson illuminates how the affective labor of such endeavors can be so potently marshaled for such problematic ends.”
 — Catherine M. Cole, author of Performing South Africa's Truth Commission

“Laura Edmondson's theorization of the "empire of trauma" provides alternative insights into the interweaving of political paradigms from international development to conflict studies to performance studies. She also reflects on her own susceptibility to be engulfed into the empire's charms.”
 — Ananda Breed, author of Performing the Nation: Genocide, Justice, Reconciliation

“An intimately engaged, critical investigation into the complicated use of trauma by local, national, and international groups, toward both neoliberal and resistant aims, in the post-genocidal Great Lakes region of Africa. Laura Edmondson has collected a compelling set of case studies that speak not only to performance studies, but also to those working in theater activism, politics, and NGOs.”
 — Patrick Anderson, editor (with Jisha Menon) of Violence Performed: Local Roots and Global Routes of Conflict

“While the arguments put forward in Performing Trauma in Central Africa are impressive, the methodological and ethical commitments that buttress the text are even more so. Edmondson’s research for the book spans well over a
decade and encompasses a rich variety of ethnographic and archival investigations on three continents.”
 — Modern Drama

“Edmondson's book is an outstanding addition to the literature on theatre and performance in situations of conflict and post-conflict. It will be an indispensable work for students, academics and activists concerned with the role of the arts in war-affected communities and within the humanitarian sector more broadly.”
 — New Theatre Quarterly

“[T]his important volume [is] particularly valuable as an honest and accurate critique of art for social change. . . . Essential.”
 — Choice

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Table of Contents

List of Acronyms
1. Competitive Memory in the Great Lakes: Touring Genocide
2. Marketing Trauma and the Theatre of War in Northern Uganda
3. Trauma, Inc. in Postgenocide Rwanda
4. Repetition, Rupture, and Ruined: Narratives from the Congo
5. Gifted by Trauma: The Branding of Post-Conflict Northern Uganda
6. Confessions of a Failed Theatre Activist
Afterword: Faustin Linyekula and the Labors of Hope