The Body of War: Media, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Break-up of Yugoslavia

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In The Body of War, Dubravka Žarkov analyzes representations of female and male bodies in the Croatian and Serbian press in the late 1980s and in the early 1990s, during the war in which Yugoslavia disintegrated. Žarkov proposes that the Balkan war was not a war between ethnic groups; rather, ethnicity was produced by the war itself. Žarkov explores the process through which ethnicity was generated, showing how lived and symbolic female and male bodies became central to it. She does not posit a direct causal relationship between hate speech published in the press during the mid-1980s and the acts of violence in the war. Instead, she argues that both the representational practices of the “media war” and the violent practices of the “ethnic war” depended on specific, shared notions of femininity and masculinity, norms of (hetero)sexuality, and definitions of ethnicity.

Tracing the links between the war and press representations of ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, Žarkov examines the media’s coverage of two major protests by women who explicitly identified themselves as mothers, of sexual violence against women and men during the war, and of women as militants. She draws on contemporary feminist analyses of violence to scrutinize international and local feminist writings on the war in former Yugoslavia. Demonstrating that some of the same essentialist ideas of gender and sexuality used to produce and reinforce the significance of ethnic differences during the war often have been invoked by feminists, she points out the political and theoretical drawbacks to grounding feminist strategies against violence in ideas of female victimhood.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Dubravka Žarkov’s remarkable book brings new insights to bear on the feminist theorizing of war. Nuanced, complex, lucid, and empirically grounded, Žarkov’s powerful combination of the insider’s understanding, passion, and emotional attachment with the academic’s distance and rigor, makes this a hard-to-put-down read.”—Urvashi Butalia, author of The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India

“Theoretically sophisticated and passionately argued, The Body of War shows how women’s (and men’s) bodies are implicated in the war in former Yugoslavia and its aftermath. Dubravka Žarkov courageously goes where others have feared to tread, rejecting too-easy assumptions that this was just a conflict between ethnic groups. Her book is a ‘must read’ for anyone interested in the ways gender and sexuality intersect to produce differences in ethnicity, thereby creating the pretext and the context for conflict and war.”—Kathy Davis, author of The Making of Our Bodies, Ourselves: How Feminism Travels across Borders

Vesna Nikolic-Ristanovic

The Body of War is the crowning achievement of Dubravka Žarkov’s year-long research in media, gender and ethnicity during ethnic conflict in the former Yugoslavia. . . . The book is highly recommended to those interested not only in gender studies and issues of violence against women, but also to criminologists, victimologists, as well as scholars and activists in conflict, media and peace studies.”
Maja Korac

“This illuminating book is erudite and systematic. There is a lot in it that is very valuable, particularly the discussion on victimized fe/male bodies, making this book an important addition to the literature on how gender and sexuality intersect with ethnicity and produce war and war violence in specific circumstances and points in time.”
Neloufer de Mel

“While The Body of War provides an extremely useful feminist analysis for scholars and general readers on the discourses of the media during the Balkans conflict, it goes beyond discourse analysis to reflect upon, and intervene, in crucial current debates on feminist narrativization, historiography and practice. . . . Zarkov’s treatment of themedia, feminist discourse and questions of history and representation in the context of armed conflict provides a very thoughtful, accessible and timely platform towards this goal.”
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Dubravka Žarkov is an Associate Professor in Gender, Conflict, and Development Studies at the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague. She is a coeditor of The Postwar Moment: Militaries, Masculinities, and International Peacekeeping and an associate editor of Focaal: European Journal of Anthropology.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     ix
Introduction     1
The Maternal Body
The Whore against the Mother of All Serbs     19
Pictures of the Wall of Love     43
Troubles with Motherhood     69
The Victimized Body
The Body of All Serbs     85
All the Bodies of Croatia     102
Sexual Geographies of Ethnicity     116
On Victims and Villains     143
The Body of the Other Man     155
Troubles with the Victim     170
The Armed Body
Soldiers of Tradition     191
Troubles with Arms     212
Notes     233
Bibliography     257
Index     281
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