Constructing the Enemy-Other: Anxiety, Trauma and Mourning in the Narratives of Political Conflict

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This paper examines the process by which enemies are created in the midst of conflict. Rather than accepting the premise that the parties to a conflict exist a priori and are set against one another once the ‘proper’ conditions exist, the paper argues that group-selves and enemy-others are created in the wake of a collective identity crisis. Under conditions of threat, collectivities may engage in a process best described by Julia Kristeva as abjection, whereby a group will cast off a familiar yet foreign part of the self and project into this severed part those unwanted or undesirable traits associated with vulnerability. This process of splitting is both trauma and response to trauma; as such the process is impossible to describe as it occurs. A proxy narrative, created to make sense of the process to the anxious and threatened group-self, presents a narrative of the conflict between the group-self and the enemy-other that does not acknowledge the previous relationship between the two. It is only through processes similar to adaptive mourning that a collectivity can come to question the content of a proxy narrative and re-evaluate the relationship with the abject-other. Through mourning, a new relationship can be forged and a new narrative of that relationship and its evolution through conflict can be created. Through mourning new futures become available, just as the past is re-evaluated and likewise created anew.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-130
Number of pages21
JournalPsychoanalysis, Culture and Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2009


  • collective identity
  • ethnic conflict
  • trauma
  • post-Communism
  • conflict resolution


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