How and why do particular forms of violence spread across populations during particular periods?
This question is interrogated through an empirical account of the current epidemic of violence against individuals accused of practising sorcery in the Enga province of the Papua New Guinean Highlands. Violence against those accused of using sorcery or witchcraft is both a contemporary and historical phenomenon around the world, often manifested in centuries-long patterns of sudden outbreaks that subside, only to flare up again at a later date.
However, in Enga, sorcery accusation-related violence (is a new phenomenon, with the first cases appearing around 2010. This makes Enga a particularly valuable case study into how novel forms of violence and associated novel forms of perceived threat (in this case particular forms of witchcraft/sorcery) can diffuse across a society, highlighting which forces help to both spread and contain the spread of such violence.
This study’s insights into the centrality of stories or narratives in the spread of violence, and the importance of networks and counter-narratives to contain it, are also relevant for other types of “outbreaks” of violence based on othering, such as race-based vigilantism, homophobic or anti-Semitic violence.
Miranda Forsyth is an Associate Professor at RegNet in the College of Asia and Pacific at ANU. She is interested in exploring how normative change occurs in conditions of normative and legal plurality, with a particular focus on the role of law. Her main geographical focus in the Pacific Islands.