Concentration Camp Rituals: An Extreme Case of Insecurity

Goran Basic

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Reason(s) for writing and research problem(s): This article analyzes the experiences retold by former concentration camp detainees who were placed in concentration camps like civilians at the beginning of the Bosnian war in the 1990s. Aims of the paper (scientific and/or social): The article aims to describe the recounted social interaction rituals after time spent in a concentration camp as well as identifying how these interactions are symbolically dramatized. Methodology/Design: The empirical material for this study was collected through qualitative interviews held with nine former camp detainees and four close relatives. Research/paper limitations: The analyzed empirical examples revealed how the camp detainees’ victim identity is created, recreated, and retained in contrast to ‘the others’ – the camp guards. The camp detainees’ portrayal of their victim identity presents their humiliated self through dissociation from the camp guards. Results/Findings: The detainees’ new (altered) moral career is presented as a result of the imprisonment at the camp and the repetitive humiliation and power rituals. The importance of the camp guards was emphasized in these rituals, in which the detainees’ new selves, characterized by moral dissolution and fatigue, emerged. General conclusion: In their stories of crime and abuse in the concentration camps, the detainees reject the guards’ actions and the designation of ‘concentration camp detainee’. The retold stories of violation and power rituals in the camps show that there was little space for individuality. Nevertheless, resistance and status rituals along with adapting to the conditions in the camps seem to have generated some room for increased individualization. To have possessed some control and been able to resist seems to have granted the detainees a sense of honor and self-esteem, not least after the war. Their narratives today represent a form of continued resistance. Research/paper validity: The interviewees’ rejections of the guards’ actions and their forced “camp detainee” status could be interpreted as an expression of de-ritualization, leading away from their own earlier experiences. The subsequently illustrated myriad of everyday interactions, which can be distinguished analytically in the interviewees’ stories, expose rituals of humiliation, power, resistance, and status. Through these, we see the interviewees’ loss of identity, others’ recognition of one’s identity, emotional involvement, and different symbols of resistance.
Sidor (från-till)21-33
TidskriftKriminalističke teme. Časopis za kriminalistiku, kriminologiju i sigurnosne studije / Journal of Criminal Justice Issues
StatusPublished - 2014

Ämnesklassifikation (UKÄ)

  • Sociologi (exklusive socialt arbete, socialpsykologi och socialantropologi)


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