Briggs, Charles L.

Research Project
A Counter Politics of Narrative and Violence: Infanticide and the Limits of the Human

Much research on narrative and violence treats their relationship as immanent, an assumption shared by many media, legal, medical, and lay persons. Acts of violence seem to require particular sorts of narratives, whose performance and inscription represents violent events and/or produces particular types of effects, such as the individual and collective acts of healing associated with truth and reconciliation commissions.
This project views this process from a problematic location, stories about women and sometimes men convicted of infanticide. My archival and ethnographic research, largely conducted in Venezuela, has followed these narratives through newsrooms, police stations, courtrooms, living rooms, streets, and prisons. Narratives of infanticide, which generate widespread attention, become stories about stories – narratives that recount how the story of the crime unfolded naturally and automatically from material and corporeal evidence, and the words of relatives, neighbors, doctors, detectives, defendants, and the vox populi. These constructions of discourse about violence create a very limited range of subject positions, generate standardized scripts for persons interpellated in each slot, and make it difficult to advance counter-narratives, thereby inscribing the legitimacy of state institutions. I developed collaborations with women interviewed in prison to construct counter-narratives, not alternative renditions of »the facts« but critical, reflexive accounts of how such narratives get constructed that open up new possibilities for reentering the realm of the human.
In Göttingen, I will focus on a chapter that explores the emergence of discourses of infanticide and their inscription in ballads, plays, novels, poetry, essays, and legal writing in eighteenth and nineteenth century Germany.

Selected Publications

Briggs, C. 1986. Learning How to Ask: A Sociolinguistic Appraisal of the Role of the Interview in Social Science Research. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Briggs, C. and C. Mantini-Briggs. 2003. Stories in the Time of Cholera: Racial Profiling during a Medical Nightmare. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Bauman, R. and C. Briggs. 2003. Voices of Modernity: Language Ideologies and the Politics of Inequality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Briggs, C. 2007. Mediating Infanticide: Theorizing Relations between Narratives and Violence. Cultural Anthropology 22(3): 315-356.

Briggs, C. 2008. Poéticas de vida en espacios de muerte: Género, poder y el estado en la cotidianeidad Warao. Quito: Editorial Abya-Yala.