Centre for Conflict Resolution, Department of Peace Studies, Working Paper 2, University of Bradford, September.
This paper is a contribution to a larger study on "NGOs in complex emergencies." In the case of Sri Lanka the term "complex emergency" has been used to describe the situation in the North-East province, where an ongoing civil war has continued for the past fifteen years.
The starting point of this paper is to view the Sri Lankan conflict as a reflection of failure in the process of state formation during the post-independence period. This is a situation that is also found in many other countries that have come out from a colonial experience. However, in contrast to some countries in Africa, Sri Lanka is not a case of a so-called collapsed state. Nor is it a situation like that in Eastern Europe which has come out of an experience of state socialism. It is in South Asia that we can find the closest analogies to the situation in Sri Lanka. This is primarily because of commonality in the histories of the countries of the sub-continent.
This paper is based on those traditions of scholarship that take into account the historical processes and experiences of particular countries. For such traditions conflict situations such as those in Sri Lanka are a part and parcel of the process of formation or breakdown of nation-states. As shown by the history of many other parts of the world such as Europe, the formation or breaking up of nation states are accompanied with wars and conflicts. There is no reason to believe that it will be not so in the sub-continent.
A fundamental premise on which this paper is written is the need to understand the specificity of the history of the societies in which conflicts are taking place if we want to do anything about it. This is not to argue against generalisation, but an attempt to bring to the attention of those involved in studying conflicts, the general methodological debates in social sciences about the interaction between universal categories and specific historical experiences. Or methodological issues that social science research has to face when universal categories are utilised in any specific historical circumstances.
Perhaps more than any other publication it was Edward Said.s book Orientalism1 which forcefully brought to our attention the problems of universal categories trying to generalise across the diverse historical experiences. He showed how the creation of categories like Occident and Orient during the colonial period missed much of the nuances of colonised societies, and what more how these categories served the purposes of colonialism. In recent times within much of the dominant scholarship, such generalisations have remained in the study of post colonial societies. For example for many years there were attempts to classify post colonial societies in a tradition/modern dichotomy or in the field of development after the construction of categories like the .Third World., many countries were lumped together and there was a search for something called .third world poverty.
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