The Body of War

Media, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Break-up of Yugoslavia

The Body of War

Next Wave: New Directions in Women's Studies

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Book Pages: 296 Illustrations: 15 illustrations Published: September 2007

European Studies, Gender and Sexuality, Sociology

In The Body of War, Dubravka Žarkov analyzes representations of female and male bodies in the Croatian and Serbian press in the late 1980s and in the early 1990s, during the war in which Yugoslavia disintegrated. Žarkov proposes that the Balkan war was not a war between ethnic groups; rather, ethnicity was produced by the war itself. Žarkov explores the process through which ethnicity was generated, showing how lived and symbolic female and male bodies became central to it. She does not posit a direct causal relationship between hate speech published in the press during the mid-1980s and the acts of violence in the war. Instead, she argues that both the representational practices of the “media war” and the violent practices of the “ethnic war” depended on specific, shared notions of femininity and masculinity, norms of (hetero)sexuality, and definitions of ethnicity.

Tracing the links between the war and press representations of ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, Žarkov examines the media’s coverage of two major protests by women who explicitly identified themselves as mothers, of sexual violence against women and men during the war, and of women as militants. She draws on contemporary feminist analyses of violence to scrutinize international and local feminist writings on the war in former Yugoslavia. Demonstrating that some of the same essentialist ideas of gender and sexuality used to produce and reinforce the significance of ethnic differences during the war often have been invoked by feminists, she points out the political and theoretical drawbacks to grounding feminist strategies against violence in ideas of female victimhood.


The Body of War is the crowning achievement of Dubravka Žarkov’s year-long research in media, gender and ethnicity during ethnic conflict in the former Yugoslavia. . . . The book is highly recommended to those interested not only in gender studies and issues of violence against women, but also to criminologists, victimologists, as well as scholars and activists in conflict, media and peace studies.” — Vesna Nikolic-Ristanovic, Feminist Review

The Body of War is an important work that will be of use to those who study violent conflict, rape, gender, the mass media, ethnicity, the republics of the former Yugoslavia, Slavic linguistics, and South Slavic culture and history.” — Matthew Feeney, Slavic and East European Journal

“[A] thoughtful and innovative book. . . .” — Cynthia Cockburn, International Feminist Journal of Politics

“[A]n engaging and accessible book, a fantastic resource . . . and indispensable reading for scholars and activists interested in ethnic conflict, nationalism, or the former Yugoslavia.” — Elissa Helms, Slavic Review

“[T]here is no doubt that The Body of War is a must-read for anyone interested in the intersections of nationalism and gender. The book should be a valuable addition to reading lists for both advanced undergraduate and postgraduate course in the fields of gender and nationalism studies.” — Sabina Mihelj, European Journal of Communication

“[Zarkov’s] intuitive and penetrating analysis . . . eloquently illustrates how both discourses and acts of violence are mutually used in order to produce and engender ethnicity. . . . The Body of War is a compelling book.” — Eleni Sideri, American Ethnologist

“[Zarkov] creates compelling arguments that the idea of motherhood is at once powerful and vulnerable . . . . [S]he writes in a lean, passionate and interested voice. Her claims are also sound and do not seem like stretches.” — Peter Piatkowski, Feminist Review

“By destabilizing the self-evidence of ethnicity as a concept, the book works to open up new ways to think about media, gender and agency in the context of war. Whether read with an interest in gender and nationalism, feminist approaches to war, or media studies, The Body of War will surely both enlighten and provoke.” — Andrew Graan, Journal of the Society for the Anthropology of Europe

“This illuminating book is erudite and systematic. There is a lot in it that is very valuable, particularly the discussion on victimized fe/male bodies, making this book an important addition to the literature on how gender and sexuality intersect with ethnicity and produce war and war violence in specific circumstances and points in time.” — Maja Korac, Nations and Nationalism

“While The Body of War provides an extremely useful feminist analysis for scholars and general readers on the discourses of the media during the Balkans conflict, it goes beyond discourse analysis to reflect upon, and intervene, in crucial current debates on feminist narrativization, historiography and practice. . . . Zarkov’s treatment of themedia, feminist discourse and questions of history and representation in the context of armed conflict provides a very thoughtful, accessible and timely platform towards this goal.” — Neloufer de Mel, European Journal of Women's Studies

“With this important contribution, Zarkov sheds light on the new wave of feminist theorising on war, gender and the media. She fills a gap in the literature on gender, war, ethnicity and media in the context of the former Yugoslavia. Her analysis offers a valuable resource for scholars and students who are interested to take on and further explore the links Zarkov has brought to our attention.” — Olivera Simic, Indian Journal of Gender Studies

“Dubravka Žarkov’s remarkable book brings new insights to bear on the feminist theorizing of war. Nuanced, complex, lucid, and empirically grounded, Žarkov’s powerful combination of the insider’s understanding, passion, and emotional attachment with the academic’s distance and rigor, makes this a hard-to-put-down read.” — Urvashi Butalia, author of The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India

“Theoretically sophisticated and passionately argued, The Body of War shows how women’s (and men’s) bodies are implicated in the war in former Yugoslavia and its aftermath. Dubravka Žarkov courageously goes where others have feared to tread, rejecting too-easy assumptions that this was just a conflict between ethnic groups. Her book is a ‘must read’ for anyone interested in the ways gender and sexuality intersect to produce differences in ethnicity, thereby creating the pretext and the context for conflict and war.” — Kathy Davis, author of The Making of Our Bodies, Ourselves: How Feminism Travels across Borders


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Dubravka Žarkov is an Associate Professor in Gender, Conflict, and Development Studies at the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague. She is a coeditor of The Postwar Moment: Militaries, Masculinities, and International Peacekeeping and an associate editor of Focaal: European Journal of Anthropology.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

Part I. The Maternal Body

1. The Whore against the Mother of All Serbs 19

2. Pictures of the Wall of Love 43

3. Troubles with Motherhood 69

Part II. The Victimized Body

4. The Body of All Serbs 85

5. All the Bodies of Croatia 102

6. Sexual Geographies of Ethnicity 116

7. On Victims and Villains 143

8. The Body of the Other Man 155

9. Troubles with the Victim 170

Part III. The Armed Body

10. Soldirs of Tradition 191

11. Troubles with Arms 212

Notes 233

Bibliography 257

Index 281
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3966-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3955-7
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