n African Security Review - The changing meaning of small arms in Nuer society : essay

Volume 12, Issue 4
  • ISSN : 1024-6029
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The economic value, social status and symbolic meaning of small arms are particular and temporal in nature. This is demonstrated through a historical account of the dynamics of cultural change and adaptation in Nuer society. Specifically, the article shows how attitudes towards small arms shifted over time from a positive valuation of guns as prestigious objects, to ambivalence between the need for protection and the experience of increased local lawlessness and violence. More generally, it demonstrates how weapon-related activities can only be fully understood when seen against a specific cultural background. Even if the display, use and circulation of weapons appear to carry cross-cultural references, typically as expressions of power and masculine identity, the meaning is always primarily local. Therefore, strategies to reduce the destructive impact of small arms through demand side programs, based on voluntary participation, can only be carried out successfully if built on an in-depth understanding of a particular cultural context.

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