How are Tamil Villages Reconstructed? Ethnography of Place-Making in Post-war Reconstruction in Sri Lanka

Eleni Spiliotes
Friday 8 December 2023

Sanmugeswaran, Pathmanesan. In Rebuilding Communities After Displacement, edited by Mo Hamza, Dilanthi Amaratunga, Richard Haigh, Chamindi Malalgoda, Chathuranganee Jayakody, and Anuradha Senanayake, 269-288. Cham: Springer, 2023.

This paper presents research on Tamil placemaking practices, arguing that the post-conflict reconstruction of Tamil Hindu villages is a process in which Jaffna Tamils cultivate a post-war sense of place by recollecting their pre-war sense of place. Placemaking interventions are often represented in the literature as incubators for radical forms of participation and collaboration. But, by using the term “village-temple consciousness” instead of placemaking, Sanmugeswaran situates placemaking practices as intergenerational, sacred knowledge within Tamil Hindu communities. The model houses provided by top-down peacebuilding projects in post-conflict Sri Lanka do not follow the placemaking practices of these communities, which are derived from architectural guidelines found in Hindu text. Thus, using their pre-war village life as a model, these communities engage in a process of tense, disordered, and uneven reconstruction without external support or a collaboratively constructed plan of action. Furthermore, nostalgia-based placemaking reproduces structures, like the Tamil caste system, which paradoxically excludes lower castes from placemaking. By legitimizing and institutionalizing the culturally specific and holistic nature of indigenous placemaking practices in post-conflict reconstruction, communities would be empowered to remember their past, but also to imagine a better future.


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