The "linguistic ceasefire": Negotiating in an age of proscription

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Political Science Department

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Document Type

Research Article

Publication Title

Security Dialogue

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Villains need to be de-villainized for talking to begin; this is a cornerstone of negotiation literature. But what happens when villains are proscribed, or listed as terrorists? While an emerging body of work has started to explore the effects of proscription by emphasizing aspects of demonization and banishment, it has not so far explored how banishment ends. This article offers a theoretical and empirical contribution to this discussion by exploring the effects of proscription on the dynamic interaction between conflict parties and how negotiations still do take place with armed groups listed as terrorists. To do this it maps representations made by the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia through a qualitative discourse analysis of 335 statements triangulated with 50 personal interviews. The article argues that proscription makes the initiation of negotiations impossible because it leads to a form of extreme vilification. This is especially true for the government, unable to switch directly to de-vilifying its proscribed enemy. First it has to normalize its vilification – a concept I describe here as a ‘linguistic ceasefire’. This helps explain how banishment can end and peace negotiations can be initiated in an age of proscription.

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