Life in an age of death: War and the river in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The majority of literature on wars understandably focuses on the horrific aspects of war, such as death, destruction, displacement, and trauma. In this article, however, I want to highlight that life in war is not only brutal and disastrous but also is in some respects deeply joyful and at times even fun. This requires that we portray the horrific experiences of death and destruction but that we also ask: What kind of life emerges in these injured landscapes? Guided by this question, I argue that we cannot understand what war looks like and feels like if we do not understand the relationship between humans and other than humans. More specifically, I show how during the Bosnian War, in the devastated city of ruins, Bihać, shared experiences of joy, fun, and togetherness (communitas) materialized between the town's people and the Una River. Swimming in the river together provided the people of Bihać with an opportunity to create moments of play and laughter between life and death. As people in Bihać explained, these were moment-by-moment living situations, where generations blended and where divisions, superiority, and pride were broken down, however temporarily, and new undifferentiated bonds among people were created—communitas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)263-278
Number of pages16
JournalAmerican Anthropologist
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • communitas
  • humans
  • other than humans
  • river
  • war

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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