(In)security and storytelling in Sri Lanka
: Negotiating safe spaces to remember, reenact and reconcile violence

  • Nirosha Jayawardana

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis seeks to understand how marginalised communities in Sri Lanka safely share stories of violence when systemic oppression silences them. Those whose caste, ethnicity, gender, geography, language and/or religion sets them apart from the hegemony are at high risk of experiencing every day and severe violence due to structural discrimination. This structural discrimination pertains to issues such as education, employment and housing, all of which intersect to create a position of acute oppression for marginalised communities. Experiences of such violence often go unspoken and unheard because individuals risk reprisal for 'criticising' the government, security forces or local power holders. Yet for the precarious situation of these groups - Tamil and Muslim youth, northern Tamil communities, Up-Country Tamil girls and women and southern Sinhala men - to be addressed, it is necessary for their stories to be recognised and acknowledged by being shared out loud. Storytelling, therefore, simultaneously generates security and insecurity, a paradox I explore with the term '(in)security.' I address four aspects of (in)security - emotional, physical, economic and cultural - through ethnographic analysis of four small, grassroots non-governmental organisations (NGOs) located across the island. Connected through their mutual affiliation with the Theatre of Friendship (ToF) network, each of these NGOs has uniquely adapted a common public storytelling practice to address the specific social concerns of their local communities. I identify the processes of securitisation through which they negotiate and facilitate safe spaces for public storytelling, highlighting how they work within hegemonic structures, as well as how they subtly resist them. By enabling individuals to narrate their past experiences and then have them re-enacted as a means of remembrance and reconciliation, these NGOs attempt to interrupt intergenerational cycles of oppression, violence and silence, and thereby establish greater security for themselves and their communities.
Date of AwardJul 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorFiona Magowan (Supervisor)

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