Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the cultural production of nationalism and violence: Representing the integrity of nation and the choice for armed struggle

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Susan Snow Wadley


Tamil, Sri Lanka, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Cultural production, Nationalism, Violence

Subject Categories

Social and Cultural Anthropology | Social Influence and Political Communication | South and Southeast Asian Languages and Societies


Emerging from a history of state-sponsored violence and discrimination, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are leading the contemporary Tamil nationalist movement for the creation of a separate state in the northern and eastern regions of Sri Lanka. As a social and political movement committed to armed struggle, Tamils participating in the LTTE movement for national self-determination have been marginalized as "terrorists" by the Sri Lankan state and have been denied participation in political processes toward a resolution of conflict that has escalated to civil war.

Cultural productions of nationalism play an important part in mobilizing and voicing nationalist sentiments. This dissertation focuses on an examination of LTTE cultural productions of nationalism in the form of political posters, songs and radio dramas. As such, this dissertation asks: What can we understand about the self-representations of the Liberation Tigers by analyzing their cultural productions of nationalism?

Nationalism, resistance and violence intersect in the everyday experiences of Tamils not only in Sri Lanka but also in the immigrant and refugee communities of the Tamil diaspora. The LTTE are attentive to these lived experiences of violence within these national and transnational Tamil communities. LTTE cultural productions have emerged as a means of organizing Tamil experiences of violence and nationalism while also creating a dialectical space in constructing the integrity of self, community and nation. Situating my research within the theoretical paradigms of post-colonial criticism, I analyze the choice of violence as a means of dialogue within the context of nationalist struggles. I discuss the "geographies of war" as they are constructed by the Sri Lankan state while examining the language of "terrorism" that is invoked in popular and academic debates about nationalism and violence. Integrating the tools of feminist methodologies, I engage my experiences and my subject positions as a Tamil woman from Jaffna, as an anthropological researcher, and as a "Native-Other" to inform my analysis. As such, I examine the position of the researcher as an informant.


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