Without “Our Undisciplined Army”: Conflict, Denial and Nation-Building in Sri Lanka

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


In 2009, three decades of conflict came to an end in Sri Lanka. The final six months of the war between state forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam saw extensive violence against the Tamil population of the Vanni region. Informed by discourse analysis and qualitative interviews conducted in Sri Lanka, this thesis examines the manufacture of consent for a military solution under the current Rajapaksa government and the suppression of Tamil political agency post-war.

After the end of the civil war, a national security state was established in Sri Lanka, incorporating a militant and anti-minority Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist ideology. This thesis provides an analysis of triumphant and antagonistic processes of post-war ‘Sinhalisation’ in the nascent Tamil Eelam. It demonstrates Sri Lanka’s rejection of liberal conceptions of peace-building and transitional justice, and reveals the state’s actions and rhetoric in this regard as strategic performances, designed to avoid accountability and international censure. Engaging themes of language, power and nationalistic performativity, I explore political discourse, state terror and state-corporate collusion, and the authorship of a ‘national story’ for the post-war nation-building project.

I provide a genealogy of the country’s competing nation-building processes and attendant political violence – both state-orchestrated and Tamil, and the historical expansion of mechanisms of social and discursive control. The draconian laws introduced to tackle ‘Tamil terrorism’ have persisted beyond the end of the civil war, as have extra-legal practices designed to terrorise the population. I examine the various ways in which the Sri Lankan state relies heavily on state denial and the manipulation and reinterpretation of events, often facilitated by public-relations companies.

By describing militarisation, the post-war detention and surveillance of the Tamil community, and state-run projects designed to politically neutralise and culturally erase Tamil life, I examine the post-conflict reconfiguration of Tamil political agency and the potential of the newly established Tamil-led Northern Provincial Council.
Date of Award2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorPenelope Green (Supervisor)

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