Elizabeth Drexler

  • Associate Professor
  • Director, Peace and Justice


Michigan State University, 326 Baker Hall, East Lansing, MI 48824 USA

Research Interests

  • Public History
  • Human Rights
  • Transitional Justice
  • Southeast Asia

Biographical Info

ELIZABETH F. DREXLER is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Director of Peace and Justice Studies. Her research projects explore how societies address the legacies of political violence, emphasizing the relationships among institutions, transnational interventions, historical narratives, and contested memories in establishing the rule of law and reconstructing social and political life—or failing to do so. Her recent ethnography, Aceh, Indonesia: Securing the Insecure State (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008, awarded the Cecil B. Currey Book Award), critiques models of ethnic separatism and civil war that are based on false separations between the state and its opponents as well as false condensations of opposition movements into a unified armed independence group. This book analyzes the history and legacies of state violence and the disintegration of the social fabric that results when opposition and collaboration cannot effectively be distinguished and both the state and civil society have been undermined by knowledge of widespread complicity in violence. As a Fulbright New Century Scholar (2003-04), Drexler initiated a research project examining how institutional forms such as tribunals and truth commissions shape individual and collective narratives about past violence and how these narratives contribute to the processes by which institutions of governance become socially and politically legitimate. To explore these issues in comparative perspective, she co-organized a workshop at the Rockefeller Brothers Bellagio Study Center that brought together practitioners working in conflict regions and scholars working on trauma, memory, and justice in post-conflict situations around the world. Her ongoing project on East Timor focuses on the relationship between historical narratives, transitional justice, and rule of law in a setting where multiple institutions have failed to hold state and quasi-state perpetrators of violence accountable and have redescribed that violence as civil war. Analysis of truth commissions and tribunals offers a unique vantage point to consider sovereignty, the exercise of armed force, and the politics of memory. Here, inadmissible pasts haunt public life and call the legitimacy of the state into question. She is currently working on a book manuscript, Gray Zones: Collaboration and Betrayal, that develops a notion of social knowledge to consider the legitimation of post-conflict institutions, writing public histories, and rebuilding ordinary lives. In both research and teaching, Drexler is committed to innovative uses of social theory to address contemporary global issues in ways that contribute to both political and scholarly debates. She teaches courses on Social Theory, Ethnographic Methods, Globalization and Justice, Indonesian Culture and Politics, Violence and the State, and History and Memory. Drexler is a core faculty member in Asian Studies, the Center for Gender in Global Context, and the Peace and Justice Studies.


A few recent publications include: Books

2008 Aceh, Indonesia: Securing the Insecure State. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008. Award: Association of Third World Studies (ATWS) Cecil B. Currey Book-Length Publications Award for 2007-2008. Click for publisher’s website 

Reviewed in  American Ethnologist Volume 36 Issue 1 , Pages 1 – 206 (February 2009) Aceh, Indonesia: Securing the Insecure State by Elizabeth F. Drexler (p 195-196) ROBERT W. HEFNER Published Online: Feb 24 2009 10:02AM DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1425.2008.01111_11.x  Journal of Asian Studies Aceh, Indonesia: Securing the Insecure State. By Elizabeth F. Drexler. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008. 287 pp. $24.95 (cloth). David Hicks The Journal of Asian Studies, Volume 68, Issue 03, August 2009, pp 1027-1029 doi:10.1017/S0021911809990635 (About doi), Published Online by Cambridge University Press 19 Aug 2009

Peer Reviewed Book Chapters and Journal Articles

 “Fatal Knowledges: The legacies of Collaboration and Betrayal in East Timor.” International Journal of Transitional Justice (2013) 7 (1): 74-94

“The Failure of International Justice in East Timor.” Alex Hinton, ed.,Transitional Justice: Global Mechanisms and Local Realities after Genocide and Mass Violence(2010, Rutgers University Press).

“Impunity and Paranoia: Writing Histories of Violence.” Kamari Clarke and Mark Goodale, eds., Mirrors of Justice: Law, Power and the Making of History (2009, Cambridge University Press).

“Addressing the Le gacies of Mass Violence and Genocide in East Timor.” Alex Hinton and Kevin O’Neill, eds., Genocide: Truth, Memory and Representation (Duke University Press, 2009) pp. 219-246.

“The Social Life of Conflict Narratives: Violent Antagonists, Imagined Histories, and Foreclosed Futures in Aceh, Indonesia.” Anthropological Quarterly Vol. 80, No. 4, Fall 2007.

“History and Liability in Aceh Indonesia: Single Bad Guys and Convergent Narratives.”American Ethnologist Vol. 33, No. 3, August 2006.