Memory, Activism and Social Justice NUBS 3.13
Jul 04, 2023 15:45 - Jul 06, 2023 17:15(Europe/London)
20230704T1545 20230704T1715 Europe/London 2.8. Critical explorations of the nexus between memory work and social justice

Examining the past to better understand our present and future and even to change the way we act in the present and future, has intuitive appeal. The argument is often made that by better understanding the context within which past harm took place, and the societal factors that contributed to it, we will better be able to recognize these circumstances when they re-emerge and be able to prevent harm from happening again in the future. Memory activism, memorialization and remembrance are, as such not only backward but also forward-looking practices. Yet, hypothesis about what various kinds of memory work can do for furthering more just, stable and peaceful future, often rest on normative claims, and empirically speaking, we know relatively little about the theories of change, or how various kinds of memory work lead to various kinds of outcomes.This panel speaks to this two-fold blind spot. On the one hand presenters engage with empirical questions regarding how concrete memory initiatives that were developed in a context of transitional justice and non-recurrence affected those involved. On the other hand, they explore various examples of non-verbal, non-linear, artistic, or indigenous practices that engage in memory work in ways that challenge taken-for-granted linear understandings of how memory work and activism could further the aims of various kinds of struggles for social justice.

Elke Evrard

Learning from the past? How transitional justice discourses shape young Cambodian's understanding of memory and non-recurrenceWithin the field of transitional justice, the widely shared notion that young generations can and must learn from the past in order to prevent its recurrence in the future, underpins outreach efforts by formal justice mechanisms, as well ...

NUBS 3.13 MSA Conference Newcastle 2023 conference@memorystudiesassociation.org
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Examining the past to better understand our present and future and even to change the way we act in the present and future, has intuitive appeal. The argument is often made that by better understanding the context within which past harm took place, and the societal factors that contributed to it, we will better be able to recognize these circumstances when they re-emerge and be able to prevent harm from happening again in the future. Memory activism, memorialization and remembrance are, as such not only backward but also forward-looking practices. Yet, hypothesis about what various kinds of memory work can do for furthering more just, stable and peaceful future, often rest on normative claims, and empirically speaking, we know relatively little about the theories of change, or how various kinds of memory work lead to various kinds of outcomes.
This panel speaks to this two-fold blind spot. On the one hand presenters engage with empirical questions regarding how concrete memory initiatives that were developed in a context of transitional justice and non-recurrence affected those involved. On the other hand, they explore various examples of non-verbal, non-linear, artistic, or indigenous practices that engage in memory work in ways that challenge taken-for-granted linear understandings of how memory work and activism could further the aims of various kinds of struggles for social justice.



Elke Evrard

Learning from the past? How transitional justice discourses shape young Cambodian's understanding of memory and non-recurrence

Within the field of transitional justice, the widely shared notion that young generations can and must learn from the past in order to prevent its recurrence in the future, underpins outreach efforts by formal justice mechanisms, as well as initiatives initiated by civil society actors in their orbit. Yet, empirical research that studies the way young audiences actually receive, interpret and engage with the messages on 'dealing with' and 'learning from' the past, as disseminated in these formal and informal transitional justice spaces, remains scarce. In this paper, we look towards the Cambodian context to examine to what extent young Cambodian adults are actually receptive to the narratives disseminated by different TJ stakeholders – including the ECCC, civil society actors and survivors – and how they draw on these messages in construing their own views and understandings of memory, citizenship, post-conflict justice, and societal reform as building blocks in the non-recurrence of violence. Throughout iterative focus group discussions, four central themes emerged: (1) studying and remembering the past, (2) nurturing intra- and interpersonal civic values, (3) seeking justice for the harms of the past, and (4) moving towards a democratic rule-of-law based society. In this way, students foreground both personal agency and responsibility, as well as expectations for institutional performativity and change in recognizing, redressing and preventing widespread rights violations. These themes, moreover, illustrate strong receptiveness to – and perceived synergies between – core messages disseminated by the Tribunal and civil society initiatives in its orbit. Yet, findings also point towards expressive friction and hegemony, whereby these influential actors saturate the discursive space, lessening youths' recognition of alternative perspectives on memory or reflexive definitions of rights and justice emerging from the everyday lives, experiences and struggles of survivors.


Gretel Mejía Bonifazi

Dignity will flourish: exploring the efforts of Ixil victims and civil society to preserve historical memory in post-conflict Guatemala.

In Guatemala, victims of the internal armed conflict (1960-1996) have participated in various transitional justice spaces to seek redress. They have testified in official and civil society led truth commissions, taken part in criminal trials as witnesses and civil parties, and mobilized to demand integral reparations from the state. In these traditional spaces, local and national civil society organizations play a crucial role in facilitating participation through legal, psychosocial, and political accompaniment. Moreover, this synergy between victims and civil society can also be observed in memory efforts undertaken to seek recognition of the harm and to honor the memory of the victims; work that becomes particularly important in the face of dominant narratives of state denial and the lack of political will to enable social dialogue about the past. Drawing on qualitative findings from field research in the Ixil region, the paper discusses three particular ways in which local civil society organizations and victims engage in memory work at the local level:1) exhumations of victims in clandestine graves and subsequent reburials; 2) demands of memorialization before state institutions as part of collective reparations claims, and 3) mobilization efforts to build a museum for the dignification of the memory of the victims and survivors of the Ixil genocide. For the actors involved, these efforts serve multiple purposes: from preserving historical memory and educating future generations, to promoting Ixil cultural heritage and rebuilding the social fabric by highlighting the links between past and current violence. By exploring these topics, this paper aims to contribute to key debates on victim and civil society alliances in transitional justice, particularly in contexts of deep polarization and increasing deterioration of democratic spaces.


Brigitte Herremans

Countering Erasure in Syrian Literary Writing

The Syrian conflict is one of the most documented conflicts in modern history. Nevertheless, experiences of suffering of Syrian civilians have increasingly been invisibilized in media reports or political debates. There is a strange paradox between the deluge of evidence of atrocity crimes and the dearth of justice avenues. Alongside of the international stalemate, the growing Syria fatigue and the global rise of anti-epistemology - or the climate of uncertainty over well-established facts - have also curbed the justice imagination, the way in which justice is conceived within and beyond the legal realm.
In this paper, I examine how Syrian literary texts can 'presence' or reverse the invisibilization of experiences of harm. Since the 2011 uprising, many Syrian writers have produced new forms of literary writing that are largely of the diaspora while being strongly rooted in Syria. Many of these writings build on a tradition of dissent and simultaneously entail a new trend in Syrian literature towards the construction of a narrative memory of experiences of harm. Based on empirical research conducted with Syrian writers of different literary genres living in the diaspora, I argue that Syrian writers are opening spaces for the acknowledgement of injustices and for memorialization. While largely shying away from factual or forensic truth-telling and historical representations of injustices, they counter the erasure of experiences of harm by bringing to bear multi-layered narratives that include the reader in an ethical engagement, and thus enter into the world where these lived experiences take place.


Sofie Verclyte

Migrating Heritage: memorializing the past while imagining the future 

In the past two decades, there has been more scholarly attention for the role of memory in social justice activism, and how various kinds of memory work interact with notions of justice. However, there is a predominant assumption of an accessible verbal narrative about lived experiences and both memory and justice scholars continue to emphasize the written or spoken word. This expectation has limitations when considering the lived experiences of particularly vulnerable groups, such as displaced people who are coping with trauma and ongoing violence, which often defy expression in verbal language. Moreover, speaking freely about emotional experiences or telling a coherent story about suffering is often extremely challenging and painful. In Shatila, a refugee camp in Beirut, the language of embroidery has been present since its establishment in 1949 to host Palestinian refugees. It is a gendered activity and daily practice rooted in the rich textile tradition in the region. The outbreak of the civil war in neighbouring Syria and the influx of new refugees has generated a revival of embroidery practices in the camp. This cultural heritage has several, often new, functions such as coping with trauma and/or being an income generating activity. Furthermore, through embroidery practices, women engage in memory work by bringing to bear visual stories about in/justices and hopes. These practices are rooted in lived – material & cultural – reality, and their embodiment allow women to recount experiences of harm and loss while imagining a more just future. They also, in a literal sense, collapse representations of the past, present, and future. Based on collaborative making with women in Shatila, these iterative interventions explore the content and form of these non-linear and (partly) non-verbal practices as well as their potential to engage in conversations about these topics. A conversation takes place by constantly going back and forth, creating a space where memories and futures are shaped. Besides giving contextual understandings of lived experiences, these 'silent' voices challenge current narratives and modes of engaging within the domain of memory and Justice.

PhD researcher
,
Ghent University
PhD researcher
,
Human Rights Centre, Ghent University
PhD research fellow
,
HOGENT School of Arts, & Ghent University
HOGENT School of Arts, & Ghent University
Prof.
,
HOGENT School of Arts, & Ghent University
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