| Dossier | Continuous Publication | Vol 4 · No 8 · 2023Places for testimony: history and justice
Deadline: October 15, 2023
Publication date: Continuous Publication (July-december 2023)
Camilla Cristina Silva. Universidade de Brasília, Brasil.
Submissions should be in English, Spanish, or Portuguese: guidelines
General Section, Book Review Section: Permanent Call
Places for testimony: history and justice
At the end of the twentieth century, a wave of questioning warned about the excess of memory as a pastoral strategy of societies thrown into the absence of projects for the future. In this scenario, Ian Buruma (1999), in his controversial text The Joys and Perils of Victmhood, denounced a certain "Olympics of suffering" among historical victims, by creating a kind of "sentimental solidarity" from traumatic memory. For authors like Buruma, the advent of listening to Holocaust testimonies since the 1970s would be at the heart of this process. The warnings of this new scenario would not stop there and, more recently, Andreas Huyssen warned that the duty to remember also includes the duty to forget something. Although he does not deny the fertility of memory for societies - "a society without memory is anathema" (2014, p. 157), he stresses -, he offers us a reflection on the paradoxical flow of memory and forgetfulness, also understood as something creative and even therapeutic - individually and collectively. As something creative there would settle the danger: what is created around forgetfulness? Who creates forgetfulness? A panoramic look at the transitional justice experiences in Latin America, for example, is enough to have a ready answer: the structural repetition of violence is created through reconciliation narratives based on silencing.
Historiography and the philosophy of law have grappled with these questions in recent decades. If testimonies of past crimes emerge as fundamental evidence in the trials of the twentieth, in history the value of memory has been requalified with the New History, albeit based on well-delimited boundaries between the fields. Today, the agreements of our time revolve less around the distances and oppositions between history, memory, and justice. Each with its particular dialectics between past and present has been repositioned in terms of the differentiated temporalities that run through them.
While warnings about retrospective politics need to be on the horizon, it is important to have an understanding that "contemporary injustice is usually manifested in the form of a structural repetition or continuity of injustices with a long history" (Bervernage, 2020, p. 19). With this in mind we find the temporalities that cut across past and present sufferings to then justify the struggle for a more just future.
In recent decades, societies have been called upon to face their sensitive pasts. After 1945, the procedures for the development of international norms in defense of human rights created mechanisms for collective elaborations to confront pasts of massive violence. Such experiences were encompassed, at the end of the 20th century, under the concept of transitional justice, which would encompass the axes of memory, truth, reparation, institutional reforms, and justice. After the Nuremberg trials, retributive justice was elected as one of the most effective responses to the crimes of the past. In the historical trials of the 20th century, the testimony of the victims as evidence in the cases acquired more and more space as the repressive technology of modern states was recognized, often articulated among themselves, as occurred in the formations carried out by the United States and France with the military forces of the Southern Cone, for example. Between torture and counter-information, the voice of those affected by State terrorism became fundamental to the reconstruction of crimes and collective re-elaboration of traumatic experiences.
In the same period, historiography turned its attention more and more to the testimonies of the crimes of the recent past, interested in the relationship between history and memory and in the epistemological turn that would allow the present time to be the object of history. This movement did not stop expanding, standing out for the fundamentality of memory with the end of Latin American dictatorships, the disintegration of the political block of Eastern Europe, and the end of segregationist policies, genocides, and civil wars on the African continent. Today we live a "planetary movement of reactivation of the past" (Rousso, 2014, p. 267), in search of a "just" history and memory, but which ends up framing real memory wars. As Alexandre Avelar (2016, p. 194) rightly points out, "memory has become a cardinal value of our time, a marker of democratic societies that rests on the idea that it is necessary to act retroactively to heal the after-effects on behalf of the principles that found our present, even if there are no guarantees that we are currently endowed with more knowledge of the past."
In this way, discussions around memory, history, and justice have been well mobilized in recent decades. However, Arlette Farge (2019) warns of a central paradox in this dialogue: the overrepresentation of suffering. Although her attention is primarily focused on historiography, her analysis can be conceived for the general scope of fractured social bonds in societies dealing with sensitive pasts, because, ultimately, "pain means, and the way society captures it or refuses it is extremely important" (Farge, 2019, p. 19).
Given this, the proposal of this dossier is to think about resignifications and places for the testimony of historical injustices and for political pain, how also its presence in history and justice in different settings and times has enabled or compromised retrospective politics with emancipatory potential in the face of the repetition/updating of past violence.
Special topics of interest:
- Stimulate dialogue between research from different fields of knowledge that has as its object testimony and political pain;
- Promote debate on the connections between historical approaches to societies experiencing transitional justice;
- To think about the time of memory, history and justice as theoretical contributions to the understanding of transitional experiences;
- Analyze forms of reception of trauma and the resulting scenarios of inscription of past crimes in the collective memory of a society.