Narrative Structures, Narratives of Abuse, and Human Rights

  • Diana Tietjens MeyersEmail author


A number of late 20th- early 21st century political and intellectual movements put a spotlight on the value of listening to silenced voices. Picking up on these trends, philosophers have addressed a number of pertinent themes, including respect, empathy, and credibility. Less thoroughly explored is the relation between victims’ stories and normativity. This paper examines two theories of narrative – one by Hayden White and the other by Anthony Amsterdam and Jerome Bruner – and argues that neither adequately accounts for the capacity of victims’ stories of abuse to advance understanding of and increase respect for human rights. To better appreciate the contribution of victims’ stories to human rights advocacy, I propose an account of the relation between normativity and a type of fractured story that traumatized victims often tell.


Human rights Narrative Victims Moral closure Systematic injustice 



I presented this paper at the FEAST 2007 Conference in Clearwater Springs FL and to the Philosophy Department at Loyola University, Chicago, and I would like to thank both audiences for their comments. I owe a great debt of gratitude to the University of Connecticut Human Rights Institute for awarding me a fellowship that enabled me to write this paper and also to the members of the workshop group on narrative, humanity, and humanitarianism funded by the University of Connecticut Foundations of Humanitarianism Program for the periodic discussions that prompted me to start thinking along the lines developed in this paper. Finally, I thank Susan Shepler for sharing her invaluable unpublished manuscripts with me. Her work has greatly advanced my thinking about this topic.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ignacio Ellacuria SJ Chair of Social Ethics and Professor of PhilosophyLoyola UniversityChicagoUSA

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