Critical Memory Studies and the Politics of Victimhood: Reassessing the Role of Victimhood Nationalism in Northern Ireland and South Africa

Chapter

Abstract

This chapter examines the role of victimhood nationalism in post-conflict societies. It elaborates on the advancing discipline of “memory studies” by reassessing the roles of memories in societies like Northern Ireland and South Africa. Based on extensive field research in both case studies, this chapter makes the case for the establishment of so-called “critical memory studies”. Such an approach would take into account the contentious and conflict-ridden nature of “victim” and “victimhood”: The definition of a “victim” is bound to be dominated by victimhood nationalism in post-conflict societies, while victimhood nationalism is interrelated with the demand for dealing with the past. Critical memory studies may, thus, add a new perspective to the conventional wisdoms of transitional justice because they challenge the very concept of “victimhood” and its applicability. As a key analytical consequence, this chapter wants to draw awareness of the inherent dialectic of memory: On the one hand, there is the possibility of exploitation of memory through acts of memoralisation; while on the other hand, memory practices can acquire transformative quality in themselves. In order to analyse this dialectical nature of memory, critical memory studies will have to interpret violence as embedded within a collective memoralisation by the referent communities.

Keywords

Memory Victims Victimhood nationalism Transitional justice Post-conflict transition Northern Ireland South Africa 

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Copyright information

© T.M.C. ASSER PRESS, The Hague, The Netherlands, and the authors 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Albert-Ludwigs-University of FreiburgFreiburgGermany

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