Source: (2006) Social & Legal Studies. 15(2), 257–275

This article enquires into the narration of reconciliation in South Africa and its political implications. It scrutinizes the subjects, objects and material practices that flow from the reconciliation story. The investigation turns on two crucial assumptions: (a) that discourse is an ideological system of meaning that constitutes and naturalizes the subjects and objects of political life, and (b) that narrative is a special discursive form, the structural features of which have specific political effects that are not illuminated by a more general discourse analytic approach. A narrative perspective is important because the TRC explicitly undertook the task of telling a story about South Africa’s transition from past violence to future reconciliation, and argued that storytelling was fundamental to catharsis, healing, and reconciliation on an individual and a national level. Narrative theory renders more specifically applicable some of the general claims of political discourse analysis; while the insights of political discourse analysis highlight the political contexts and effects of governing narratives to which most narrative theory, on its own, is blind. The combination of these two theoretical premises furnishes a powerful approach to understanding the story about reconciliation told by the TRC, and its political implications.