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Constructing Post-Conflict Justice: The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission As an Ongoing Invention of Reconciliation and Truth

Leman-Langlois, Stephane
June 4, 2015

Source: (2000) Ph.D. dissertation, Centre of Criminology, University of Toronto, Canada. Downloaded 4 March 2005.

This thesis examines the development of a language supporting the creation and the work of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Following Foucault and others it describes the extent to which this language affected and was affected by the practical reality of the institution and the socio-political context in which it had to operate. It explores four main areas of this construction process: 1) The definition of the social, legal and political environment of post-apartheid South Africa as incompatible with retributive, conventional justice. 2) The elaboration of an alternative model of action with the help of images and myths, especially that of the Chilean Commission on Truth and Reconciliation. 3) The integration of victims and perpetrators to this specific discourse of reconciliation and justice, the former through the appropriation of their victimization narratives and the latter through a readjustment of the TRC’s discourse about moral rectitude. 4) The rhetorical function of the concept of national reconciliation as a positive moral signifier adaptable to practical context. The research follows these developments across different sites, in Parliament, in the TRC itself, and in different Committees of the TRC. Conclusions include: 1) The elaboration of the TRC was an ongoing, continuous readjustment of concepts, practices and discourse rather than the fulfilment of a strategy, and therefore its development is better understood as symbolic exchange and social action in context than as political decision-making. 2) The power of the TRC discourse and justice as reconciliation and truth resides in its ability to produce a unified, consistent worldview and not in its ability to “actually” produce reconciliation or truth. Author’s abstract.


AbstractCourtsPost-Conflict ReconciliationPrisonsRestorative PracticesRJ and the WorkplaceRJ in SchoolsRJ OfficeStatutes and LegislationTeachers and StudentsVictim Support
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