Sarah Federman and Ronald NiezenJul 14, 2023
Narratives of Mass Atrocity
Victims and Perpetrators in the Aftermath
Cambridge University Press 2022
Individuals can assume—and be assigned—multiple roles throughout a conflict: perpetrators can be victims, and vice versa; heroes can be reassessed as complicit and compromised. However, accepting this more accurate representation of the narrativized identities of violence presents a conundrum for accountability and justice mechanisms premised on clear roles. This book considers these complex, sometimes overlapping roles, as people respond to mass violence in various contexts, from international tribunals to NGO-based social movements. Bringing the literature on perpetration in conversation with the more recent field of victim studies, it suggests a new, more effective, and reflexive approach to engagement in post-conflict contexts. Long-term positive peace requires understanding the narrative dynamics within and between groups, demonstrating that the blurring of victim-perpetrator boundaries, and acknowledging their overlapping roles, is a crucial part of peacebuilding processes. This title is also available as Open Access on Cambridge Core.
Sarah Federman discusses her recent co-edited work, Narratives of Mass Atrocity: Victims and Perpetrators in the Aftermath (Cambridge University Press, 2022). Sarah explains the past and ongoing challenges of restorative justice in cases of genocide and mass atrocity with Christopher Harrison. Sarah's work on issues of corporate complicity during and the attempts of accountability in post-conflict societies, including that of the national railway system active during and long after France's role in the Holocaust, informs their conversation about the book. Sarah offers insights into the research process and how the book materialized as a consequence of an academic conference she attended with a collective of similarly interested researchers and scholars. The interview proceeds by examining the relevance of identity and restorative justice in the context of educating students about such contended narratives. Sarah explains a number of options that can exist and have successfully worked in healing post-conflict societies, most notably within local communities and organizations. The interview includes topics on multiple cases of genocide and mass atrocity including the Holocaust in Europe and the genocide in Rwanda, two diverse populations that have seen tremendous shifts of post-conflict relations over time across multiple generations. Their conversation concludes with an overview of how, even while accepting the emotive and charged circumstances that accompany restoration efforts in response to material, social, and psychological harm in political, educational, and legal processes, it is both possible and important to move beyond the binary idealized identifications of "victim," "perpetrator," and "hero" and begin to address the divisive discourses that dominate both narrative constructs and retributive legal systems.
Christopher Harrison teaches at Northern Arizona University. HIs research concerns genocidal warfare and the policies of recruiting perpetrators and capturing victims in both historical and contemporary cases.