ANTHROPOLOGIES OF JUSTICE: A POLICY ROUND TABLE  Victoria Sanford (Lehman and CUNY Graduate Center) and Kimberly Theidon (Harvard)

Saturday, November 17, 2012: 8:00 AM-9:45 AM
Yosemite C (Hilton San Francisco)
This round table brings together anthropologists who work on transitional justice, reparations, domestic prosecutions and international tribunals to discuss the important role ethnographically grounded research can play in introducing a politics of scale into our discussions of these global phenomena. There is a veritable transitional justice industry at work in our contemporary world, introducing increasingly normative notions of how to conduct “memory work” in the aftermath of authoritarian regimes and sustained political violence. From Peru to Sri Lanka; from Greensboro, South Carolina to Guatemala; from Cambodia to Colombia, transitional justice mechanisms and discourses have achieved a global presence. Truth commissions, trials, tribunals, apologies, lustration, reparations, reconciliation: while the precise combination varies, transitional justice processes have become an increasingly normative component of contemporary politics and regime change. The seductive language of “transition” performs temporalizing functions, serving to mark discontinuities, invoking a before-and-after narrative of change. Importantly, there is a teleological aspect to the concept of transition: “before” was worse, and “after” will lead to something better. However, anthropologists are well-positioned to upset the tidy conflict/post-conflict dichotomy, and to move beyond a hackneyed insistence that culture matters to demonstrate the difference a cultural analysis makes to the study of these complex social processes. Our round table participants offer a series of case studies that demonstrate the importance of place-based research and analysis to our understanding of transitional justice. Rather than transcendent categories — truth, justice, reconciliation — we study the social and political life of these concepts and practices in specific fields of political contestation. As studies of globalization make clear, the process is not one of seamless expansion. Rather, local engagements with international discourses, institutions and actors produce unexpected outcomes. Whether we invoke Arjun Appadurai and his analysis of the “indigenization” of globalized forms, or Sally Merry and her work on the “vernacularization” of international human rights by local actors, the global and the local converge in complicated ways that challenge “the ferocious apartheid of binary oppositions.” Just as the global is dynamic, changing, constructed and contested, the local and the communal are also historically-specific, strategically constructed places and “structures of feeling” that may be riddled with conflict and treachery. We collectively explore questions of injury and witness, the complex ways in which questions of agency, guilt and moral responsibility are intertwined and assessed, and alternative spaces in which people conceptualize and administer justice. While acknowledging the Derridean insistence on the impossibility of justice, we temper that aporia by contemplating the realm of the ordinary in which people do demand that justice be served in the here and now, albeit imperfectly. Roundtable participants will draw on their experiences in using ethnography to generate social theory and public policy in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe.
This session would be of particular interest to:
Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students, Those involved in mentoring activities
Kimberly S Theidon (Harvard University) and Victoria D Sanford (Lehman College, CUNY)
Kimberly S Theidon (Harvard University)
Roundtable Presenters:
Alex Hinton (Rutgers University), Victoria D Sanford (Lehman College, CUNY), Aldo Civico (Rutgers University – Newark), Kimberly S Theidon (Harvard University) and Heather Walsh-Haney (Florida University)