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Commemoration and Law: Narratives of Political Violence in Transitional Societies

Contact: Dr. Kris Brown
Funder: Ulster University Research Challenge Fund

Politically transitional societies are not havens of new peace, but arenas of transformed conflict; violence has greatly declined but cultural brushfire wars combust and groups create identity and memory in new spheres. At the local level knowledge of the past is dispersed through diverse forms of collective memory - commemorative rituals, memorials and murals, exhibitions, community drama, street theatre and ephemeral grey literature. Research has not captured the range and interaction of this ‘everyday’ flagging and production of memory, or its reception.

Law plays a powerful role here. Legal processes and norms are used to shape narratives-defining conflicts in particular terms, creating and deconstructing victim and perpetrator hierarchies, delimiting boundaries in time. Law is also used to police and shape commemoration - the physical playing out of narrative. The process is not one way. Commemoration may also attempt to shape or kick start legal processes.

Many official public forums and strategies have emphasised common pasts or points of common humanity within different experiences. At the same time, however, the different groups most affected by the conflict continue to present their own locally based and often intensely partisan interpretations of their histories.

The project will investigate the forms and meanings of these narratives, and laws interaction with them.

Aims and Objectives

  • Using Northern Ireland as an initial case, to create an understanding of the narratives of commemoration in a post-conflict setting – particularly local production by actors, and the profusion of such activity.
  • To create a scoping survey of the interaction between law and commemoration, locally and internationally.
  • To reflect upon the methodologies of studying public commemoration of recent violence in divided societies.