Subjectivity and the discourse of victimhood in the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Akinwumi, Akinbola E. (2008). Subjectivity and the discourse of victimhood in the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. MRes thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000fd42

Abstract

This study contends that the South African truth and reconciliation process can be usefully understood in terms of discourse in general and subjectivity/subject-positioning in particular. The potential of these concepts to illuminate and characterize the national reconciliation aims of the truth and reconciliation commission (TRC) remains somewhat under-exploited in the literature. Positioned within a broad theoretical framework, a Foucauldian analytic was used to assess officially produced texts and talk that structured subjectivity in relation to the discourse of victimhood, the discursive resources drawn on by TRC commissioners and the subjectpositions formed. Through discursive repertoires the research looks at repertoires of victimhood, specifically in terms of nationhood and empathy, emerging from statements of commissioners of the TRC during the Human Rights Violations hearings, and examined the positioning effect they had on subjects. In relation to this I have attempted to shed light not only on the constructed nature of individuals’ positioning but also how they become subject to particular discourses and practices: how identities were shaped and capacities (among other things) constructed and mobilized in the light of victimhood and in the context of the TRC hearings. Data sources for the study include the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act of 1995, the Final Report of 2003 and transcripts of victim hearings conducted by the Commission.

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