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Narrating Political Reconciliation

Claire Moon|, Lexington Books (January 2008)

Moon coverThis book advances a distinctive political discourse analysis of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC, and provides the first book-length theoretical interpretation of the social and political construction of truth and reconciliation in South Africa. The book situates the appearance of the TRC in 1995 at the juncture of then emerging national and international narratives of post-conflict reconciliation and democratization, and shows how these interacted (constrained and underpinned by the terms of the peace negotiations of 1991) to produce the norms - truth and reconciliation - and practices - amnesty and truth-telling - that became central to the TRC's work. The book enquires in detail into the politics and practice of national history writing by looking at the way in which the TRC reconstructed South Africa's apartheid past as a sequence of gross violations of human rights perpetrated with a political objective, thus transforming competing moral claims about this violent past into an 'objective' technical discourse of violations. This construction, the book argues, has particular implications for thinking about and ascribing agency and responsibility. Additionally, the book enquires into the politics and practice of confessional and testimonial styles of truth, and to the various ways in which these truths invoked the new political subjects of South Africa as 'victim' and 'perpetrator'. The book also investigates the construction of reconciliation as both theology - in relation to forgiveness and Judeo-Christian interpretations of it - and therapy - as a discourse of healing both the individual and the national body politic - and the particular social and political implications flowing from these constructions. The book shows how South Africa's particular reconciliation narrative shaped and promoted the norms and practices central to a subsequent 'reconciliation industry', now global in its reach (having been deployed in contexts as diverse as Ghana, Peru, Sierra Leone and East Timor to name a few), and to the appearance of a new human right, the 'right to truth'. The insights generated by the book provide a unique theoretical framework through which to think and problematise the politics of reconciliation, transitional justice, human rights and nation-building in post-conflict and democratizing states more widely.

Reviews of 'Narrating Political Reconciliation'

"Narrating Political Reconciliation delivers what the title promises: a narration of the formation of the main ideological and political foundations of the TRC, as well as of the manner in which the TRC went about its ambitious aim of creating a reconciled nation." — Winter, 2009, The International Journal of Transitional Justice

 "The report of the South African TRC is one of the great moral texts of the Twentieth Century. The TRC quest for truth, justice and reconciliation in South Africa's extraordinary transition to democracy is a template for analyzing and evaluating the political morality of other post-conflict and democratizing societies. Claire Moon's valuable book goes even beyond these debates. Her application of critical thinking to the study of the post-apartheid discourse and 'industry' of reconciliation - its construction of 'victims' and its re-writing of history - is persistent, sceptical, but never cynical."" — Stanley Cohen, London School of Economics and Political Science

 " offers a much-needed sobering account of the TRC Moreover it demonstrates how reconciliation is a thorough political practice rather than a purely moral or normative endeavor." — International Journal of Transitional Justice

 "Narrating Political Reconciliation is an outstanding book. It presents a sharp analysis that cuts right through the usual platitudes that populate so much of the literature in transitional justice. Narrating Political Reconciliation promises to become an important reference point for those theoretically and politically engaged in the field. It is thoughtful, intelligent and engaging, and renews the tradition of critical thinking."  Emilios Christodoulidis, University of Glasgow

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