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Discourses of truth, trauma and reconciliation in post-conflict societies: psychologising the Nation

Speaker: Brandon Hamber
Chair: Professor Stan Cohen, Centre for the Study of Human Rights
October 2002

Countries coming out of conflict as diverse as South Africa, Sierra Leone and Panama have turned to truth commissions as ways of attempting to address a violent past. In addition to aims such as unity, reconciliation and non-repetition of violations, some claim to assist so-called traumatised people. The presentation will assess the impact of the nation-building discourse of truth commissions and tease out the gap the between individual and national processes of dealing with the past. It will be argued that the act of 'psychologising the nation' reinforces linear and simplistic views of trauma. This can results in a failure to fully appreciate the long-term and complex task of dealing with the past. The presentation will draw on Brandon Hamber's experiences in South Africa and Northern Ireland.

Brandon Hamber was born in South Africa and trained there as a clinical psychologist. He now works in Belfast as an associate of the think-tank, Democratic Dialogue. He was an honorary fellow at the School of Psychology, Queen's University. Formerly, he co-ordinated the Transition and Reconciliation Unit at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, South Africa. He was involved in the development of support groups for survivors and families of victims who testified before the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He has written widely and worked with various projects in different countries focusing on dealing with the past in post-conflict societies.

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