In this post I hope to describe (as succinctly as possible) my proposed research at the University of Bradford's Peace Studies programme.
This research begins with the idea that identity is constructed, contested and changes. When anyone dwells on "genocide" one often thinks of people in terms of either victims or perpetrators. Primo Levi, Holocaust survivor, argues against this limited perspective:
'Nevertheless, perhaps for reasons that go back to our origins as social animals, the need to divide the field into ‘we’ and ‘they’ is so strong that this pattern, this bi-partition - friend - enemy - prevails over all others. Popular history, and also the history taught in schools, is influenced by this Manichean tendency which shuns half-tints and complexities: it is prone to reduce the river of human occurrences to conflicts, and the conflicts to duels.'
If the notion of being a "perpetrator" or "victim" seems at least limiting how else might we consider those caught in the web of mass violence? Sociologist Athony Giddens claims that actors are defined by their knowledge and capability. This means that those who participate in genocide, with varying degrees of agency and limitations of environment, come with their own social baggage that current and future actions are based on. Social actors themselves, both theoretically and practically, can be fluidly described as (sometimes) both perpetrators or victims, allowing for a further hybrid identity.
How then does this all relate to the DRC and reconciliation? Attempts have been made to further justice and reconciliation in this part of the Great Lakes region; however, beyond these major 'lead perpetrator' trials and some indictments, not much progress has made achieved. This is partly due to instability in the country and region (consider recent reports of how the Central African Republic mass violence has been spilling over into the DRC). For wide-scale truth, reconciliation and justice to become grassroots, or a national project, an understanding, both theoretically and in practice, needs to be forged of how individuals came to participate in the violence. Prosecution of crime does not necessarily create reconciliation in a community, nor does it remove impunity. An environment for peace and justice in the DRC must be built through understanding the history of the last nearly two decades of war and destruction. Comprehending how victims, perpetrators, or hybrid social actors are formed provides a novel and forward looking engagement of post-conflict communities.
Please take a moment to consider your participation and sponsorship of this project. Getting my PhD off the ground in the first year will lead me toward important field work and a sound and solid contribution to peacebuilding in the DRC.
If you would like the somewhat meatier version, and the references for this post, please let me know and I can share a paper I presented at International Network of Genocide Scholars conference, summer 2012- please do cite any use of this paper if it is relevant to your own work/research.