Introduction: Memorials in Times of Transition

Introduction: Memorials in Times of Transition (ed. volume, Intersentia 2014)

36 Pages Posted: 7 May 2014 Last revised: 8 May 2014

Date Written: May 5, 2014


Since the 1960-70s, we can see a worldwide upsurge of memorial projects that address the violent histories of recent wars, genocides and systematic human rights abuses. Such interventions often employ a common architectural language and are informed by a set of political and ethical claims in regard to what role commemoration can and/or should play aft er large-scale violence: providing public sites of mourning, putting past wrongs right, holding perpetrators accountable, vindicating the dignity of victims-survivors and contributing to reconciliation.

Dealing with the legacy of the past is subject to transitional justice. Conventionally, it incorporates a number of mechanisms such as truth commissions, tribunals, lustrations, reparations and more recently also memory work – including memorials – in order to deal with past injustices. It is based on the assumption that any form of transition from violence to peaceful coexistence requires the disclosure of past events and the establishment of some form of justice for the victims in particular and the society in general.

Despite this general reliance on memorialisation within transitional justice, practitioners as well as scholars often share a rather skeptical outlook on the allegedly beneficial impact of such interventions: ranging from fears that an open display of contested memories reignites dormant animosities to the defeatist beliefs that symbolic politics of far-away state institutions make little difference in war-torn communities. Overall, a comprehensive answer to this complex problem is amiss and will remain so unless analysis aims at a more nuanced understanding of the complex ways in which memorials are employed by and function within transitional society. With this volume, we seek to make a contribution towards closing this research gap.

Keywords: transitional justice, memorials, memory

Suggested Citation

Buckley-Zistel, Susanne and Schaefer, Stefanie, Introduction: Memorials in Times of Transition (May 5, 2014). Introduction: Memorials in Times of Transition (ed. volume, Intersentia 2014). Available at SSRN:

Stefanie Schaefer

Independent ( email )

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