Ludic Ubuntu in the Search for Transformative Justice

Posted: 20 Mar 2017

See all articles by Mechthild Nagel

Mechthild Nagel

State University of New York (SUNY), Cortland

Date Written: 2017


The 1990s Truth and Reconciliation Commission uniquely popularized a Southern African ethical principle: Ubuntu which has been translated as shared humanity. In particular, it was championed by the TRC's chair Archbishop Desmond Tutu to encourage perpetrators of political crimes to "confess" or take responsibility and to press upon victims' families to forgive for the sake of reconciliation. This philosophy has been popularized around the globe in restorative justice contexts as well as transitional justice practices, from Indigenous Sentencing Circles to Rwanda's recent gacaca court proceedings. I will present a five-stage model, moving from "negative" Ubuntu (stage 1) to "positive" Ubuntu (stage 5), which I call a ludic Ubuntu (criminal justice) ethics. I focus on criminal justice contexts, but the model of ludic Ubuntu ethics could easily be mobilized beyond conflict resolution of the most serious kind, namely, in day-to-day human interactions. Stage 5 presents a glimpse into the utopian ideal of unconditional forgiveness and transformative justice. At this stage, play is non-violent (win-win) and a realization between parties settles in that sanctions are obsolete. Ubuntu ethics signifies the enduring yet fragile interconnectedness of life.

Suggested Citation

Nagel, Mechthild, Ludic Ubuntu in the Search for Transformative Justice (2017). ASA 2017 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Mechthild Nagel (Contact Author)

State University of New York (SUNY), Cortland ( email )

P.O. Box 2000
21 Graham Ave.
Cortland, NY 13045-0900
United States

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