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Workshop: Silence in Times of Transition

April 8, 2016

This Centre for African Studies workshop will be a cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary examination of the dynamics of silence and silencing in transitional justice. It examines how mechanisms, practices and discourses of transitional justice often emphasise the need for ‘breaking’ silences about violent pasts, and look at how silences are often the sites of communication and agency. The key questions it asks are:

(1)  What is the relationship between communal or individual silences, and formal structures, policies and institutions?

(2)  Can the practices and discourses of transitional justice be complicit in silencing communities, individuals and experiences?

(3)  How does silence shape power dynamics in contexts of transitional justice?

(4)  To what can silence be a site of agency and communication in contexts of violence and societies emerging from conflict?

The concept of ‘silence,’ especially in contexts of violence, is discussed widely across different disciplines related to transitional justice (such as human rights, anthropology of conflict, legal studies) but there is not a systematic treatment of silences as a core component of transitional justice itself.  Therefore, this workshop will discuss the wider implications and roles of silence in contexts of violence and how these experiences narrate the meanings and manifestations of silence. Finally, the workshop will examine how silence is also a site of power and agency and what this can mean for understanding its role within transitional justice mechanisms.

See full programme

PSRP member Astrid Jamar will present a paper as part of the workshop, titled ‘Conventions of Silence: Emotions and Knowledge Production in War-Affected Research Environments’, co-written with Fairlie Chappuis from the Free University of Berlin.

Analysing how emotional responses are silenced in both academic and policy-orientated research in conflict-affected regions, this article develops an analytical framework to deconstruct these conventions that exclude emotionality and normative commitments from the research process.

We identify three ways in which dominant research conventions in the fields of peace, conflict and development silence emotions, both of the researcher and the research subject. Illustrating these various modes of silencing with direct experiences from policy and academic field research in war-affected contexts, the article shows how these conventions of silence can skew theoretical analysis, disguise political bias in the research and cause personal harm to those involved in the process of knowledge creation.

Overall, the article addresses three questions: How can this silence about the role of emotions be understood in the context of research in war-affected contexts? What does this emotionality mean for academic and policy research on peace, conflict and development issues in war-affected settings? In doing so, the article first briefly situates the discussion vis-à-vis existing strands of literature relevant to emotionality in war-affected research contexts. The second section proposes an analytical framework that distils the conventions we have observed into three distinct modes of silencing that serve to exclude emotionality and normative commitments from the research process. These three modes of silencing are described in the context of examples drawn from our own research experience. On the basis of this analysis, the third section presents our reflections on the methodological, ethical and epistemological implications of these conventions of silence.


Photo: Martina Bacigalupo

Source: Centre for African Studies


Center of African Studies, University of Edinburgh


6th Floor Common Room, Chrystal Macmillan Building
15A George Square
Edinburgh, EH8 9LD United Kingdom
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