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Criminalising Violent Pasts: Multiple Roots and Forgotten Pathways 1950s-2010s

November 15, 2018 - November 16, 2018
London South Bank University

103 Borough Road
London SE1 0AA
United Kingdom

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Criminalising Violent Pasts: Multiple Roots and Forgotten Pathways 1950s-2010s

(London South Bank University, 15-16 November 2018)

Over the last half century, discourses and practices connected to the idea that violent or dictatorial pasts should be marked as criminal have proliferated. A variety of actors – from victims groups to social movements, to expert groups such as lawyers, museums specialists and even economists – have contributed to the emergence and circulation of the notion that political violence could only be overcome through its criminalization in courts, lustration procedures, history writing, activism or memorial sites. Produced across different fields of action and expertise, this assumption has become dominant in the political and judicial sphere at a global level and has permeated many political cultures and everyday life practices.  Even where decriminalisation (amnesties, pardons, closure of archives) prevailed, debates worked within the set of assumptions about the past established through this globally expanding paradigm. 

Despite its dominance, we still lack a truly international history of its roots. This is in part because modern day practices of criminalisation often play down their own historicity. Coming of age at the so-called ‘end of history’, their promoters came to see their application as a natural end point in the achievement of human rights, democracy or good governance.  When histories are offered, they too often provide a rather linear narrative that links these developments to - mainly Western - political processes established to address the legacies of Nazism after World War Two. Such accounts have also commonly resisted incorporation into broader frameworks supplied, for example, by histories of globalization, neoliberalism or postcolonialism.  Only recently have a few authors sought to make sense of the emergence of the modern criminalisation paradigm in new ways, connecting it, for example, to the rise of the homo economicus and a concomitant individualistic approach to human rights.

This conference seeks to explore the history of the (often forgotten) pathways and contested visions through which the criminalization paradigm developed. This conference welcomes contributions that explore the emergence of multiple, potentially competitive visions of criminal pasts. Taking as its starting point the moment of an acceleration of decolonisation, globalisation and de-Stalinisation in the 1950s, we encourage papers that explore the variety of actors, activisms and political projects that lay behind the global expansion of such ideas. Human rights organisations, international legal associations, post-colonial and Communist states, all variously developed the idea of overcoming criminal pasts as they sought, to legitimate new political projects, reconceptualise the relationship between the individual and the state, or seek collective or socio-economic justice for past wrongs. We welcome papers that, for example, address the complexity and interplay of these ideas in different arenas and seek to connect these phenomena to wider literatures. We are also wary of easy teleologies, and are as interested in the histories of the marginalization of some visions, as in the growing dominance of others. 

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