Histories of Victimhood

Histories of Victimhood

Steffen Jensen
Henrik Ronsbo
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 328
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    Histories of Victimhood
    Book Description:

    The word and concept ofvictimbear a heavy weight. To represent oneself or to be represented as a victim is often a first and vital step toward having one's suffering and one's claims to rights socially and legally recognized. Yet to name oneself or be called a victim is a risky claim, and social scientists must struggle to avoid erasing either survivors' experience of suffering or their agency and resourcefulness.Histories of Victimhoodengages with this dilemma, asking how one may recognize and acknowledge suffering without essentializing affected communities and individuals.This volume tackles the theoretical and empirical questions surrounding the ways victims and victimhood are constructed, represented, and managed by state and nonstate actors. Geographically broad, the twelve essays in this volume trace histories of victimhood in Colombia, India, South Africa, Guatemala, Angola, Sierra Leone, Turkey, Occupied Palestine, Denmark, and Britain. They examine the implications of victimhood in a wide range of contexts, including violent occupations, displacement, war, reparation projects, refugee assistance, HIV treatment, trauma intervention, social welfare projects, and state formation. In exploring varying forms of hardship and identifying what people do to survive, how they make sense of their own suffering, and how they are frequently either acted upon or ignored by humanitarian agencies and states,Histories of Victimhoodencourages us to see victimhood not as a definite and definable category of experience but as a changeable and culturally contingent state.Contributors:Sofie Danneskiold-Samsøe, Pamila Gupta, Ravinder Kaur, Stine Finne Jakobsen, Andrew M. Jefferson, Steffen Jensen, Tobias Kelly, Frédéric Le Marcis, Walter Paniagua, Elizabeth A. Povinelli, Darius Rejali, Henrik Ronsbo, Lotte Buch Segal, Nerina Weiss.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0931-0
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction. Histories of Victimhood: Assemblages, Transactions, and Figures
    (pp. 1-22)
    Henrik Ronsbo and Steffen Jensen

    Human suffering presents the social sciences with a fundamental dilemma. As social scientists, we often withdraw from suffering or reduce the suffering bodies we face to the status of hapless victims—or we look for agency and force of individuals who can beat the system they suffer or remake their own experiences of suffering in transcendental form. The present collection tackles this dilemma. It asks how we might recognize and acknowledge suffering without reducing affected communities and individuals to hapless and objectified victims. To work through this dilemma, we find it useful to invoke the notion of “histories of victimhood.”...

  4. Chapter 1 Why Social Scientists Should Care How Jesus Died
    (pp. 23-43)
    Darius Rejali

    In this chapter, I reconstruct the story of how we came to have the concept of humane violence. Humane violence is a critical concept when one debates violence today. Inhumane violence needs justification, and, failing that, it marks one as a victim of injustice. Humane violence does not. How one decides the humanity of violence then indexes one’s claims to victimhood. If violence is humane, how can one be a victim really? Some stories tell us that humaneness has shaped how our societies exercise pain over time. Not surprisingly, politicians, caregivers, and activists hotly contest any particular history. And, not...

  5. Chapter 2 Bodies of Partition: Of Widows, Residue, and Other Historical Waste
    (pp. 44-63)
    Ravinder Kaur

    A “historical wound,” it has been noted, is a sign of misrecognition of injury that locates the past as the site of the original slight and its redress in the present as a condition for rearrangement of the social compact (Attwood, Chakrabarty, and Lomnitz 2008). Dipesh Chakrabarty further suggests that to publicize the wound, or to speak in its name, is “to be already on the path of recovery” (Chakrabarty 2007: 77). A somewhat less explored aspect of the relationship between publicity and recovery of the wound concerns thehistorical residue as waste—residual matter, a leftover of the wound,...

  6. Chapter 3 “Extremely Poor” Mothers and Debit Cards: The Families in an Action Cash-Transfer Program in Colombia
    (pp. 64-82)
    Stine Finne Jakobsen

    One morning when I had walked through Villa Hermosa to visit Blanca’s house to talk with her, I found that she already had a guest. A young social worker from the local nongovernmental organization (NGO) País (Country) was making house visits to give a talk about hygiene. I sat and observed the encounter. The social worker touched on three main themes: (1) garbage handling: how to separate organic and nonorganic garbage and always to use a garbage bin with a lid; (2) water: how to avoid diarrhea in children by boiling water and adding a few drops of chlorine to...

  7. Chapter 4 How to Become a Victim: Pragmatics of the Admission of Women in a South African Primary Health Care Clinic
    (pp. 83-103)
    Frédéric Le Marcis

    The day after Treasury Minister Trevor Manuel announced South Africa’s 2003–4 national budget, the nurses at the Primary Health Care clinic where I was working with an HIV support group made much comment at the staff’s morning meeting. They had mixed feelings about this budget. They all agreed it would decrease poverty, as the old age grant had been increased from 650 to 700 rand a month, but they thought the child support grant for unsupported mothers, which would now reach 150 rand per month, would encourage young women to become pregnant just to be eligible for it.¹ As...

  8. Chapter 5 Negotiating Victimhood in Nkomazi, South Africa
    (pp. 104-123)
    Steffen Jensen

    Victimhood is a moral category. True, victims are construed as carrying little blame for their predicament and, therefore, deserving of our attention. However, to echo the Introduction to this volume, the morality of the victim is negotiated, and victimhood cannot be explored as a substantive category of objectifiable suffering only. Rather, victims become victims and are made real through a complicated web of entextualized discourses entering into programs; narratives; prioritizations of actors such as donors, states, and civil society groups; and the everyday survival practices of those interpellated as victims. In this chapter, drawing on fieldwork in rural South Africa...

  9. Chapter 6 Between Recognition and Care: Victims, NGOs, and the State in the Guatemalan Postconflict Victimhood Assemblages
    (pp. 124-143)
    Henrik Ronsbo and Walter Paniagua

    What is the relationship between the recognition of victims and the reproduction of modern forms of state power? What are the relations between care for victims and the perpetuation of legitimacy? Is the victim somehow beyond language and resistance, displaced to a space of silence as suggested by Scarry (1985)? Or is the victim the locus for the generation of power, as suggested by Bataille (1991) and Sofsky (1997)? Fassin and Rechtman (2009) argue that, indeed, there is a relationship between power and victimhood and that this relationship should be understood in registers of veridiction and morality, in a formation...

  10. Chapter 7 Recognizing Torture: Credibility and the Unstable Codification of Victimhood
    (pp. 144-160)
    Tobias Kelly

    This chapter explores the conditions under which people can gain legal recognition as torture victims. Torture survivors are often, formally at least, singled out for specific attention, as deserving of particular respect for what they have suffered. How, then, can legal regimes recognize when torture has taken place? Literary critic Elaine Scarry (1984) has famously argued that the distinctive nature of torture lies in its ability to destroy the capacity to communicate. However, the idea that the pain of torture is a fundamentally private experience denies the ways pain is itself a social relationship. As such, the problem of torture...

  11. Chapter 8 The Power of Dead Bodies
    (pp. 161-178)
    Nerina Weiss

    This chapter is about dead bodies and the struggle of defining them. Focusing on the multilayered metaphor of the Kurdish guerrilla corpse, it elaborates on the political dimensions of the category of victimhood and thus expands in several ways on the discussion introduced by the editors of this volume. Jensen and Ronsbo argue persuasively for studying the concept of victimhood, despite its negative connotations of passivity and vulnerability and the need for external intervention. Why study the category of victimhood, they ask in the introduction to this volume, when victimhood is apparently rejected by our interlocutors? Here I support their...

  12. Chapter 9 Why Is Muna Crying? Event, Relation, and Immediacy as Criteria for Acknowledging Suffering in Palestine
    (pp. 179-197)
    Lotte Buch Segal

    During fieldwork in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (oPt) in 2007, I participated in a training session in group therapy for twenty Palestinian counselors in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Two Spanish psychotherapists facilitated the course—a vital element of which was learning how to enable the clients to establish what in therapeutic vernacular is termed a “safe place.” One senior therapist, Muna, addressed problems she had at the time with a group of detainees’ wives who were undergoing group therapy. She asked, “What if the clients do not have and cannot create a safe place?” The teacher/trainer replied, “We...

  13. Chapter 10 Departures of Decolonization: Interstitial Spaces, Ordinary Affect, and Landscapes of Victimhood in Southern Africa
    (pp. 198-217)
    Pamila Gupta

    With Portuguese colonial rule in Angola coming to a (scheduled) end in November 1975, the majority of its white population departed in a matter of a few weeks, making difficult choices about where to relocate, about where to start over again. While the majority returned to the metropole, others settled (or had little choice in the matter) on a geographically closer but less obvious choice—(apartheid) South Africa—for a variety of reasons, both personal and political. The chapter explores accounts by three eyewitnesses to these last days of colonialism in order to give a sense of the fractured nature...

  14. Chapter 11 Performances of Victimhood, Allegation, and Disavowal in Sierra Leone
    (pp. 218-238)
    Andrew M. Jefferson

    On June 12, 2006, a group of forty-three men, women, and children were arrested following a protest at the local office of the UNHCR in Freetown Sierra Leone. The protest was designed to draw attention to local corruption, years of neglect, and, most potently, to claims that identities and stories of suffering were being systematically stolen—“they are selling our names,” as one of them put it. In the words of a press release I helped the chairman of the group draft,

    After a peaceful demonstration on 12 June 2006, expressing serious grievances about the handling of the resettlement process,...

  15. Chapter 12 Victims in the Moral Economy of Suffering: Narratives of Humiliation, Retaliation, and Sacrifice
    (pp. 239-256)
    Sofie Danneskiold-Samsøe

    One evening during Ashura, Iman¹ approached me at Hussainiya al-Sadr² in Copenhagen. She had heard about me and wanted to know more about my study of Iraqi suffering. Her own story of how she had given birth to her daughter in prison was well known, but she wanted to tell me herself. In the jumble of women’s talk and children’s play, Iman told me the short version of her experiences in her Iraqi prison.

    Iman had lived with her husband, daughter, and son in Kuwait and was expecting a third child when her husband’s father and his six brothers were...

  16. Epilogue. Histories of Victimhood: Assemblage, Transaction, and Figure
    (pp. 257-264)
    Elizabeth A. Povinelli

    At least since Nietzsche penned his infamous words about “the man ofressentiment,” the scholarship on suffering has been fractured into two often antagonist halves—the phenomenology of sufferers and the politics of suffering. Not all critics follow Nietzsche’s brutal reading of the genealogy of thevictim—the man who makes of his suffering a righteous condition. But the division between the fact of suffering and the instrumental use of suffering persists. And in this general genealogy,Histories of Victimhoodsituates itself. As Steffen Jensen and Henrik Ronsbo ask in their introduction to the volume, “How do we recognize and...

  17. List of Contributors
    (pp. 265-268)
  18. Index
    (pp. 269-272)
  19. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 273-274)