Governing the Past through National Reconciliation: Containment vs. Integrative Approaches in South Africa and Australia

Charlotte Lloyd, PhD candidate

This paper brings the well-developed sociology of mnemonic practices to bear onto an object that is generally the purview of the interdisciplinary field of transitional justice: national reconciliation. Already implemented in over 30 countries, reconciliation is an increasingly relied-upon political and social ritual through which nations seek to address traumatic pasts. In addition to providing official accounts of past conflicts, reconciliation processes define and manage appropriate uses of the past in present-day national communities. Through successful governance the past ceases to be an unruly, chaotic force capable of generating further conflict and may be harnessed to produce political and social solidarity. But how, precisely, do reconciliation processes attempt to “govern” when, how, and by whom the past is invoked? This paper examines two cases to illustrate divergent approaches to the task of governing the past through national reconciliation. Whereas South Africa’s reconciliation contains a past characterized as imminently dangerous, Australian reconciliation actively integrates the past in order to overcome its difficulty.

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 Presented in Session 253. The Enduring Global Color Line