Transforming Societies after Political Violence: Truth, Reconciliation, and Mental Health (Peace Psychology Book Series)

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9780387894263: Transforming Societies after Political Violence: Truth, Reconciliation, and Mental Health (Peace Psychology Book Series)

Paraphrasing Descartes, we may say that one method is to take the reader into your conf idence by explaining to him how you arrived at your discovery; the other is to bully him into accepting a conclusion by parading a series of propositions which he must accept and which lead to it. The first method allows the reader to re-think your own thoughts in their natural order. It is an autobiographical style. Writing in this style, you include, not what you had for breakfast on the day of your discovery, but any significant consideration which helped you arrive at your idea. In particular, you say what your aim was – what problems you were trying to solve and what you hoped from a solution of them. The other style suppresses all this. It is didactic and intimidating. J. W. N. Watkins, Confession is Good for Ideas (Watkins, 1963, pp. 667–668) I began writing this book over 12 years ago. It was started in the midst of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). It is an exploration of what I have learned from the process. During the TRC, I was working at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) in South Africa, primarily with people who testified before the Commission, but also on a range of research and policy initiatives in the area that is now called ‘transitional justice’. I have written about the TRC process extensively.

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It is a momentous day for a nation when war is over or a brutal regime ends. For victims and survivors of political atrocities, it is also a time to process trauma, to anticipate the future, to be heard―and to be healed.

Transforming Societies after Political Violence offers a template for those tasked with providing truth, justice, reconciliation, and healing. This interdisciplinary study identifies complex relationships between recovery from political violence and the psychological processes that accompany widespread social change, showing how these can be integrated to strengthen both individual and society. Author Brandon Hamber draws on his extensive experience in South Africa and comparative examples from elsewhere to examine the centrality of mental health issues in transitional justice, and the social, cultural, and identity issues involved in meeting the needs of victims. In discussing reparations (what the author terms "repairing the irreparable"), the power of ambivalence, and especially concepts of closure, he eloquently sets out professionals’ roles in helping survivors move beyond the toxic past without covering it up or becoming mired in it.

Among the critical areas covered:

  • The vital groundwork that must be made before reconciliation can occur.
  • Creating context-driven approaches to political and social trauma.
  • Assessing truth, documenting the past, and avoiding re-traumatization.
  • The role of mental health professionals in truth commission processes.
  • Survivors as agents for justice, from civic participation to giving public witness.
  • Reparations―symbolic meaning, national value, personal benefits.
  • Promoting reconciliation and preventing further violence.

A work that holds profound insight into the meaning of "doing justice," Transforming Transitional Societies is required reading for social and peace psychologists, as well as students and researchers of conflict and peace studies, transitional justice, and intergroup and international relations.

About the Author:

Brandon Hamber, Ph.D. was born in South Africa and currently works in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  He was trained as a clinical psychologist in South Africa and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Ulster. He is the Director of  INCORE (International Conflict Research Institute), an associate site of the United Nations University based at the University of Ulster. He coordinated the Transition and Reconciliation Unit at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.  He works mainly in the area of violence and trauma, and coordinated the Centre's project focusing on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

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