Violence, Justice and the Politics of Memory

Key information

Start date
End date
Term 1
Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Politics and International Studies

Module overview

This module offers historical, theoretical and empirical perspectives on the nature and causes of conflict and its impact of on social and economic development in Africa, Asia and the Middle East over the past century, as well as memory and justice responses to violence. The module emphasises the crucial linkages of conflict, memory and justice, in particular the prevalence of unaddressed or manipulated memories of violence, historical grievance and impunity as causes of further conflict.

Students begin the module with a selection of readings on explanations of warfare and violence, including models that apply social, cultural, materialist and instrumental theories of causation, followed by theoretical considerations of responses to conflict, principally in terms of memory and justice processes. The module then explores these themes through detailed African, Asian and Middle Eastern case studies. The module concludes with some overarching considerations for memory and justice responses to conflict, explored through the institution of the International Criminal Court and attempts to create a global accountability regime.

The choice of cases include the Rwandan genocides of 1960, 1973 and 1994; Amin’s Uganda, the war of liberation and religious cults and violence in northern Uganda; proxy violence and hybrid justice in Timor-Leste; and the Khmer Rouge ‘utopian’ genocide in Cambodia. In each case, students will be encouraged to consider the means of violence employed, the causes and motivations of conflict (including rational choice explanations and political economy factors), the relevance of political systems (including ‘imposed’ democratisation) and political instrumentalism, issues of gender, youth, religion and ethnicity, and questions of culpability, ethics and moralities. The economic aspects of conflict (`the costs of war’) are also tackled. International dimensions are treated in relation to relief aid, development aid, reconstruction, and conflict resolution. The module also includes discussion of various forms of memorialisation, commemoration, accountability, reparations, reconciliation and atonement.

Of particular concern for this module are issues of transitional justice, which broadly concern the processes by which societies address the legacies of widespread human rights abuses, such as those arising from political repression or mass conflict, and facilitate transition to stable, open societies where human rights are fostered and protected. Over the last twenty years, the realm of transitional justice has witnessed the proliferation of different legal and non-legal mechanisms designed to address the legacies of human rights abuses, including the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the gacaca community courts in Rwanda, and the International Criminal Court.

As a result of this proliferation, transitional justice has become an increasingly fragmented area of study, with various disciplines – particularly law, politics, sociology, criminology, development studies and international relations – conducting discrete theoretical and empirical research. This module provides a more systematic, inter-disciplinary examination of transitional justice theory and practice. It examines the theoretical and historical foundations of transitional justice, the objectives and modalities of different transitional justice mechanisms, the effect of legal, political and cultural contexts on the operation of transitional justice processes and, in turn, the impact of transitional justice on those dimensions of post-conflict and/or post-repression societies. After laying important theoretical and conceptual foundations, the module focuses on case study-based analyses in order to explore the implications of transitional justice concepts in practice.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  • Demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of the historical origins of violence and war in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
  • Demonstrate a knowledge of a wider theoretical and comparative literature in relation to African, Asian and Middle Eastern conflict case studies.
  • Discuss the historical and conceptual underpinnings of memory and justice processes in a wide range of countries.
  • Critically assess the impact of memory and justice processes on individuals, communities and countries recovering from mass conflict and/or repressive rule.


This module will be taught over 10 weeks with:

  • 2 hour lecture per week
  • 1 hour tutorial per week

Method of assessment

  • Assignment 1: 45%
  • Assignment 2: 45%
  • Seminar Participation 10%

Suggested reading

  • Autessere, S., ‘Dangerous Tales: Dominant Narratives on the Congo and their Unintended Consequences’, African Affairs, February 2012, pp.1-21.
  • T.-N. Coates, ‘The Case for Reparations’, The Atlantic, June 2014, 
  • Madlingozi, Tshepo. "On Transitional Justice Entrepreneurs and the Production of Victims." Journal of Human Rights Practice 2.2 (2010): 208-228.
  • Gready, Paul, and Simon Robins. "From Transitional to Transformative Justice: A New Agenda for Practice." International Journal of Transitional Justice 8.3 (2014): 339-361.
  • Mutwarasibo, E., ‘Remembering the Humanity: Accounting for Resisting Genocide in Rwanda in 1994’, Aegis Trust Working Paper, September 2017,


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules