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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Overcoming intractability : identity and intergroup reconciliation in transitional justice Aiken, Nevin Thomas


Drawing upon an interdisciplinary synthesis of literature from political science, social psychology, and peace and conflict studies, this dissertation seeks to construct a theoretical framework capable of tracing the complex linkages between identity, transitional justice, and intergroup reconciliation in the post-conflict environments of deeply divided societies. An innovative ‘social learning’ model of this complex interrelationship is introduced, one which suggests that transitional justice strategies will be most successful in promoting intergroup reconciliation to the degree that they are able to catalyze crucial processes of instrumental, socioemotional, and distributive learning amongst former antagonists by promoting contact, dialogue, truth, justice, and the amelioration of structural and material inequalities – all factors identified in existing scholarship as necessary, if not sufficient, conditions for post-conflict reconciliation in divided societies. Employing a methodology of theoretically oriented systematic process analysis, this social learning model is tested through a critical examination of the very different transitional justice approaches adopted in South Africa and Northern Ireland. In South Africa, transitional justice centered on the highly regarded Truth and Reconciliation Commission, designed to address apartheid-era abuses committed between black and white South Africans. In Northern Ireland, a much more ‘decentralized’ approach has combined discrete government programs with an array of ‘bottom-up’ civil society initiatives to deal with the legacy of violence between Nationalist and Unionist communities committed during the ‘Troubles.’ Through extensive desk research and four months of qualitative field research conducted in 2008 (which included 85 in-depth expert interviews), suggestive evidence is found to support the underlying supposition that, at least in deeply divided societies, the causal relationship between transitional justice and reconciliation remains heavily mediated by the politics of identity. More specifically, in both Northern Ireland and South Africa, the transitional justice strategies employed appear to have been successful in contributing to post-conflict reconciliation to the extent to which they have been able to successfully promote a combination of the instrumental, socioemotional, and distributive forms of learning identified in the theoretical model. This study concludes by considering the policy implications of this analysis for ‘best practices’ in the design of future transitional justice strategies in deeply divided societies.

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