Special issue: Complicit Testimonies

deadline for submissions: 
December 10, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
Journal of Perpetrator Research
contact email: 

Journal of Perpetrator Research Special Issue: Complicit Testimonies

 

The Journal of Perpetrator Research is seeking submissions for a special issue on the theme of Complicit Testimonies, scheduled for publication in Spring 2025, and guest-edited by Ivan Stacy (Beijing Normal University).

 

Introduction

Shoshona Felman and Dori Laub wrote their seminal Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History (1992) as a result of their experiences with the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale. For this reason, they developed a model in which testimony is closely connected to the subject position of victimhood and the experience of trauma. This relationship has endured in academic research on testimony, with Avishai Margalit, for example, proposing the figure of the “moral witness” as one that has experienced directly the suffering produced by atrocity; it also appears in more recent contributions to The Future of Testimony: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Witnessing (edited by Jane Kilby and Anthony Rowland, 2008) and the Palgrave Handbook of Testimony and Culture, in which the editors Sara Jones and Roger Woods write in their introduction that “the urge to communicate the unique experience is the impulse behind much testimony from survivors of trauma”.

Endeavours to explicate the nature of testimony as written or told by those who have lived through extreme suffering are necessary and valuable, yet the creation of testimony does not necessarily presuppose a state of victimhood or an experience of trauma. Analysis of perpetrator testimony by writers including Leigh Payne, Ute Hirsekorn and Sue Vice has productively complicated the relationship between testifier, the account they produce, and their role in historical events. However, the tendency to adjectivize testimony with a particular subject position – typically in the form of “victim testimony” or “perpetrator testimony” – presents a further problem: if, as Margalit argues, “testimony, not direct observation, is our basic source of evidence and knowledge,” to categorize that primary source of knowledge itself with the value-laden labels of “victim” or “perpetrator” imposes an a priori framework for interpreting events and experiences that are still in the process of becoming known. Moreover, as Primo Levi’s well-known elaboration on the “gray zone” in The Drowned and the Saved shows, the blurring of boundaries between victims and perpetrators was one of the central mechanisms by which the camps functioned, as a means of securing the complicity even of those whose lives they were designed to destroy.

For this reason, the concept of complicity, and the uncertain moral positions that it encompasses, offers a valuable but hitherto under-theorised approach to studying testimony. The aim of this special issue of the Journal of Perpetrator Research is therefore to explore the relationship between complicity and the creation and reception of testimony from an interdisciplinary perspective. In a general sense, complicity is an increasingly important concept for understanding the negative consequences of actions in an ever-more interconnected world, and as Christopher Kutz notes, “the most important and far-reaching harms and wrongs of contemporary life are the products of collective actions, mediated by social and institutional structures.” Moreover, language itself is at once shaped by social and institutional pressures while also creating and performing complicity with those structures of power: as Thomas Docherty argues, complicity with institutions tends to operate through the “establishment of a reduced lexicon.” This special issue is intended to consider testimony in light of the particular challenges posed by the concept of complicity, and in doing so to examine the nature of narrative accounts created in a moral “gray zone.”

Topics for articles in this special issue might include, but are not limited to:

 

  • Language and form in complicit testimonies
  • Literary and cultural representations of complicit testimonies
  • Affective responses to compromised testimony
  • Complicity and the generic boundaries of testimony
  • Distinctions between perpetration and complicity
  • Complicity and adjacent concepts (beneficiaries and implicated subjects)
  • Categories of complicity (collaborating, consorting, condoning and conniving)

 

We intend that the special issue will represent a range of disciplines, and we are particularly interested in articles from non-European and non-Anglophone perspectives.

 

Deadline for submissions:

Abstracts of around 300 words should be submitted to Ivan Stacy at ivanstacy@gmail.com, no later than 10 December 2023. Queries can be directed to the same email address.

Full articles of 6,000-10,000 words will be due by 30 June 2024, with publication scheduled for Spring 2025.