Politics and International Relations at Leicester

The Politics of Victimhood

The aim of the seminars is to bring together scholars from a range of disciplines and working on a number of substantive topics, as well as practitioners from a range of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and human rights agencies, in order to discuss key political and practical issues arising from an increasing focus on the concept of the victim as both a political concept, a vision, an ideology, and as a set of practices.

The sessions were participative and informal, giving us the opportunity to exchange ideas, experience and findings. We invited a number of distinguished guest speakers to present papers to provide a focus for our discussions, and to take part in plenary sessions and roundtables.

The seminars focused on five central themes:

  • War and conflict after the Cold War
  • The Politics of protection
  • Narrative of victimhood in post-conflict Northern Ireland
  • Trafficking and slavery
  • Representation and victimhood


The dilemmas of victimhood have become increasingly urgent practical and political problems over the past decade, and scholars from a range of disciplines and working on a number of substantive topics, as well as practitioners from a range of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and human rights agencies, have recently engaged with questions about the legal and social construction of victims; about how victims exercise agency and about the usefulness (or otherwise) of victimhood as a collective identity; about the work performed by the figure of the victim in cultural politics; and about the nature and consequences of local and global hierarchies. However, there has to date been little dialogue between theorists, researchers and practitioners working on different substantive areas.


War and conflict after the Cold War – from politics by other means to crime?

28 June 2011, University of Leicester

This seminar considered a fundamental shift in the way that war in the developing world has been understood. Key to this shift is an argument that wars in the developing world can no longer be understood politically, but as criminal acts in which the main consideration for the international community is how to protect the victims of the conflict. What is lost when war is reinterpreted as a criminal activity and only some are designated as worthy? Who has the power to designate those that are worthy of victimhood?

The Politics of protection

29 June 2011, University of Leicester

This seminar considered the difficulties of providing for effective protection when the protections of citizenship break down, as a result of conflict, persecution or the failure of state institutions. It asked what it is to protect those outside of the normalised protections of citizenship. The challenges run parallel to those associated with the identification of victims, and the seminar will provide a space for discussing the extent to which 'protection' is an asymmetrical power relationship that can undermine agency.

Narratives of victimhood in post-conflict Northern Ireland

9 December 2011, University of Leicester

A critical aspect of contemporary political life in Northern Ireland concerns the competing struggles to interpret the 30-year conflict, its genesis, its prosecution and its outcome – if, indeed, it is definitely over. This seminar analysed the ongoing debates regarding victims’ rights, service provision and the role of victims and survivors in the formation of the historical memory of the conflict. These questions intersect with the broader issue of the suitability and practicality of a ‘truth and reconciliation’ process, and the seminar examined this complex intersection in detail.

While there is still no public consensus in Northern Ireland about the essential causes of conflict, it is not too surprising that searching for a single narrative of the ‘truth’ regarding the recent past, and the role of victims’ narratives, remains a matter of bitter dispute.

Trafficking and slavery

3 April 2012, University of Nottingham

Participants in this session considered how the freedom-slavery binary maps onto other fundamental dualisms and their centrality to the ways in which political community, rights, and personhood are imagined. A key theme in this seminar was the relationship between consent and victimhood, where those who are imagined as having consensually entered the context in which they were harmed are frequently deemed ineligible as ‘victims’

Representation and victimhood

3 July 2012, University of Nottingham

This seminar focused on how we represent and remember traumatic and violent experience, and how that representation constitutes the victims and perpetuates particular myths. Is representation all about self-glorification and propaganda, celebrating the power of the powerful, or are there other ways of apprehending lives that are injured or lost? How should we recognize victims?

Series organisers


Speakers include:

  • Professor David Chandler (Westminster)
  • Dr Zoe Marriage (SOAS)
  • Dr James Pattison (Manchester)
  • Dr Vanessa Pupavac (Nottingham) 
  • Professor Brad Blitz (Kingston University)
  • Dr Maureen Lynch (Refugees International, USA)
  • Dr Matthew Gibney (Oxford)
  • Professor Henry Patterson (Ulster)
  • Dr Marie Breen Smyth (Aberystwyth)
  • Dr Graham Dawson (Brighton)

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