Global Slavery – Representation & Redress

Global Interactions First Annual Event 2015

12-13 November 2015 | On the Poetics and Politics of Redress

Reparatory justice responds… to a re-temporalization of history; it attunes itself to a re-enchanted past understood as a time not yet past that continues to disfigure the present and foreclose the future. It is perhaps this revised temporal sensibility that has made the language of trauma – and the memory work that sustains it – so arresting for thinking about the persistence of harm resulting from the perpetration of historical wrong. [1]

GI Global Slavery Redress A3Global Slavery – Representation and Redress Part 2:
On the Poetics and Politics of Redress

Roundtable Discussion
12-13 November 2015
Research Center for Material Culture
The Netherlands


In 2012 several Caribbean nations, under the aegis of CARICOM, announced their intention to jointly demand reparations from former European colonial powers, including France, the United Kingdom, and The Netherlands. While questions of financial compensation were also included in their claim – for example the claimants pointing out that it was slaver holders in the British Caribbean who were paid the sum of twenty million pounds as compensation at the time of Emancipation and not the formerly enslaved – they were also keen to emphasize that the issue was more than one of money. Indeed, several of the key figures insisted on the importance that former colonial powers accept culpability – the importance of an apology. They also highlighted the importance of debt forgiveness and sustained funding for development as important to their claim for reparation.

This recent call for reparations was of course not new, and could be seen to fall within a longer radical anti-colonial tradition in the Caribbean, which includes several claims by the Afro-Caribbean philosophical movement, Rastafari, that has always held reparation for colonial ills as a central tenet within its system of beliefs. Nonetheless this case represented several firsts. For one, this was the first time that a case was being brought not by one formerly colonized state against a former colonizer but this is a joint action of a group of formerly colonized Caribbean nations against several European states. Similarly noteworthy is the fact that the case was being brought to the International Court Justice in The Hague.

Several commentators have noted exceptional tenor of this claim. David Scott, for example, speaks of the importance of thinking about the ‘contemporary regional and global conjuncture in which reparations appears increasingly to be a compelling language of political criticism and mobilization.’ It is in this conjuncture that he sees foregrounding the possibilities for renewed conversations about reparatory justice and political forgiveness which aims at not only the recognition of the persistence of past wrongs in structuring contemporary geopolitical relationships, but also in enabling ‘the construction of the moral, legal, and political space in which to arrive at how…to work out an acceptable settlement between inheritors of the historical injustice and the beneficiaries of it’.

It is to this conjuncture that this roundtable responds. Taking the urgent instance of the Caribbean claims for reparation for colonial wrongs as a starting point we invite scholars to think about what kind of clearing is possible to create the moral, legal and political spaces where repair can be imaginable. Including but also beyond financial compensation, we wish focus on two particular demands and how they might mediate repair: namely, formal apology and the development of (or inclusion in) cultural and heritage institutions. Mindful of the fact that claims for restitution of heritage objects have also had their own histories as part of reparatory frameworks, we also want to consider if there are new, more novel possibilities of repair that include but are not limited to return of cultural objects.

Aiming to open up and expand the vital but divisive discourses of restitution and repatriation, this workshop seeks to think through other imaginings and enactments of redress and repair. What are the current conditions of possibility for redress? How are they shaped by specific historical and moral-philosophical orders and contemporary material landscapes? What are the limits and possibilities of collaboration and shared authority? Financial settlements and the return of objects and land are indeed significant and generally positive developments; however, they along with apology, are only the first steps in what must be a much longer and more pervasive process of repair. Moreover, we should consider to what extent such acts actualize or accomplish reconciliation and healing within affected groups. Beyond the expedient yet culturally anemic economic logic of compensatory justice, what else remains to be done and what else is possible?

[1] Scott, David. “Preface: Debt, Redress.” Small Axe 18.1 43 (2014): vii-x.



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