Spirits and social reconstruction after mass violence: Rethinking transitional justice

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A vibrant debate in the field of transitional justice concerns the relative ability of global, national, and local mechanisms to promote justice after violent conflict. Discussion largely focuses on more formal mechanisms of justice (courts, tribunals, or truth commissions), implying that state institutions and the law are solely responsible for shaping the process of social healing. This article suggests that scholars should take seriously more informal, socio-cultural processes outside the purview of the state, particularly for how they promote social reconstruction at the micro level. Examining the phenomena of spirit possession and ritual cleansing in northern Uganda, I illustrate how such efforts are expressions of injustice and reflect ordinary people’s attempts to seek moral renewal and social repair. This approach is particularly illustrative in cases where ‘intimate enemies’ exist - that is, settings where ordinary people who engaged in violence against one another must live together again.




Baines, E. (2010). Spirits and social reconstruction after mass violence: Rethinking transitional justice. African Affairs, 109(436), 409–430. https://doi.org/10.1093/afraf/adq023

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