This article examines how social researchers have evaluated the rise of institutions to create ‘national reconciliation’ in countries emerging from authoritarianism and state repression. Reconciliation has been counter-posed to retributive justice by new political and religious elites, who have instead sought to construct a new notion of the national self and psyche, and in so doing used organic models of state and society and metaphors of illness and health in the body politic. Intellectuals such as the legal scholar Minow have applauded these efforts as attempts to transcend the limitations of law and legal discourse in order to construct a different kind of public space and collective memory, and to engage in emotional and psychological healing. Anthropologists have taken a more mixed and critical view. Some such as Buur and Ross have asserted that truth commissions are not free of the positivism which characterizes the legal process and which excludes certain types of voice and subjectivity and creates silences of its own. Others such as Borneman and Wilson have criticized reconciliation strategies for undermining the rule of law and they have asserted that democratizing regimes must instead attempt to rebuild accountability, and thereby state legitimacy, through retributive justice.
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