Victims, suffering, and reconciliation: A narrative investigation of victims' autobiographies in the aftermath of political violence in South Korea
Victim issues have received increasing attention under the ethic of ‘victim-centeredness’ in peace and conflict studies. Resting on the belief that victim-driven practices are an effective peacebuilding strategy, scholars have investigated the roles of victims and victimhood in peace and reconciliation in deeply divided societies. While most researchers focus on victims’ needs and roles, little research has inquired into the victims’ internal processing of endorsing reconciliation in the presence of suffering. The conventional approach to victim-centeredness requires a more nuanced explanation of victims’ perspectives on the value of reconciliation, to more adequately associate the ethic of victim-centeredness with peacebuilding practices. Investigating this research gap, this thesis examines how victims interpret their suffering and perceive themselves as subjects of peace, which produce generative meanings of reconciliation in the aftermath of political violence in South Korea. The thesis employs the narrative theories of the self, identity, and meaning, which assert that individuals are narrative selves who compose life stories based on their identity, which affects the emplotment of storylines and mobilizes meaningmaking processes. The study focuses on victims’ identity-based narrative processing and its implications for making sense of the social world after violence. This involves self-recognition and an acknowledgement of the social value of reconciliation. A qualitative narrative inquiry was adopted to investigate the autobiographies of eighteen surviving and bereaved family members of civilian massacres during the Korean War. The thesis focuses on national, familial, and religious identities. Each identity leads victims to construct a particular set of storylines, scaffolding their subjective views on violent events and a life of guilt and suppression. Their perspectives are formed by identity-based autobiographical reasoning, presenting different mindset and worldviews to make sense of their victimization and suffering. Self-recognition serves not only to develop images of selfhood, but also to underline their roles in national history and within their families. Meanings of reconciliation are generated in concert with this narrative processing. This study found that victim-centred reconciliation is multi-layered, with both redemptive and practical characteristics. It connects strongly with the ethics of peace, justice, and historical correction. Reconciliation eventually needs to play a role in social transformation.
Advisor: Lee, SungYong
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Peace and Conflict Studies
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: victims; reconciliation; peacebuilding; identity; Korea
Research Type: Thesis