Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Speech Communication

First Advisor



This dissertation is about the political rhetorical process of reconciliation in the wake of crimes against humanity. In contrast to war crimes trials, the political process of reconciliation aims to bring together parties in conflict under the auspices of what are most often called "truth and reconciliations commissions" (TRC). For the Western juridico-political tradition, the ends of transitional justice are directed toward the enactment of retributive violence as a way to reestablish the political field through punishment and the institution of the rule of law. Rather than reestablishing a relationship, law reflects the logic of the sovereign decision and the application of supposedly universal moral standards. The TRC forum works, in contrast, toward a coming-into-relation of perpetrators and the aggrieved, and does so by focusing on the performance of speech and action about past atrocities as a way to turn toward future peace. Following the work of Hannah Arendt, I propose that rhetoric is central to the process of political relationship building. I conceive of rhetoric in its persuasive mood as a process of wooing an other where free deeds transform into free words in the exchange of opinion. I explore the role of forgiveness in the reconciliation process and the need for deliberation in discerning the border between the forgivable and unforgivable as part of the process of coming-into-relation. Finally, I consider how reconciliation and the process of political transition is suited to the notion of "democracy to come" and its implications for always already thinking a future that will never come, but that we, as citizens of democratic communities, must take as our goal.




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