Negative Emotions and Transitional Justice

Dr Mihaela Mihai, from the University of Edinburgh, will be speaking about her forthcoming book ‘Negative Emotions and Transitional Justice’

17 November 2015, 3pm, Neil MacCormick Room


Vehement resentment and indignation against victimisers, torturers, and oppressors characterise the public sphere of societies coming out of dictatorships or civil conflict. How should institutions deal with these powerful and volatile emotions? This is the question at the centre of this book. By drawing attention to the need to acknowledge and constructively engage negative public emotion, the book offers a theoretical contribution to the growing field of Transitional Justice. More precisely, it examines the role that institutions in general—and courts in particular—should play in the recognition and socialisation of negative emotions within dramatic political transformations. Resentment and indignation are conceptualised as responses to the experience of injustice: against oneself in the case of resentment, and against another in the case of indignation. In contrast with those who fear their destabilising potential and plead for their suppression, the book argues that, as expressions of a sense of justice, these emotions bear normative weight and constitute a proper object of concern for any society attempting to make democratise. Resentment and indignation are barometers of injustice that can alert institutions to intervene correctively. However, left unfiltered and unmediated institutionally, they can either degenerate in political cynicism and apathy, or push societies into a spiral of violence. I argue that courts deciding transitional justice cases can recognise and valorise negative moral emotions for democracy. Contextually exemplary legal judgments—both in the context of constitutional review of transitional justice bills and of criminal trials of victimisers—can inspire citizens to reflect on what they want to do in the name of their violated sense of justice and learn to respect democratic norms of equal respect. A series of illustrative case studies of democratic transitions in Latin America, South Africa and Eastern Europe provide both lessons to be learnt and cautionary tales about how law should deal with negative emotions in the aftermath of oppression and violence.