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Graduates Ramila Usoof-Thowfeek, Johanna Vollhardt and Rezarta Bilali are part of an international research team.

Ramila Usoof-Thowfeek

Graduates Ramila Usoof-Thowfeek, Johanna Vollhardt and Rezarta Bilali are part of an international research team that received a large 5 year grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation/Swiss Programme for Research on Global Issues and Development for a project entitled:

Fostering Pluralistic Memories and Collective Resilience in Fragile Transitional Justice Processes

The project aims to study the processes of collective remembering in the context of three fragile societies that have been involved in repeated rounds of communal violence over decades, in Sri Lanka, Burundi, and the Palestinian territories. It is based on the idea that open expression and circulation of diverse memories of conflicts can foster political tolerance and make communities more resilient when faced with critical events, such as violent incidents or political provocations, which are otherwise likely to undermine or disrupt peace processes. But it is also informed by available research showing that (a) common truth and reconciliation procedures can be ineffective or even counter-productive when implemented in non-ideal societal contexts (e.g., when there is no genuine commitment to a democratization process among the ruling elites), (b) the role of victims in the truth-telling procedures urgently needs to be reconsidered, and (c) there is still a lack of empirically founded conclusions regarding the spill-over effects of participation in truth-telling procedures, i.e., their impact on extended communities beyond the directly exposed individuals.

Therefore, this project aims to contribute to the development of an approach to gathering testimonies that does not require ideal circumstances, provides safe spaces for those who testify, and is embedded into a larger intervention and research design intended to facilitate and assess the spill-over effects that are critical to the dynamics of social change. It organizes around the core assumptions that interventions aiming to foster community resilience through collective remembrance can make a critical difference when institutional environments are fragile and that a democratic political culture requires pluralistic collective memories rather than a single commonly accepted truth or narratives that are polarized along communal lines.According to the proposed research plan, first-hand testimonies are initially collected through individual interviews, embedded in a larger background ethnography on conflict-related memories. They are then disseminated in an anonymous format to stimulate community discussions about collective memories. Specific interviewing and moderating methods will be developed to facilitate the expression and recognition of hidden memories of intergroup helping, group malleability, and inclusive victimhood.

The impact of these community interventions on the collective recognition of pluralistic memories and on collective resilience is assessed through a longitudinal representative survey, and the circulation of knowledge about collective experiences documented by the survey is finally promoted through further disseminating activities.The implementation of this approach will be achieved through interdisciplinary scientific collaborations, combining ethnographic methods of data collection and purposive sampling procedures to collect testimonies, with standardized methods of survey data collection and probability sampling procedures. To develop an approach that is likely to be applicable to various fragile transitional justice processes, the program will be implemented and assessed in three different contexts that are all characterized by specific circumstances that render classic procedures of public truth-telling problematic. Derived from a theoretical model of social change, the intervention strategy focuses on breaking cycles of ignorance regarding other people’s memories and on empowerment of critical minorities, across three different sectors of society: academics, local social referents, and media actors. In particular, media dialogue workshops and multi-stakeholder briefings will be used as a means to facilitate the dissemination

photo: Ramila Usoof-Thowfeek