Performative memory and re-victimization: truth-telling and provocation in Sierra Leone

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In transitional justice and peacebuilding literature the presentation of
traumatic memory is thought to be predictably socially generative of healing, reconciliation and justice. In rural Sierra Leone, however, the truth-telling performances of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission were commonly experienced as provocative and as providing “no good thing.” This paper explains this phenomena by demonstrating how truthtelling in this case generated particular social expectations and perceptions of the self as victim among those who performed traumatic memory. However, in this context, where reciprocal relationships of patron and client are the social norm, because the process required no one to perform the reciprocal role of patron, the process was unpredictably socially generative. The socially generative nature of performative memory led to dissatisfaction with the performance of the TRC. Recognizing that performances of memory are also performative provides new purchase on the potentially negative implications of truth-telling in complex patrimonial systems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)242-254
Number of pages13
JournalMemory Studies
Issue number2
Early online date28 Jan 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2015


  • performativity
  • memory
  • transitional justice
  • reconciliation
  • peacebuilding


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