The desire for justice, psychic reparation and the politics of memory in ‘post-conflict’ Northern Ireland

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The 'desire for justice' is an expression commonly used to describe the demand for redress made by victims of violence within 'post-conflict' transition. My argument in this article is that more attention must be paid to understanding the subjective and psychic aspects of this desire for justice, as these articulate with the politics of memory, discourses of victimhood, and questions of recognition, reparation and reconciliation in the Northern Ireland peace process. I am interested in exploring how psychic and emotional currents percolate into public discourse and politics, affecting representation of and by victims and the ways in which others relate themselves to victims' expressed desires for justice, in the context of devolved government and stalled efforts towards engagement with the historical legacies of the conflict. The article develops two main propositions, each of which sets in train a distinct line of enquiry. Firstly, the desire for justice is intrinsically connected to questions of memory and voice, is constructed by discourse, debate and policy in the public domain as well as in the intimacies of the private sphere, and involves complex relations between personal and collective memories. I explore this through a case study of West Tyrone Voice (WTV), a grass-roots victims' support group that articulates a desire for justice in campaigning for mainly Border Protestant victims of 'terrorist violence' during the Troubles. Secondly, the desire for justice is relational and dialogic, formulated in relation to those who are responsible for the injustice ­­– the 'perpetrators' of violence ­– and to those who are perceived to help or hinder the pursuit of justice. These others are both real and imagined, involving object relations in the internal world of the psyche, which influences perceptions of social relations with real others. In this line of enquiry I explore the value of thinking and insight from the object-relations tradition of psychoanalysis, ­for understanding the desire for justice as a response to the trauma generated by political violence. Here I draw on psychoanalytic theory informed by clinical practice which explores two main ideas: justice as fairness and mutuality, and justice as grievance and revenge. In the final section of the paper, I reflect on how these two lines of enquiry might be brought together, and draw some provisional conclusions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)265-288
Number of pages24
JournalRethinking History
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 18 Nov 2013

Bibliographical note

This is an Author's Original Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis Group in Rethinking History 2014, available online:


  • justice
  • memory
  • Northern Ireland
  • victims of terrorism
  • object relations
  • reconciliation


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