On the Definition of the Perpetrator: From the Twentieth to the Twenty-First Century


Morag, Raya. 2018. “On the Definition of the Perpetrator: From the Twentieth to the Twenty-First Century”. Journal of Perpetrator Research (JPR) 2 (1) : 13-19.


Post-World War II Holocaust studies, followed by genocide, trauma, and postcolonial studies, set the triangulation of perpetrator, victim, and bystander at the heart of their discussion of both the ethical legacy of the Holocaust and the aftermath of other twentieth-century catastrophes. Aiming at the constitution of an appropriate instrument to deal with transitional justice issues, during the 1990s the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) interwove these subject positions, thereby attesting to a major transformation in post-genocide reconciliation processes, though not altering their basic foundation. Other theorizations, especially of the perpetrator, for example, expanded the scale of sociological characterization of the triangulation or confronted its call for interpellation and identification (most prominently in the fields of criminology and literature, respectively), but further reflected the same triadic foundation. The exploratory opposition between subject position and action provoked by Gudehus in his ‘Some Remarks on the Label, Field, and Heuristics of Perpetrator Research’ (in this issue) follows the twentieth century’s legacy as well. Undoubtedly, opposing epistemology (subject position) and ontology (the action-able), as his essay suggests, contributes to our renewed efforts to comprehend perpetratorhood, recently kindled by the initiation of the Journal of Perpetrator Research and its pioneering editorial. However, I suggest that while adhering to the twentieth-century legacies – from Hilberg’s triad to Primo Levi’s ‘Gray Zone’ – it is necessary to comprehend perpetratorhood in light of the shift from the victim era, defined as such by the seminal works of Felman and Laub and particularly Wieviorka, to the perpetrator era.

Last updated on 12/24/2018