Technologies of Truth

Wilson, Merry, and Coutin have written about how knowledge about suffering is produced and reduced through human rights reporting, wherein rich, subjective experience is translated into raw data for the purposes of measurement and analysis. For Merry and Coutin, this phenomenon is referred to as ‘technologies of truth.’ ‘[V]iolence and injustice’ they claim, ‘become socially known through naming, counting, and adjudicating’ (Merry and Coutin 2014: 1-2). For Wilson:

The process by which an event becomes textualised is highly selective, organising signs in such a way as to codify an event according to a universal template... Accounts of human rights violations are characterized by a literalism and minimalism which strips events of their subjective meanings in a pursuit of objective legal facts. (1997: 136)

The sense of dehumanisation described by my interviewee above may be due in part to the decontextualisation of peoples’ stories from the subjectivities through which they are able to make sense of their own experiences. Although the process of truth telling in the Solomon Islands was geared to some extent towards local subjectivities, ultimately stories were collated for analysis through the lens of internationally normative lexicons of suffering. The TRC sought to be ‘all things to all people’ in speaking a variety of (in)justice discourses, yet in reality, through striving to create a metanarrative of suffering for consumption by an international audience, many of the nuances of individuals’ stories were ‘lost in translation’—micro-narratives of personal experience were shaped and reduced into discrete human rights violations that fitted the tropes of international justices norms.

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