Lea David book cover

The Past Can’t Heal Us: The Dangers of Mandating Memory in the Name of Human Rights

5:00pm - 6:30pm / Monday 19th April 2021
Type: Lecture / Category: Research / Series: Europe and the World Centre
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Lea David is an Assistant Professor and Ad Astra Fellow at the School of Sociology, University College Dublin (UCD). She is a comparative historical sociologist with a strong interdisciplinary background in cultural anthropology and history. Previously, Lea David held several postdoctoral fellowships such as the Fulbright fellowship, the Rabin fellowship, the Jonathan Shapira fellowship, the Marie Curie Research Fellowship and the VATAT fellowship (Israeli Fellowship for the Most Promising Young Israeli Scholar). She completed her PhD at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Ben Gurion University, Israel. She has published a number of peer-reviewed articles, book chapters in edited volumes, and opinion pieces in English, Hebrew and Serbo-Croatian. Her book “The Past Can’t Heal Us: The Dangers of Mandating Memory in the Name of Human Rights” just got published (2020) with Cambridge University Press. Lea David is a Co-Chair (together with Dr Gruia Badescu and Dr Jelena Djurainovic and Dr Magdalena Zolkos) of the Critical Thinking on Memory and Human Rights Research Group within the Memory Studies Association (MSA). Her research interests cover the tension between qualitative and quantitative methods; memory; nationalism; human rights, ideologies; solidarity; activism; the intersection between the Holocaust and genocide, and conflicts in the former Yugoslav countries and in Israel/Palestine.

In this talk I will investigate, from a critical point of view, the relationship between human rights and memory, while bringing into question one of the most basic, deeply embedded presumptions in human rights and transitional justice: that ‘proper’ memorialization is a crucial step in establishing moral responsibility for past atrocities and, consequently, human rights values in conflict and post-conflict settings. I will address the rise of the human rights memorialization agenda, termed ‘Moral Remembrance’, and explore what happens in local communities once this agenda becomes implemented on the ground. Based on evidence from the Western Balkans and Israel/Palestine, the main argument I pose is that the human rights memorialization agenda, once transformed into policy-oriented memorialization efforts, creates false premises that, for the reasons elaborated in the lecture, in the long run, do not lead to a better appreciation of human rights but often transform into an oppressive force that only serves to strengthen divisions and leads to new forms of social inequalities.