Ethical Perspectives

June 2011

The Ethics of Storytelling. A Nation's Role in Victim/Survivor Storytelling

Teresa Phelps


Victim/survivor stories have become one of the primary means for conveying human rights abuses. Even as these kinds of stories have captured our collective imagination, we do not know much about how they operate in a transitional democracy: whether they are transformative and contribute to the peacemaking process, or disruptive and can thwart the process.

This article discusses the value of such stories and asks, first, whether an emerging democracy has an ethical obligation to provide spaces for victims and survivors to tell their stories of the harms that befell them under the former regime. It concludes that victim/survivor storytelling can assist former victims in finding and building of voice that enables them to become contributing citizens in the new country. It enables them to become less alienated from and suspicious of the state, and to become empowered enough to participate in governance. It is thus in a country’s best interest to encourage storytelling activities. Second, the article attempts to provide a framework by which we might recognize different kinds of stories and begin to distinguish between those that a country should support and those that it should discourage.

 Page : 169 - 195

To  Ethical Perspectives 2/2011