Undergraduate Module Descriptor

POC2113: Violence, Truth, and Reconciliation: Bearing Witness

This module descriptor refers to the 2019/0 academic year.

Please note that this module is only delivered on the Penryn Campus.


NQF Level 5
Credits 15 ECTS Value 7.5
Term(s) and duration

This module ran during term 1 (11 weeks)

Academic staff

Dr Shubranshu Mishra (Convenor)

Available via distance learning


We, the survivors, are not the true witnesses…We survivors are not only an exiguous but also an anomalous minority: we are those who by their prefabrications or abilities or good luck did not touch bottom. Those who did so… the submerged, the complete witnesses… are the rule, we are the exception (Primo Levi, 1989).


Who is a true witness of violence? Is it the survivor or the dead, the saved or the drowned, the left behind or the missing, the disposable or the disposed? How can we understand the closures people seek through acknowledgement and response-ability? How can we examine their reconciliation through private memories and jittery voices that negotiate with their horrors and trauma, and their perception of their own victimisation?

The module has a cross-regional focus and will study histories of violence through issues ranging from slavery in the US, the Holocaust in Europe, India-Pakistan Partition violence, to the nature of migration in Europe and Burma, post 9/11 counter-terror operations, and other counter-insurgency measures in Latin America and South Asia. It explores the multiplicities of witnesses and the acts of bearing witness through public and private memories and practices such as private mourning, public grieving, state commemorations, truth and reconciliation commissions, protests and subversions.

With the publication of Giorgio Agamben’s Remnants of Auschwitz: The witness and the archive (1999), following the work of Primo Levi, the scope of witnessing has become a deeply contested field. Unpacking the category of ‘the witness’ and departing from the dominant understanding, you will explore the heterogeneities of bearing witness. You will do so through everyday narratives of racism, poverty, displacements, migrations within the structures of terror and counter-terror, militarisation and acquiescence to suggest the precarious existences and the possibilities of witnessing or enacting citizenship.

Furthermore, you will examine the techniques of witnessing by the actors in conflict as forms of truth telling and as a reflexive relationship through which people respond to their marginalisation by the state. With those propositions in mind to broaden the scope and shift the perspective, we study the act of bearing witness as a vital task to foreground one’s grieving self and intervene in the production of the truth of unacknowledged violence.

Although no prior knowledge is required, it is expected that students taking this course are interested in themes of violence, memory, migration, historical and contemporary security and cultural debates from a theoretical and empirical point of view. A background in social science will be helpful for following the key debates. The module is especially suitable for students studying International Relations, Politics and History.

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