Journal of Perpetrator Research (Dec 2018)
Conference Report: Models of Perpetration and Transgression: Borderline Cases in Violence and Trauma Research
In very different ways the Stanford Prison experiment, Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of symbolic violence, and the intensified media coverage of the prevalence of sexual assault reveal that perpetrators are neither the ‘other’ of a society often perceived to be non-violent, nor are they to be found only at its margins. How can we develop a transgressive concept of perpetration that does not essentialize, stigmatize, or symbolically dehumanize perpetrator figures, but instead allows for perspectives that reflect the appropriate level of complexity? What is needed is a notion that describes perpetration in terms of implicatedness in violence , e.g. as something that can grow out of a victim’s position, or as a capability to carry out violence that can in certain situations develop in “perfectly normal people” . These questions were at the focus of the multidisciplinary conference “Models of Perpetration and Transgression. Borderline Cases in Violence and Trauma Research” (“Tätermodelle und Transgression. Grenzfälle in Gewalt- und Traumaforschung”), organized by Julia B. Köhne and Jan Mollenhauer, held on 19th January 2018 in the Jacob-und-Wilhelm-Grimm-Zentrum at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Talks were given by a wide range of international researchers, each of whom drew on their expertise to call into question crucial elements of how we understand perpetration and perpetratorship. These talks generated a discussion that encompassed the notion of perpetration in its broadest sense, starting with the psychology of victimhood and perpetratorship at the individual level, expanding to media representations that contribute to public discourse on perpetrators, both in terms of smaller-scale acts of violence, e.g. murders, and mass-scale perpetration of political violence, the effects of this discourse, (cultural) historical genealogies and contexts, as well as the traumatic consequences of perpetratorship. The following reflections upon the discussion should serve to inform current research on perpetration in the context of political violence by providing some helpful guidelines for approaching present challenges in this area.