Catherine Lu – Justice and Reconciliation in International Relations

Political Theory Research Group seminar series: 19 Apr 2016

Slavery monument, Zanzibar Photo: Seyemon

Slavery monument, Zanzibar
Photo: Seyemon

How should we think theoretically and historically about the aftermath of conflicts? In a chapter from her forthcoming book Justice and Reconciliation in International Relations, Catherine Lu argues that two distinct frameworks for rectifying historic injustice can contribute through a fruitful interaction: interactional injustice and structural injustice. In the literature, the focus is usually on an interactional framework, in which a direct line of responsibility and wrongdoing by one party upon another is mapped. For instance, in the Iraq War civilians who lost family members due to US bombings could be given monetary compensation.

However, in many atrocities and conflicts, the responsibility and culpability might not be easily placed. Time might have passed since perpetrators have acknowledged the injustices committed, or the calamity might have been so severe that close familial connections are absent. More broadly, the injustice might be ongoing, as in the case of the detrimental effects of the transatlantic slave trade on Black communities in the US as well as African states, or colonialism in general. In such cases, an interactional framework is insufficient, and Lu proposes a structural framework to supplement the interactional model.

Lu’s structural framework seeks to go beyond the direct interface required by the interactional model, such as in the work of Daniel Butt, and locates injustices at the broader, more complex level of social structures. This argument draws heavily on Iris Marion Young’s Responsibility for Justice and her work on injustice. In doing so, it contributes to a stronger model of how to deal with reconciliation and reparations after injustice.

Discussion following the presentation focused on several key areas. How does the structural framework differ from an aggregate individualist model? Is there a structural epistemic injustice in the project itself by applying a particularist account to the colonised world, in that justice seems to be ‘a gift of those in power’? Does egalitarianism not provide an adequate principle for addressing structural injustices? How do we deal with cases of discontinuous and disjointed injustices? Lu dealt compellingly with these questions and demonstrated the strength of her framework.

Written by Lukas Slothuus


Catherine Lu is Associate Professor of Political Science at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. She is currently a Visiting Professor in the Department of Government at the London School of Economics and Political Science.