Perpetrator Studies Network

W 1: Documents, Media, Representations

The first workshop, Teaching about Perpetrators: Documents, Media, Representations took place on September 10–12, 2015 at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

The figure of the perpetrator occupies a paradoxical position in contemporary society, characterized by a constant oscillation between fascination, repugnance, demonization and, in some cases, sympathy. This moral uncertainty is difficult to reconcile with contemporary memory culture and commemorative practice, particularly with respect to the commemoration of state crimes, which depends on a clear distinction between victim and perpetrator. And yet, it is precisely this uncertainty that has the potential to open up new and productive avenues for dealing with the legacy of past atrocities. In this context, the figure of the perpetrator has taken center stage in a large number of recent cultural representations of the Holocaust, the Gulag, and other instances of political violence or genocide. These representations, in literature, film, theater, and at sites of memory, present a nuanced image of perpetratorship and question simplistic dichotomies of good and evil.At the same time, the ambiguity and moral uncertainty surrounding the representation and reception of perpetrators in contemporary culture presents an opportunity and a challenge for teaching and learning about past atrocities.

This workshop dealt on the one hand with the representational challenges posed by the figure of the perpetrator and on the other with the question of how we use representations of perpetrators in various media in the class room. The sessions were organized around different media (texts, sites, images, films) and explored best practices with regard to their use in teaching about perpetrators. Other, related issues addressed were fictional versus documentary/historiographical representation, the role of self-representations and testimonies, questions of definition, gender, memory, and justice.