The Structural injustice turn, the historical justice dilemma, and assigning responsibility with the TRC report
James, Matt (2021). The Structural injustice turn, the historical justice dilemma, and assigning responsibility with the TRC report, Canadian Journal of Political Science 54(2): 374-396.
This article addresses the historical justice dilemma: although critical memory is indispensable for accountability, efforts to use it are often hampered by the unjust relations and systems that caused the wrongs to which historical justice is compelled to respond in the first place. Contemporary authors tackle this problem by focusing on collective responsibility for structural injustice. This article takes a different tack. Studying closely the 2009–2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) report, it argues that the structural turn may come at the expense of a focus on agency and may thus provide unwitting anonymity for wrongdoers while crimping our thinking about leadership and responsibility. Although this article strongly criticizes the TRC report, it tries to work constructively with it, developing an analysis that compensates for the report’s unwitting invisibilization of perpetrators. Distilling portraits and analyses of wrongdoer agency that are latent in the TRC’s postwar history volume, this article shows how we can develop the report as a resource of what I call retributive social accountability.