The Role of Experts in Dealing with the Past

The Role of Experts in Dealing with the Past

Regula Ludi, Universities of Bern and Zurich; Stephan Scheuzger, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich
Center for Global Studies, University of Bern, Schanzeneckstr. 1, CH-3012 Bern, Room A 201
Bern, Switzerland
Vom - Bis
18.11.2011 - 19.11.2011
Judith Große, Geschichte der modernen Welt, ETH Zürich

In the last two decades of the 20th century, reckoning with the past has emerged as a compelling paradigm of international relations and domestic politics. There seems to be global agreement that dealing with the past is a chief requirement for peaceful relations between states as well as successful democratization in societies undergoing political transitions. With the dynamic expansion of the field of transitional justice, however, expertise in accounting of the past has been exposed to profound change. The domains of specialized knowledge have multiplied and, as a result, specialists from a wide variety of academic disciplines engage in the planning and implementation of transitional justice instruments. They do so in diverse functions, some of which are not considered part of their conventional competences.

Dealing with the past, therefore, has become an area of intensive academic knowledge production. The demand of decision makers for such knowledge is growing steadily. It ranges from highly specialized technical know-how to political consulting and the critical assessment of the achieved results. This development has stimulated the emergence of an expert community with its own tendency to institutionalization. At the same time, many of those experts have become global players in the field of transitional justice. They engage in the design, dissemination and implementation of methods and instruments for dealing with the past. This is a process that depends on knowledge transfer, the translation and universalization of norms and their adoption in local contexts. Significant developments in the field, therefore, cannot be understood without reflecting on the role of experts.

The conference will direct attention to the crucial role of experts and expert knowledge in processes of dealing with the past. For that purpose, it brings together academics from various disciplines and distinguished experts drawing from several decades of experience in dealing with the past. How experts grapple with the tensions between their commitment to critical analysis and their engagement in the active promotion of specific policies, will be one of the central issues of this conference. Papers will also address aspects relating to the social constitution of experts, the relationship between historical knowledge and dealing with the past, the significance of experts in the international dissemination and institutionalization of specific approaches, and the consequences of globalization for public accounting of the past.


18 November 2011

Welcome Address and Introduction

Welcome Address
Thomas Späth, Director of the Center for Global Studies, University of Bern

Regula Ludi, Universities of Bern and Zurich

Panel I: The Constitution of Experts
Marina Cattaruzza, University of Bern

Caspar Hirschi, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich:
“How to Combine Competence and Impartiality? On the Early Organization of Official Expertise”
Lutz Niethammer, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena:
“Three Ways of Becoming an Historical Expert: Experiences and Observations”
Deborah Posel, University of Cape Town:
“Expertise and Authority in the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission”


Panel II: The Significance and Impact of Expertise in Processes of Dealing with the Past
Frank Haldemann, University of Geneva

José Zalaquett, University of Chile, Santiago de Chile:
“The Role of the Legal Profession in Dealing with the Past”
Stephan Scheuzger, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich:
“From Transfer to Canonization of Knowledge? Expertise and Truth Commissions”
Carola Sachse, University of Vienna:
“The Meaning of Apology: The Survivors of Nazi Medical Crimes and the Max Planck Society”

19 November 2011

Panel III: Modalities of Knowledge Production and the Impact of Experts on Historical Interpretation
Regula Ludi, University of Bern

Michael Marrus, University of Toronto:
“Doing Justice to the Nazi Past: Three Paradigms for Contending with Historic Wrongs”
Richard A. Wilson, University of Connecticut:
“Historians as Expert Witnesses in the International Criminal Courtroom”
Elazar Barkan, Columbia University, New York:
“History and Conflict Resolution: Experts as Civil Society Advocates”


Panel IV: Expertise, Knowledge Transfer and the Emergence of Global Epistemes
Stephan Scheuzger, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich

Pablo de Greiff, International Center for Transitional Justice, New York:
“Theorizing Transitional Justice – and Why It Matters, Practically”
Frank Haldemann, University of Geneva:
“The Expertism Trap: Critical Reflections on the Normalization of Transitional Justice Discourse”
Briony Jones, Swiss Peace Foundation, Bern, Switzerland:
“Brčko District, Bosnia-Herzegovina as a Model of ‘Success’: Interrogating Expertise, Agency and Resistance”

Final Discussion

End of Conference


Judith Grosse
Clausiusstrasse 59, CH-8092 Zürich

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