Phil Scraton - Bearing Witness to the ‘Pain of Others’
Fractured Lives, Dissenting Voices, Recovering Truth
School of Law, Queen’s University Belfast
June 2016. In scenes reminiscent of The Truman Show a newly-elected US President embarked on world-wide daily pronouncements uninhibited by limitations of 140 characters. Prior to the UK Brexit referendum Nigel Farage presented a ‘breaking-point’ campaign poster depicting a line of desperate refugees, hauntingly close to earlier Nazi-propaganda. Bodies of men, women and children were washed up on north Mediterranean beaches. ‘Post-truth' was introduced into Oxford Dictionaries as ‘word of the year’, describing a politics in which ‘objective facts’ are ‘less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief'. Yet crude ideology as the driver of societal reaction and political intervention is not new. For decades, critical social research has exposed and questioned the foundations of ‘official discourse’ and mainstream ‘knowledge’. It foregrounds alternative accounts in rights discourse, derived and reproduced in people’s daily endurance of inequality and oppression; evident in the realities of disempowered communities fractured by class, ‘race’, sectarianism, gender, sexuality and age. Drawing on his published in-depth research Phil Scraton explores the profound challenges involved in bearing witness to the ‘pain of others’, foregrounding their social, political and economic rights in the processes of investigation and inquiry. A ‘rights deficit’ has been brought into sharp relief by the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire. Recounting personal testimonies ‘from below’, revealing institutionalised deceit and pursuing ‘truth recovery’, this lecture argues that dissenting voices are the foundation of hope, resistance and transformation.
Phil Scraton PhD, DLaws (Hon), DPhil (Hon) is Professor Emeritus, School of Law, Queen’s University, Belfast. His research priorities are: controversial deaths and the state; rights of the bereaved and survivors following disasters; the politics of incarceration; childhood, rights and justice. Widely published, his books include: ‘Childhood’ in ‘Crisis’?; Power, Conflict and Criminalisation; The Violence of Incarceration; The Incarceration of Women; Women’s Imprisonment and the Case for Abolition. Director of The Hillsborough Project[masked] he was principal author of Hillsborough and After: The Liverpool Experience and No Last Rights: The Promotion of Myth and the Denial of Justice in the Aftermath of the Hillsborough Disaster. He was lead author of Hillsborough Independent Panel’s ground-breaking 2013 Report, Hillsborough. Adviser and the new edition of Hillsborough: The Truth was published in 2016. Awarded Freedom of the City of Liverpool, he was factual consultant on, and contributor to, the 2017 BAFTA winning documentary Hillsborough. Having declined an OBE in 2017 he was castaway on BBC’s Desert Island Discs. He has recently returned from the University of Sydney, where he led a month-long international symposium on deaths in controversial circumstances. Currently, he leads the first in-depth research project on families’ experiences of inquests in Ireland and holds a Leverhulme research award to critically examine the ‘learning’ from the investigations and inquiries into Hillsborough.