Being held accountable: why attributing responsibility matters

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Debates over reconciliation, atonement, forgiveness, and forgetting involve political and personal elements, with substantial investments and commitments. I contrast two perspectives: one stresses unconditional forgiveness independent of atonement; the other reflects on the importance of moral responsibility for the formation of the person. Being held accountable, for Ricoeur, matters for the development of the self. For Derrida, forgiveness is a defining aspect of being human, becoming debased when seen as a legal form of justice. I use philosophical arguments and ethnographic writings from Papua New Guinea, Cyprus, and the Holocaust to examine reconciliation and irreconciliation as strategies for either reaffirming or reimagining a common world.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)34-49
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Issue numberS1
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022


  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Anthropology


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