In Interrogating the Perpetrator, cultural anthropologists and students of media and comparative literature examine the terms through which perpetrator figures are read in law, society and culture. Looking at human rights as a heterogeneous social process and set of institutions, this book looks at the ways in which ideas of “violation” and “culpability” are mediated through the frames of corporatisation, militarised humanitarianism, port-conflict truth and reconciliation processes and postcoloniality. The chapters variously give scrutiny to historical memory (who can voice it, when and in what registers), question legalism’s dominance within human rights, and analyse the story-telling values invested in the figure of the perpetrator. Against the common tendency to view perpetrators as either monsters or puppets — driven by evil or controlled by others — the chapters in this book are united by the themes of truth’s contingency and complex imaginings of perpetrators. Even as the truth that emerges from perpetrator testimony may depend on who is listening, with what attitude and in what institutional context, the book’s chapters also affirm that listening to perpetrators may be every bit as productive of human rights insights as it has been to listen to survivors and witnesses. Interrogating the Perpetrator reverses the dominant human rights perspectives on violation and culpability, framed around the testimony of survivors, witnesses and protectors, to explore what insights emerge from perpetrator testimony and assess the possibility for more complex media and literary figurations of the perpetrator.
Linked but distinct moments, commoditization happens when human rights is distributed in forms that mimic commodity merchandising, while commodification occurs when human rights information becomes a commodity, subject to intellectual property restrictions. A story of transition from commoditization to commodification is recounted, in which an allegation, of contemporary slavery in Dominican Republic sugar production, attains greater visibility and verisimilitude through what Bolter and Grusin term “remediation,” the repeated transfer of a message from one activist communications medium to another. The allegation moves from independent video, to journalistic coverage, to inclusion in a U.S. government-produced global human rights index, and is then outsourced by the government for further fact-finding, “offshored” for investigation, and the knowledge thus produced ultimately repatriated for processing by the contractor. Distortions and inequities eventuate, reminiscent of those produced by global supply chains, including the alienation of the Dominican field investigators from control of the knowledge they produced.