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Agency, Responsibility, and Culpability: The Complexity of Roles and Self-representations of Perpetrators

Author:

Timothy Williams

Philipps-Universität Marburg, DE
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Abstract

How much agency perpetrators have during genocide is highly contested and significant for dealing with the past after the end of conflict. In this context, ascriptions of roles such as perpetrators, bystanders and victims are drawn upon to delineate responsibility and innocence. Yet, this simple, black-and-white categorisation belies the complexity of roles which individuals can take on and the actions they engage in during genocide and mass violence. Naturally, there are many actors who fit neatly into categories as perpetrators who kill, victims who are killed or heroes who rescue. However, people can often be more aptly located in the ‘grey zones’ between these categories. This article explores the various types of actions that former low-level cadres of the Khmer Rouge engaged in, and looks at how they represent these actions. Former Khmer Rouge portray themselves only rarely and indirectly as perpetrators, but more often as victims and sometimes as heroes; this article uncovers various strategies they employ to justify these self-representations. These various actions and self-representations are drawn upon to reflect on the notion of agency of low-level perpetrators within the context of an oppressive genocidal regime.
How to Cite: Williams, T., 2018. Agency, Responsibility, and Culpability: The Complexity of Roles and Self-representations of Perpetrators. Journal of Perpetrator Research, 2(1), pp.39–64. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/jpr.2.1.16
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Published on 16 Dec 2018.
Peer Reviewed

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