Presentation dr. Kenan Van De Mieroop – Conflicting Conceptions of Intergenerational Justice throughout History

Dr. Kenan Van De Mieroop (Leiden University)

Following up on our Responsibilizing History series, historian Kenan Van De Mieroop  will share work in progress on conflicting conceptions of intergenerational justice throughout history.

In 2005 the legal scholar Robert Westley remarked that the “history of reparations for slavery would be a history of a nonevent”. He was commenting on the notable lack of success that slavery reparations claims have had in the courtroom. At the same time, it is clear that the public debates that such cases have produced do constitute a significant discursive event. The controversy around reparations has touched a nerve in societies with historical links to slavery, and provoked discussion on a range of broader political, social, economic and moral issues. One notable example is the way that calls for reparations have inspired reflection on the nature of justice between generations in general.

On either side of the reparations debate statements are made about what people today can justly be said to owe, or be bound to do, because of historical injustices. Such arguments have also been taken up by philosophers and within liberal political theory, the topic of “intergenerational justice” has now become a key issue. Many thinkers have attempted to formulate normative accounts of obligations across time that could accommodate reparations claims. But what is sometimes missing in this literature is an examination of the existing ideas about relations between generations that have currency in many societies today. In this presentation, I examine some notions of intergenerational guilt, responsibility and inheritance that have come down through history to the present day. I argue that there has long been a tension between conflicting and even contradictory ideas about intergenerational bonds. Viewed from the perspective of this long history it becomes clear that calls for slavery reparations are not indicative of a new morality towards the past, they are calls to adhere to well-established principles of obligation and inheritance across time.

Kenan Van de Mieroop is an assistant professor at the Institute for History at Leiden University. His research focuses on historical theory, public history and the history of slavery. He is interested in the way the past is represented across different media and in different registers (from history books, to legal discourse, to public history initiatives and fiction). His work explores the links between conceptions of history, ideology and notions of time. He has taught at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, Boğaziçi University in Turkey, University College London in the United Kingdom and Ghent University in Belgium

Practical information

When? September 30, 2022, 12.00 pm – 1.30 pm BST


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Topic: TAPAS – Conflicting Conceptions of Intergenerational Justice throughout History
Time: Sep 30, 2022 12:30 PM Brussels

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