Vindicatory Justice: Revenge, Composition and Reconciliation in a Historical and Contemporary Socio-legal Perspective

09 May to 10 May

Coordinators: Riccardo Mazzola (Università degli Studi di Milano), Raúl Márquez Porras (Universitat de Barcelona)

Description of the meeting

The workshop participants.

The idea of revenge commonly evokes the action of hurting, harming, or otherwise obtaining satisfaction from someone in return for an injury or wrong. This conception apparently divests revenge of any legal dimension and rationality, and confines its existence (as a social practice) to “primitive” people and pre-legal settings. However, a recent trend in socio-legal studies has disrupted the binary distinction law/revenge by focusing on the concept of “vindicatory justice”. This notion does not merely refer to blood feud or to the sole action of avenging, but rather identifies revenge as (just) one of the segments that are parts of a more complex legal order, widespread among human societies and where composition and reconciliation stand in its forefront. The expression “Vindicatory justice” refers precisely to a form of historical justice and legal procedure finalized to seek redress for an offense. It typically inheres those legal cultures that do not acknowledge a clear distinction between civil law and criminal law – “Indigenous”, archaic, and medieval legal cultures – even if fragments of such procedure may survive in modern legal systems. Although having been detected within many cultural settings, Vindicatory justice allegedly maintains a uniform fundamental structure and the same purpose. In fact, the procedure always (i) recognizes a human act as an “offense” and establishes an (inescapable) obligation to compensate/repair it; (ii) does not necessarily equate such compensation/reparation to a violent act of revenge, but rather prioritizes a non-violent process of ‘moral’ composition of the offense; (iii) may ultimately authorise a revenge, if the compositional process fails. As a result, in the context of a “Vindicatory culture”, “revenge” does not refer to a merely resentful instinct or action, but identifies rather an “authorised” and residual (with respect to a complex legal procedure) act to repair an offense and settle a dispute. The workshop aims primarily (in the first day) to provide a comprehensive definition of “Vindicatory Justice”, through the identification of several key notions detected by ethnographic case-studies: (i) the priority of composition over bloody revenge in Madagascar, among Inuit (Arctic) and Gipsies communities; (ii) the central role of factual equity in Transylvanian shepherd communities; (iii) the recognition of an act as an offense among Shuar (Ecuador); (iv) the role of forgiveness in Barbagian revenge Code (Sardinia, Italy); (v) the ultimate quest for reconciliation in the Yolngu (Australia) dispute resolution system; (vi) the acknowledgment of homicide as a prototypic offense in Corsican folk-law; (vii) the acknowledgment of victim’s defencelessness in the retaliation authorised in Halakhah; (viii) the “spurious” nature of Vindicatory law, with specific reference to the institution of Dyiat in Mauritania. The workshop also aims (in the second day) to show and demonstrate the persistence of Vindicatory Justice (or at least of some of its components) in modern legal systems, and to show how the Vindicatory apparatus may represent a useful tool to interpret several ethical and legal issues of our time. The workshop takes on several issues of interest: (i) the adaptation of Barbagian vindicatory system to the transformed pastoral economy in Sardinia; (ii) the dialectical relationship between the practice of duelling and Criminal law in Northern Catalunya; (iii) the effect of the colonial (and post-colonial) encounter on the structure of vindicatory systems in Nigeria; (iv) the reconstruction of Cretan vindicatory practices in parallel to the attempted recognition of WWII criminal damages; (v) the role of vindicatory justice – and specifically of inter-generational killings – in relieving cultural trauma in Crete; (vi) the use of Vindicatory Justice theory to highlight the limit of criminal law in the acknowledgement of the victim’s suffering; (vii) the construction of an ‘anthropology of care’ in terms of Vindicatory justice, particularly focusing on the notion of ‘defencelessness’ of people; (viii) the expression of the demand for housing – as an offense to human dignity – through the lexicon of Vindicatory morality; (ix) the way in which the social contexts of Vindicatory Justice emphasize the limits of Restorative justice in our Society. The ultimate purpose of the workshop is to suggest how a whole-comprehensive understanding of Vindicatory Justice theory may induce to re-think segments of Criminal law (and Restorative justice) apparatus, in order to deal more efficiently with the demand for a real and ‘perceived’ reparation of the offen

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