Bearing Witness to the ‘Pain of Others’ Fractured Lives, Dissenting Voices, Recovering Truth

June 2016. In scenes reminiscent of The Truman Show a newly-elected US President embarked on world-wide daily pronouncements uninhibited by limitations of 140 characters. Prior to the UK Brexit referendum Nigel Farage presented a ‘breaking-point’ campaign poster depicting a line of desperate refugees, hauntingly close to earlier Nazi-propaganda. Bodies of men, women and children were washed up on north Mediterranean beaches. ‘Post-truth’ was introduced into Oxford Dictionaries as ‘word of the year’, describing a politics in which ‘objective facts’ are ‘less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’. Yet crude ideology as the driver of societal reaction and political intervention is not new. For decades, critical social research has exposed and questioned the foundations of ‘official discourse’ and mainstream ‘knowledge’. It foregrounds alternative accounts in rights discourse, derived and reproduced in people’s daily endurance of inequality and oppression; evident in the realities of disempowered communities fractured by class, ‘race’, sectarianism, gender, sexuality and age. Drawing on his published in-depth research Phil Scraton explores the profound challenges involved in bearing witness to the ‘pain of others’, foregrounding their social, political and economic rights in the processes of investigation and inquiry. A ‘rights deficit’ has been brought into sharp relief by the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire. Recounting personal testimonies ‘from below’, revealing institutionalised deceit and pursuing ‘truth recovery’, this lecture argues that dissenting voices are the foundation of hope, resistance and transformation.

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