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The category of victimhood resonates deeply with many contemporary struggles for recognition without, however, receiving similar attention by political theories of recognition. Many “struggles for recognition” are fought with explicit reference to massive injustice that have ceased without having been publicly recognized as injustices. The state responses to claims for the recognition of victimhood mirror, I will argue, the state’s dominant conceptions of justice and injustice. In many cases, the state affirms its conceptions of injustice and moral innocence through the selective recognition of victims. For example, the U.S. government has granted Japanese-Americans interned during the Second World War an apology and modest reparations. Demands for apologies and compensation for slavery have been met with uneasy quasi-apologies and moral indifference. The Canadian government has recently announced reparations for Aboriginals who were subjected to the cruel and degrading residential schooling practice. At the same time, reparation demands by Chinese-Canadians who had to pay a “head tax” based on their ethnicity have been turned down by Ontario courts.

Who is a victim? Do victims need or deserve recognition? And what would the state’s proper recognition of victims entail? This paper argues that political theories of recognition can be successfully mobilized to understand and critique the politics that underlie claims to victimhood as well as state responses to such claims.


2006 Law and Humanities Junior Scholar Workshop selection.