Reconciliation through estrangement

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This paper explores the ways in which reconciliation can be furthered through estrangement. While it is often assumed that reconciliation culminates in the comprehensive resolution of conflict between deeply alienated parties, the paper argues that reconciliation can in fact only be achieved through complex mechanisms of estrangement that reveal alternative vistas for collective renewal. Art performs an important role in this process. The paper theorizes estrangement as both an artistic and a political technique that can have world-disclosing, rather than alienating effects on its audience: what Svetlana Boym calls estrangement for, rather than from, the world. I then try to tease out the implications of this insight by examining the South African theatre piece Ubu and the Truth Commission, which employs a number of estrangements devices - from life-sized puppetry to found footage - in order to problematize the ambiguities and uncertainties of the post-Apartheid transition period. By subverting audience identification, yet triggering emotional contagion, the play imaginatively opens up the possibility of a common world in which agonistic relations are productively negotiated, rather than fully suppressed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)649–673
JournalReview of Politics
Issue number4 (Fall 2018)
Early online date19 Sep 2018
Publication statusPublished - 30 Oct 2018


  • Reconciliation
  • Estrangement
  • Agonism
  • Hannah Arendt
  • Aesthetics


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