Theory, Culture and Society 26 (1):92-111 (2009)

In response to distant suffering, global civil society is being consumed by a generalized witnessing fever that converts public spaces into veritable machines for the production of testimonial discourses and evidence. However, bearing witness itself has tended to be treated as an exercise in truth-telling, a juridical outcome, a psychic phenomenon or a moral prescription. By contrast, this article conceives of bearing witness as a transnational mode of ethico-political labour, an arduous working-through produced out of the struggles of groups and persons who engage in testimonial tasks in order to confront corresponding perils produced by instances of situational or structural violence; it is the work of witnessing, the normative and political substance generated through the performance of patterns of social action, which matters. Using Celan's allegory of the poem as a message in a bottle, I consider bearing witness as a web of cosmopolitan testimonial practices structured around five dialectically related tasks and perils: giving voice to mass suffering against silence ; interpretation against incomprehension ; the cultivation of empathy against indifference ; remembrance against forgetting ; and prevention against repetition.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1177/0263276408099017
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 71,379
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action.David M. Rasmussen - 1993 - Philosophical Quarterly 43 (173):571.
Negative Dialectics.Raymond Geuss - 1975 - Journal of Philosophy 72 (6):167-175.

View all 18 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

The Ethics of Witnessing and the Politics of the Governed.Michal Givoni - 2014 - Theory, Culture and Society 31 (1):123-142.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

The Message in the Bottle.Walker Percy - 1959 - Thought: Fordham University Quarterly 34 (3):405-433.
Message in the Deodorant Bottle: Inventing Time.Garry Wills - 1989 - Critical Inquiry 15 (3):497-509.
(Un)Touchability: Disclosure and the Ethics of Loss. [REVIEW]Brent Armendinger - 2009 - Journal of Medical Humanities 30 (3):173-182.
Message in a Bottle From ‘the Crisis of Reality’: On Ludwik Fleck’s Interventions for an Open Epistemology.Cornelius Borck - 2004 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 35 (3):447-464.
Bearing Witness.Duncan Pritchard - 2005 - The Philosophers' Magazine 32 (32):80-82.


Added to PP index

Total views
14 ( #735,225 of 2,519,659 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #406,756 of 2,519,659 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes