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Reparations: past, present, and future


Renewed societal concern for racial injustice has revived popular interest in historical reparations for oppressed peoples (Coates 2015). Philosophers and socio-political theorists have responded by reviving longstanding debates about reparations for enslavement and racial subjugation (AI Cohen 2014, Lyons 2017, J Thompson 2018), as well as exploring the role of reparations in transitional justice (Murphy 2017, Pityana 2018). In recent years, the scholarly terrain surrounding reparations has expanded to include work addressing the prospect of reparations for women (Nuti 2019), Latino Americans (Corlett 2018), and climate refugees (Buxton 2019), as well as considering new moral bases for reparations, such as police shootings (Page 2019), mass incarceration (Page and King), and ecological degradation (Katz 2018).

This workshop will convene scholars to reconsider past analytical frameworks for the moral and political critique of reparations and to identify novel scholarly pathways for the critical investigation of reparations. Presentations included in this workshop may address such topics as:

  • how, if at all, reparations for past injustice must be conceptualized differently from reparations for current or anticipated future injustices
  • how moral arguments for (or against) reparations vary depending on the nature of the injustice (for example, do the same kinds of moral considerations that appear to support reparations for historical racial enslavement also support reparations for harms due to climate change, or vice versa?)
  • the relation between historical victims of injustice and prospective present day beneficiaries of reparations, or the relation between current injustice and prospective future beneficiaries of reparations
  • the proper currency of reparation — whether, for example, cash payments or transfer of financial assets is always appropriate as a means of reparation, or whether other means (development aid, land transfers, migration or resettlement rights, repatriation of art or cultural artifacts, political reforms, etc.) might sometimes be morally or politically preferable
  • challenges concerning reparations with global scope (e.g., reparations for harms due to climate change) versus challenges concerning intra-societal reparations
  • how, if at all, argumentative dialectics differ between reparations owed due to the injustice of states or state actors and reparations owed due to the injustice of private actors (for example, businesses or corporations) or individuals
  • the role of historical memory and education in reparations
  • the place of blame, forgiveness, apology, and other morally salient acts connected with reparations
  • the prospects of reparation serving to ‘repair’ morally and politically fragmented societies and to create conditions for the subsequent establishment of just institutions and practices

Workshop presentations should bring tools of philosophical analysis and argumentation to bear on these topics, but presentations with a more empirical focus are welcome so long as they have clear moral and political implications regarding these topics.