The Uses of Suffering: Victims as Moral Beacons or Icons of Grievance

  • Marie Breen-Smyth
Part of the St Antony's Series book series (STANTS)


This chapter considers the suffering caused by war as a distinct phenomenon from victim identity, and the emotional labour of managing suffering. It examines the relationship between suffering and victimhood and how victims themselves, or others, relying on the suffering of victims, use the victim status in the political arena to call for continued war, reparations, justice or retribution. Victim identity is a co-production of the individual and their social and political environment, and depends on the sufferer having a ‘grievable life’ (Butler). In addition, the establishment and maintenance of a victim identity depends on the ability to sustain a victim narrative. Where the suffering ‘other’ is dehumanised and their life is not considered grievable, then a politics of compassion is precluded. Thus the politics of victimhood becomes configured into the continuation of conflict.


Emotional labour Grievability Grievance Identity Suffering Victim 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marie Breen-Smyth
    • 1
  1. 1.University of MassachusettsBostonUSA

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