Analyzing Competitive Victimhood : Narratives of recognition and nonrecognition in the pursuit of reconciliation

Abstract: This dissertation analyzes the narrative manifestation of competitive victimhood and its variations within reconciliation processes. Competitive victimhood (CV) emerges when opposing groups assert themselves to be the sole or primary victims of conflict or use their historical suffering to rationalize ingroup transgressions. This study explores the notion of CV in four relational settings with various levels of violence, ranging from low-level conflict to civil war and mass atrocities, each having a different temporal proximity to violent incidents: Turkish–Armenian relations, relations between Catholic Republicans and Protestant Unionists in Northern Ireland, and both Bosniak–Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat–Bosniak relations in Bosnia andHerzegovina. The data analyzed include 60 interviews, public opinion polls, political party manifestos, political statements, NGO reports, documents, and memory sites.The research investigates narratives that convey perceptions of outgroup suffering and the perpetration of harm against outgroups. In so doing, it underscores the challenging relationship between the recognition of outgroup victimhood and acknowledgment of harm the ingroup has perpetrated on others, resulting in five categories that indicate varying levels of competitiveness: revengeful victimhood, strong–CV, mid–CV, weak–CV, and inclusive victimhood. This novel analytical framework facilitates observation of the manifestation of different levels of CV in conflict-to-peace transitions, as well as analysis of empirical examples representing variation from highly competitive to more inclusive victimhood. The weak–CV and inclusive victimhood categories also enable identification of the potential for memory-sharing in ethnonational groups’ conflict- and war-related narratives. A reflexive comparative analysis of case studies highlights the presence of CV across all cases, despite variations in the level of violence and temporal proximity to its occurrence. Findings reveal the importance of considering two factors in analyzing competitive victimhood: the symmetry/asymmetry of exposure to violence and contemporary political power struggles between ethnonational groups.