Ethical relations to the past; call for papers

‘Ethics and social welfare’ is planning a special issue: Ethical relations to the past; individual, institutional, international. Deadline for abstract (300 words): 10 August 2020

Ethics and Social Welfare Special issue
Ethical relations to the past:
individual, institutional, international
Guest editors:
Tula Brannelly, Gideon Calder, Ian Calliou

Ethical relations to the past – whether to ancestors, the dead, to historical injustices, to events with contested interpretations – are complex, often elusive and yet especially highly charged. This special issue call follows the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in June 2020, and a global response calling for an end to racism and colonialization, an acknowledgement of the presence of past injustices in the here and now.

The need for such acknowledgement has been at the heart of other recent high-profile cases and movements, from historic child abuse to #MeToo. Partly this reflects distinct ethical questions which arise only, or especially, when we are dealing with the past, and with transition. What ethical value is there in apologies? With events long in the past, how does responsibility carry over to current agencies not directly involved – to present governments, businesses or institutions? Can people of the past be wronged in the present? What counts as doing justice to victims of past injustices who are no longer with us? What role is there for compensation – financial or otherwise – in the reassessment and recognition of past wrongs? Who is reconciliation actually for, in practice? Does ethics sometimes require a revision of how past events and people are commemorated? In post-colonial contexts, what is the rightful role of ‘allyship’ in resolving past conflict, trauma and oppression – and giving due prominence to the agency and authority of those who have offered resistance? What does ‘good’ transition look like, as we move from one era to another?

But there is added complexity when we think about other factors, crucial to how these ethical questions are negotiated. Whose knowledge counts, in getting to grips with historical events? What role can, or should, survivors’ testimony play? To what extent is it legitimate to judge beliefs and actions taken as ‘normal’ in previous eras and contexts by the standards of our own time? What (if anything) constitutes an authoritative account? Is it coherent to talk of a true version of events? Some have suggested that without truth, there is no injustice – and that honouring what actually happened is the ethical debt we owe to those harmed in the past. Others have argued that the very idea of a single truth is itself a part of the problem – that there will always be multiple, sometimes incommensurable narratives about past events, with no clear way of ranking them for accuracy. These questions are powerful in the abstract. The stakes are even higher when we turn to recent controversies – around historic abuse, the legacies of colonialism and empire, and miscarriages of justice.

For this special issue of Ethics and Social Welfare, we invite contributions from people working in all relevant disciplines – applied ethics, social work, politics, philosophy, sociology, cultural studies, health and social care, law, criminology, history – on any aspect of how these issues matter. We anticipate articles that deal both with theoretical questions, and with practical problems – from general treatments of the challenges of recognition, responsibility and redress, to analyses of specific cases where those challenges apply. As befits the aim and scope of the journal, priority will be given to contributions which focus on social welfare, broadly cons trued.

Deadline for abstracts (300 words): 10 August 2020
To be sent to:;;
Notification of inclusion: 24 August 2020
Deadline for completed articles: 8 January 2021
Article length: no more than 8000 words, inclusive of tables, references, figure captions, footnotes and endnotes.
Review process: All submissions will be subject to review by one guest editor, alongside one blind review.

About the author: Webteam

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