Ritual and Myth in the Russell War Crimes Tribunal on Vietnam (2015)

Working Paper #11

Dr Javier Pérez-Jara (Affiliated Researcher, Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge)

This paper provides a sociological explanation of the performative core of the Russell Tribunal’s power and legitimacy following a certain speech-act theory, in particular, an amalgam of Patrick Baert’s positioning theory, Jeffrey C. Alexander’s dramaturgical approach, and Ron Eyerman and Alexander’s notion of cultural trauma. It will argue that the social success and survival of a human rights organisation on a global scale such as the Russell Tribunal mainly depend on a range of rhetorical and dramaturgical devices through which their creators position themselves and their institution, along with their adversaries, within specific social, political and intellectual contexts. The performative dimension of power clarifies how wars are fought and won not only on the battlefield, but also in the hearts and minds of citizens on both the home front and the enemy side. This and similar sociological factors need to be taken into account when explaining the success and transcendence of human rights organisations beyond the state’s power.