CAS Art as Agent: Theory & Awareness

People’s Tribunals. Performing Justice
Nanna Heidenreich

People’s tribunals, also called civil society tribunals or tribunals of opinion, are part of the fight against impunity, a strong catalyst for social movements, addressing issues such as economic and environmental justice and genocide. People’s tribunals however do not have institutional mandates, or resources which include enforcement capacities. They are organised by communities, claiming ownership of (international) law and reconfiguring the political, thereby also adressing the institutional gaps of legal mechanisms as well as the blind spots or wilful ignorance of power politics.

A main reference for people’s tribunals is the Russell Tribunal set up by British philosopher Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre in 1966 to examine American war crimes committed in Vietnam. The Russell tribunal as well as other more insititutionalised tribunals and truth commissions will thus be the critical starting point for the course. The main focus of the course will however be on people’s tribunals without institutional endorsement. These tribunals rely on the power of the performative, in some cases the court not only turns into a theater, but the court takes place in the theatre (see for example the work of Milo Rau, Jonas Staal or the recent German case of the tribunal “Unravelling the NSU-complex”).

This module provides an overview of a variety of different tribunals. Participants investigate and learn about different notions of justice, understand the difference and overlap between law and justice. Furthermore participants become aware of the possibilities that reside in the fact that both, law and justice, rely on and create narratives: stories, which can be told and re-told. The participants will also analyse how other people’s tribunals were modelled on the Russell Tribunal (Iran Tribunal for example) and how and where people’s tribunals have significantly departed from this model, as well as how alternative ideas of justice or scripted reality court shows were developed (Abderrahmane Sissako’s Film “Bamako” ­— 2006). Further aspects addressed in class are media theoretical aspects of the law, narrative forms of justice (revenge?), tribunals in literature, theatre and films and videos and politics of listening.

Seminar, including inputs, discussions, analyses, video screenings


Module supervisor
Nanna Heidenreich, theorist, writer, curator (film/video), working on the intersections of art and activism. PhD on cinema and the perspective of migration. Professor of Digital Narratives/Theory, ifs internationale filmschule köln. 


Location and Dates
Toni-Areal. Zurich University of the Arts

2 (E)CTS
MAS Art & Society > CAS ART as AGENT > Theory & Awareness: Performing Justice

1000 CHF

Application deadline
15 Dec 2018