Department of Conflict Resolution Studies Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Conflict Analysis & Resolution


Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Robin Cooper

Second Advisor

Toran J. Hansen

Third Advisor

Ismael Muvingi


Dehumanization, Forgiveness, Hatred, Justice, structural violence, Trauma Healing, Peace Studies, Social sciences education


This dissertation investigated how the Gikuyu people of central Kenya understood justice, forgiveness and trauma healing or their absence during a decade of intra-group reciprocal violence. This qualitative research study employed the narrative research method utilizing the "Williams Model" (Riessman, 2008). Field interviews were guided by a primary research question: What do the narratives of perpetrators and victims in reciprocal violence reveal about their understanding of justice, forgiveness and trauma healing or their absence? Fourteen research participants aged 78 to 92 years shared their full narratives. Current conflict analysis literature overwhelmingly centers on the victims and less on perpetrators. The reseach sample allowed perpetrator voices to be heard.

The findings of this study suggest that the absence of justice as defined by the stakeholders is a primary perceived barrier towards forgiveness and trauma healing in post-conflict environments. While restorative justice literature offers hope in repairing harm, it's applicability in this study bears some complications when faced with the unreadiness of perpetrators to face their victims in a voluntary process. An extended discussion on restorative justice is offered under implications. Fair land re-distribution was identified as the most preferred response to the question of justice but is yet to be addressed. This stalemate suggests the need for a new negotiated framing and definition of justice if progress is to be expected. The study found out that forgiveness and trauma healing are desired but perceived as impossible goals. Researchers and policy makers could benefit from the findings especially in promoting native and localized restorative justice processes in order to terminate cycles of reciprocal violence.

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