September 11th 2014: Watching the Verdict in the Oscar Pistorius Trial

Two days ago, I arrived back in Pretoria for my second phase of fieldwork and as I am writing I am sitting in my apartment in Pretoria watching the proceedings of what will probably be the last day of the murder trial against Oscar Pistorius. The case of Oscar Pistorius has accompanied me during my research on domestic violence and counselling services in South Africa from its very beginning and the subject has come up in various interviews and conversations. Often times, people had strong opinions about the accused, mostly judging Pistorius guilty. Yet, some could not understand the fuzz that is made about the case as you can find similar cases happening in South Africa almost on a daily basis.

Today, the verdict will be handed out in the Oscar Pistorius trial. Again, the proceedings are broadcasted live – both on Channel 199 on DsTV and online, for the world to watch. The media coverage of the trial is enormous and what has become clear is that as previously, Oscar’s behaviour and bodily reactions will be under close inspection. It seems like everybody is hoping to see a hidden truth, to be able to read from Oscar’s body what really happened, to find out if he is a victim or a perpetrator. Read More…

The Narrative Construction of Identity and the Production of the Truth

This post largely stems from a paper that was presented at the conference “Doing Truth”, hosted by the University of Konstanz (11.-13/07/2014).

As I wrote in my last post, the trial against Oscar Pistorius is about assessing whether or not Pistorius acted according to an error in persona. It is not about the action itself – he alleges to have fired the fatal shots – it is about his intentions. He claims that what he did was a terrible accident, meaning he did not intend to shoot his girlfriend. Moreover, he rejects the notion that he wanted to kill whoever, in his opinion, was hiding behind the door. Hence, just like in the auricular confession as described by Alois Hahn (1998) the murder trial is about assessing the true motives and intentions of Pistorius.

The following transcript of the trial illustrates the manner in which the different versions of the events, that are presented at court, come to clash:

Read More…

The Implications of an Error in Persona

In my last post I outlined some of the main issues of the Oscar Pistorius trial, focussing on its TV broadcasting and highlighting some ethical considerations. I now want to take the subject further to show the overall relevance of the trial for my project.

When Oscar Pistorius shot his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day 2013, this was short before my first explorative research stay in South Africa. By the time I arrived in Pretoria, the topic was still a hot one and it proved to be a fruitful ice-breaker at the beginning of interviews. Why? From the beginning on, two major exclusive versions of the events existed. One version was pushed forward by the accused himself and later on by his lawyers, claiming that when he shot the person behind the closed bathroom door at his house, Oscar Pistorius thought he was facing an intruder. But this description was soon called into question by media and the public as some elements of the story just seem obscure: Why would the deceased have locked herself into the bathroom in the middle of the night, taking her cellphone with her? The accused stated that at the time he went to the bathroom and shot the assumed intruder, he thought his girlfriend was still lying in bed. Going along with his version, how probable is it he didn’t notice she was not lying next to him? Read More…

A Nation in the Courtroom

“Coming live from Johannesburg, South Africa, the Oscar Pistorius trial channel” When I switch on channel 199 “OPTCB” on my Dstv these days I’m no longer sitting on my sofa at home in Pretoria but I instantly become a witness of the court proceedings in the trial against Oscar Pistorius. In the early hours of […]

Down the Rabbit Hole…

… is the name of the first chapter of one of my all time favourite books, Alice in Wonderland, written by Charles Dodgson – better known under his pseudonym Lewis Carroll – in 1865. It tells the story of young Alice who during a rather boring day in the countryside spots a white rabbit and decides to jump after it and follow it down the rabbit hole. The world she encounters there is a world full of riddles, contradictions and ambiguities – a wonderland, where nothing compares to the world Alice thinks she knows so well. To go„down the rabbit hole“ can therefore refer to the experience of throwing yourself into a world unknown, to begin an adventure. In my case I want to take this analogy further to describe my very own experiences during conducting research in the course of my PhD project in South Africa. Read More…