Do Museums Promote Reconciliation? A Field Experiment on Transitional Justice

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Laia Balcells, Valeria Palanza
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ESOC Working Paper No. 10

Can transitional justice museums promote reconciliation after political violence? Existing scholarship suggests that transitional justice policies aid processes of reconciliation and promote tolerance by acknowledging and imparting a shared history of past events. These notions motivate the widespread construction of transitional justice museums. Skeptics, however, caution that such policies can induce a polarizing effect, ingraining societal divisions. This project draws on evidence from a novel field experiment studying the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago, Chile to answer this question. Our findings suggest that though perceptions of the museum vary along ideological lines, Chilean university students display greater support for democratic institutions, are more likely to reject institutions associated with the repressive period, and are more likely to approve of restorative transitional justice policies after visiting regardless of their ideological priors. These results suggest that memorial museums can support processes of reconciliation by influencing political attitudes of visitors.