Editorial Note IV

Victimhood is a common response to trauma. It entails not only a negative experience or a harmful event, but also the perception that the suffered harm is undeserved, unjust, immoral, and, moreover, cannot be prevented by the victim. A sense of victimhood can undermine assumptions about the world as a just and reasonable place, and can give rise to a need for empathy, understanding, reconciliation, or redress.

Any compassion received by victims, however, can reduce them to passivity and weakness, robbing them of their agency, dignity, and self-respect. Victimhood, ultimately, is a condition hierarchically marked (as inferior), and is often resisted by “victims” and their advocates. On the other hand, the claim to compassion and attention can also work as a strategy to avoid responsibility and criticism, producing what has been called “victim mentality.” Sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning have even argued that Western societies are witnessing the rise of a “victimhood culture” that replaces traditional cultures based on honor and dignity, incentivizing individuals to publicize grievances and even make victimhood a central part of their identity.

Our call for this fourth volume of dePICTions has prompted a range of responses that is as wide as it is varied, demonstrating that the issue of victimhood is indeed squarely in the zeitgeist. Some of our authors highlight the pitfalls of victimhood: Leah Ritterfeld explores the dangers of adopting an identity based on victimhood and ressentiment even when actual victimization is present, while Tristan Bridges & Ian Anthony and Andrea Di Carlo warn against the unwarranted appropriation of the victim identity by powerful groups in order to reinforce their positions of privilege.

Others suggest ways to transcend the victim identity: Kristina Khutsishvili reflects on empowering people vis-à-vis perceived victimization by artificial intelligence, Carlo Salzani & Zipporah Weisberg explore how we might avoid a disempowering view of animals as victims, granting them agency while still acknowledging their suffering at human hands, and Octavian Gabor suggests that the binary worldview separating humans into victims and perpetrators is what must be discarded, offering Dostoevsky’s Alyosha Karamazov as a role model in this regard.

Finally, other authors takes a more neutral, if not positive, view of victimhood, highlighting its usefulness in specific legal and scholarly contexts: Marianna Leventi harnesses “the victim’s perspective” to broaden the current philosophical debate on moral responsibility, while Natasha Mulvihill & Lucie Wicky demonstrate how the concept of victimhood interweaves with other legal and sociological concepts such as violence, harm, and abuse. As these pieces demonstrate, when used appropriately, the concept of victimhood may offer clarity and empowerment.

The volume is rounded out by a book review, by Carlo Salzani, once again returning to the topic of animal victimization, this time at the hands of the fashion industry, and by three creative responses to the topic of victimhood: A short story by Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh exploring the link between victimhood and empathy, a poem by Elena Gabor connecting with possible childhood roots of the issue, and another poem by Nazım Hikmet, translated by Evrim Emir-Sayers and David Selim Sayers, reminding us that the problem is not what may happen to us, but what we make of it.