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Sentimentalising Persons and Things

Creating Normative Arrangements of Bodies through Courtroom Talk

Jonas Bens


In The Prosecutor v. Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, the International Criminal Court (ICC) tried the destruction of UNESCO World Heritage sites as a war crime for the first time. In this case, the value of things in relation to the value of persons became the central issue. Based on courtroom ethnography conducted during the proceedings and informed by affect and emotion research, this article identifies the rhetorical practice of sentimentalising persons and things as an important process of legal meaning making. Through sentimentalising, all parties rhetorically produce normative arrangements of bodies by way of emotionally differentiating the relevant persons, things and other entities from and affectively relating them to each other. Sentimentalising provides an affective-emotional frame in which to determine the degree of guilt and innocence, justice and injustice.