Call for abstracts

STUDYING WAR CRIMES:

The ethics of re-presenting mass violence in research

When do descriptions of harm become academic sensationalism rather than re-presentations of violent materialities? Can academic interest and engagement in mass harm ever avoid voyeurism? How can sensational violence be ethically re-presented in research? Across disciplines theorizing mass harm, a consensus is emerging cautioning against sensationalism in re-presentations of perpetrators, victims, crimes, and sufferings, seeing detailed descriptions of violence as academic voyeurism. Yet, how comfortable a read can research that has violent profusion at its core become, before the distance created by language becomes an ethical – and analytical – challenge in its own right?

This edited volume invites experienced scholars to address thoroughly the ethics of doing research on mass harm in general, and of re-presenting and describing mass violence, harmdoing, trauma, and suffering in their own research in particular. Drawing on a range of methodological approaches and empirical cases, the book will address how mass violence and war crimes are brought into research – both as an ethical, a sensational, and an analytical matter.

We ask contributors to reflect on their re-presentations of mass crimes, violence and justice, seeing re-presentations both as an issue to do with individual and disciplinary research ethics but also as a matter to do with power and material structures of academic knowledge production. The purpose is to encourage active engagement with a research ethics that goes beyond ‘procedural ethic;’ to expand the discussion on responsibility for the stories we hear, read, analyze, and re-tell; and to address in-depth the ethics of listening, seeing, and telling in research on mass violence and war crimes.

The book will be relevant for all researchers who wish to engage ethically with the study of mass violence and war crimes.

We invite abstracts that explore the ethics of re-presenting mass violence in research.

Abstracts may also cater specifically to:

  • The ethics of caring, seeing, listening and re-presenting
  • Selection and exclusion: whose stories are told?
  • Understanding harm/understanding as harm
  • “Thick descriptions” and sensationalism
  • Breaking the silence vs silence as choice
  • Emotions, positionality, and reflexivity

Submission guidelines:

Abstract of no more than 500 words to be submitted by November 30th, 2018 to editors at studyingwarcrimes@gmail.com. We only accept original contributions and the abstract needs to clearly demonstrate the chapter’s contribution to the volume.

Please include a 150-200 word bio highlighting your affiliation, work experience and credentials in the field of war and mass violence research.

Further process:

After an initial screening and by December 15th, 2018, editors will invite 8 contributors to develop their abstract into a full chapter (5-7000 words) to be submitted by April 15th 2019. We will apply for funding for a lunch-to-lunch workshop for contributors in May 2019. The final submission date for full chapters will be in August, 2019.

Routledge (Taylor&Francis Group) initiated our work with this collection, and has expressed a strong interest in publishing the book.

About the editors:

Sladjana Lazic is a post-doctoral researcher at the Center for Peace Studies (CPS) at the Arctic University of Norway (UiT). She holds a PhD in Political Science from the Norwegian University for Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway, on victims’ perspectives on transitional justice and legitimacy.

Anette Bringedal Houge holds a PhD in Criminology and Sociology of Law from the University of Oslo on conflict-related sexual violence, perpetrator re-presentations, and international criminal justice. She has published her research in e.g., Aggression and Violent Behavior, British Journal of Criminology and Criminology and Criminal Justice. Anette is the Head of Humanitarian Needs and Analysis at the Norwegian Red Cross.

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The international criminal justice project through the lense of Narrative Expressivism

In a recently published article in Criminology and Criminal Justice, I set out a framework through which we can address the stories and truths that the international criminal justice (ICJ) project produces about violent pasts, conflicts, perpetrators, victims, crimes, causes and consequences.

By the term ”the international criminal justice project”, as opposed to internatioanl criminal law institutions, I refer both to these institutions (the courts and tribunals, and the stories produced within by prosecutors, judges, counsels, defendants, experts, victims and so on) – but also to the epistemic communities surrounding these courts, enabling them, pushing for them, advocating fortheir existence, for different parties, campaigning for their creation or continued funding, doing research on their work – that is, everyone engaged with the ICJ project in some way or the other.

I call this framework narrative expressivism. Narrative expressivism is situated at the juncture of insights from the analytical and theoretical framework provided by narrative analysis; as well as the body of literature that caters to the quality of the historical record produced by international criminal trials; and as the name also implies, expressive theories of international criminal law.

From narrative theory, and particularly narrative criminology, narrative expressivism sees stories of the past as important for the future, appreciating that stories affect “the way we perceive the social and material worlds“ (Autesserre 2012: 206). And further, the way we perceive the world “orient how we act upon our environment.” That is, stories animate human life. The stories available to us affect our perceived maneuverability for action in given situations, whether or not the stories are true.

From the body of literature engaging an expressive argument for international criminal justice, comes the emphasis on courts as didactic, or educative – communicative – to the wider society.

In my article, which builds on a four-year case study on the ICTY as a site for explaining and managing collective violence – I ask what stories and understandings of international crimes the criminal justice framework allows for and what it means when knowledge from and for court proceedings is used to describe and understand a social phenomenon outside of it.

What I suggest we do, is to look at the ways in which criminal law conceptualizations of the past affect the ways in which we are able or willing to deal with collective violence as societies and communities on the one hand, and as individuals – either politicians or potentially ordinary fighters on the ground, maneuvering possibilities for action in the face of violent profusions.

In my own research in particular, I have focused on defendants and how they are re-presented, and how conflict-related sexual violence specifically, is constructed as a problem of law – what ideas and subjects are called into service for criminal law’s operation through court narratives, as well as in policy and advocacy actors’ framing of conflict-related sexual violence, in order to push criminal prosecutions

Narrative expressivism theorizes international criminal justice as an empirical field for knowledge construction and sees criminal justice as a potent source of information about past crimes – yet also, as a site that impacts on present and future societal understandings of mass violence, promoting a particular structuring of thought. That is, it theorizes the juridification of societal and political understandings of complex collective and social problems.

The whole process of campaigning for the establishing of courts and cases, of adjudicating guilt and innocence, of evaluating evidence, hearing, challenging and sorting stories, establishing facts – the process of ordering chaos through a legal model that streamlines causality, draws individuals out of collectives, and categorizes both them, acts, victims, and contexts – makes a less complex and more comprehensible narrative of what was, through means and under influence of what constitutes legally relevant arguments and according to the courts’ binary logics. Such legal understandings are appealing. As Tallgren (2002: 594) states, “[b]y focusing on individual responsibility, criminal law reduces the perspective of the phenomenon to make it easier for the eye … It reduces the complexity and scale of multiple responsibilities to a mere background.”

What law, and particularly judgments, construct is not an objective history of the past, but the events anew, formed by these constraints and possibilities of the legal framework

Narrative expressivism caters to this reduction, to the processes of inclusion and exclusion of different voices, and to the leveraging and silencing of some stories over others during proceedings and in the epistemic community surrounding ICJ institutions.

Importantly, this way of seeing ICJ, emphasizes all the expressive, or communicative, work courts do or facilitate. This includes all the narratives that the international criminal justice project produces about acts charged as international crimes – either from the inside of its institutions or from the outside by its proponents – whether the narratives morally condemn or deny mass violence, and, importantly, whether they strengthen or challenge the legitimacy and authority of international criminal justice institutions.

While courts through judgments produce normative evaluations of international crimes, leveraged through the authority of criminal law, international criminal courts also provide international, public platforms for protest – as evidenced by the defiant defendants ‘performances’ at the very final proceedings of the ICTY last year.

This way, the common expressive understanding of law changes significance from being primarily a normative theory or argument of purpose (legal expressivism) to a descriptive theory of its function as storyteller and narrative conveyor, weighting the explanations of problematic social phenomena and mass harm and the role of law that it produces (narrative expressivism).

With public proceedings and transcripts, and the access to its goldmine archives for research, the trial at international criminal law institutions becomes a public theatre of different and contesting ideas – a place to test and rename, pronounce and project, and also, establish history about mass harms. Herein is an acknowledgement that “not only is knowledge power, but power is knowledge too”, as Ayoob (2002: 29) has stated. Focusing on power in its discursive forms, involves attention to how specific sets of logics organize and produce knowledge.

Narrative expressivist approaches to international criminal justice would, thus, concern how law and ICJ communities, act as central contributors to “[t]he wider politics of representation.” At the very least, this necessitates attention to questions such as whose representations are these, who gains what from them, what social relations do they draw people into, what are their ideological and political effects, and what alternative representations are there?” (Fairclough, 2013: 549–550).

This take on ICJs influence on our understanding of collective and political violence may appear at first as at odds with recent, and oftentimes well-addressed, critique of the effectiveness and legitimacy of ICJ institutions and selectivity. However, there is a difference between what is understood as and expected from international criminal justice on the one hand, and the realitites that international criminal justice describes when handling crime, ie., the structuring of thought that the criminal law frame feed our understanding with – whether or not it succeeds with its prosecutions.

Defendant perpetrators and conflict-related sexual violence

As the International criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda (ICTY and ICTR, respectively) are concluding their mandates, the archives they leave behind comprise an unprecedented historical record about the war years, about the collective and individual harms suffered, and about the development of international criminal law. The tribunals’ legacies will be interpreted, negotiated, and renegotiated as more researchers dive into these materials. Undoubtedly, the archives will keep scholars from a wide array of disciplines busy for years and decades to come.

So what are we to make of these archives? What are they documenting? What are they leaving aside? What kind of historical record do they produce, and what is it that they establish? For whom? On what premises? What are the values of trial truths and the legal narratives they story?

In a recent article in the British Journal of Criminology I engage with these questions by focusing on a specific subset of cases at the trial end of these archives: cases brought to trial and ending in convictions of defendants for their direct participation in sexual violence.

Rather than analysing the production of jurisprudence before these courts, or the treatment of victims and victim witnesses, I ask how these direct perpetrators and the causes of their offenses are constructed within and by these institutions and its primary actors.

Emphasizing arguments that are interpretive or explanatory in terms of the defendants and their participation in sexual violence over those that are descriptive in terms of the offenses, there are two primary narratives in the court actors’ arguments. These explain the defendant either as someone whose personal characteristics and personality deviate from the norm, or they re-present the defendant as an ordinary man/woman, pointing to factors beyond the control of the defendant as explanations for his or her crimes.

Deviant defenders

So-called deviance narratives are either formulated by the prosecution, for which they constitute aggravating arguments. Here, the defendants are portrayed as sadistic opportunists who thrived on the opportunity to rape or sexually torture their victims. These narratives are often repeated in judgments, as in the case against Delić at the ICTY:

The manner in which these crimes were committed are indicative of a sadistic individual who, at times, displayed a total disregard for the sanctity of human life and dignity.

When defense counsels invoke deviance narratives, they do so for mitigating purposes. Thee narratives often involve partial acknowledgement of the crime, while also full or partial denials of responsibility. Typically they are based on the statements of psychiatric experts who account for the defendants’ dependent personalities and their extreme conformity, which in turn inevitably lead to criminal behavior if authority figures ask for it.

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