Meet the Book Author: The Transitional Justice Citizen: From Justice Receiver to Justice Seeker

Briony Jones, Warwick University

In our Meet the Book Author Series, the Journal of Law and Society and the Centre of Law and Society provide first-hand accounts from authors who have recently contributed notable socio-legal books to their respective fields. In this post, we hear from Briony Jones from Warwick University, whose new book The Transitional Justice Citizen: From Justice Receiver to Justice Seeker  was published in 2023 with Edward Elgar.

What is the book about?

This book was a long time in the making, it brings together theoretical threads and empirical analysis which I have been working with for over a decade in my research on transitional justice. It proposes the new concept of the transitional justice citizen, referring to the way in which citizens are imagined and enacted in transitional justice contexts. At its heart my book is about how we might think and act differently if we understand those living in societies reckoning with a past of large-scale violations of human rights as active seekers of justice rather than only passive receivers of justice. This activism, the justice seeking, can be seen in so many different places and contexts. It is important, and yet overlooked, because it challenges dominant ideas about what justice should be, and who can be a justice actor. Moreover, those who seek justice often claim more than what is on offer through a formal transitional justice process and refuse to stay quiet in the face of ongoing injustice or unheard voices. The book is split into two parts. The first part analyses transitional justice policy and explores how the transitional justice citizen is imagined as a bearer of right, duties, and virtues. The second part analyses three cases of citizens actively seeking justice in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Côte d’Ivoire and Tunisia.

Why did I write it?

Like many academics I wrote this book because I wanted and needed to make sense of my work and to share it with a wider audience I thought would be interested in it. Transitional Justice scholarship is in a very reflective phase at the moment, grappling with the potentially unjust workings and outcomes of transitional justice processes, facing up to the realities of an academic field dominated by Global North scholars, and trying to understand how short-term transitional justice mechanisms can speak to longer-term struggles for justice. I saw citizenship literature as a useful addition to the field, as the idea of citizenship can connect contemporary calls for justice to longer-term struggles for justice. Drawing on work about citizenship acts I was able to construct a concept that I think is useful for other scholars of transitional justice. 

How did I do the research for the book?

Because this book brought together a decade of work it is based on a long period of research comprising desk-based an empirical case study research. I am at heart a qualitative researcher and value combining theoretical discussion, this time about citizenship, with empirical case studies, this time Bosnia-Herzegovina, Côte d’Ivoire, and Tunisia. The Bosnian case study was based on my PhD work where I spent 6 months in the country conducting interviews, focus groups, and participant observation with the help of an interpreter. The Côte d’Ivoire case study was based on the first large research project I led following my PhD and this time I conducted shorter visits to the country and worked with an Ivorian PhD student who conducted interviews and focus groups and participant observation in both English and French. For the Tunisian case study, I was unable to travel to the country due to the covid pandemic, but I had visited for a previous transitional justice project so mobilised my network to conduct online interviews in both English and French. I was also supported by various student research assistants in transcription and proof-reading, and I am indebted to them. To bring it all together in the book I spent some months conducting desk-based analysis of transitional justice policy documents, namely those of the United Nations, African Union and European Union.