Qualitative data and the challenges of interpretation in transitional justice research

Authored by: Briony Jones

Routledge Handbook of Socio-Legal Theory and Methods

Print publication date:  August  2019
Online publication date:  August  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138592902
eBook ISBN: 9780429952814
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9780429952814-16

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Abstract

This chapter focuses on the question of interpretation and how qualitative research methods can be used to add value to socio-legal research specifically in the field of transitional justice. Transitional justice is defined by two key characteristics: the search to find justice and, in so doing, to articulate a response to violations that are often referred to as “unthinkable” or “unspeakable”; and a project of action that imbues policy, practice, and research with a normative agenda and moral impediment shaping the way we “see” the societies we work in. However, the way in which we seek to know societies determines how we define the problem and the solution. There exists a preference for technical knowledge that is professionalised and internationally mobile, as well as the measuring of outcomes that can justify transitional justice budgets and interventions. Despite understandable calls for a more evidence-based transitional justice, the outcomes that are sought by these processes are not easily quantifiable or measurable. In exploring the possibilities of an evidence-based transitional justice that draws on qualitative methodologies, this chapter looks in more detail at concrete experiences in the field and, more specifically, at the burden of interpretation for socio-legal studies scholars undertaking “emotional labour” during their research into transitional justice. A reflexive account of varied research encounters covers the operationalisation of the narrative interview method, the use of interpreters, and how to interview the “bad guys”. The examples presented highlight how important it is to reflect extensively and reflexively on the research methods we choose and the frameworks in which the chosen research methods are embedded, and to be honest about the practicalities of their operationalisation. The debate about which methods “count” thus needs to be connected with the debate about whose knowledge “counts”. For it is not only a choice about how to generate useable and useful data, but also a choice about how we conduct research in contested contexts where assumptions about the objectivity of truth and the objectivity of the law are unsettled.

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