Book review: Briony Jones and Ulrike Lühe (eds.) Knowledge for Peace: Transitional Justice and the Politics of Knowledge in Theory and Practice.

Briony Jones and Ulrike Lühe (eds.) Knowledge for Peace: Transitional Justice and the Politics of Knowledge in Theory and Practice Edward Elgar Publishing 2021. On-line Open Access. Paper USD $153.00

Jones and Lühe’s edited collection presents the reader with chapters that extend current transitional justice scholarship and tackle key questions surrounding the politics of knowledge. In this book, the editors and individual authors have taken on the impressive task of pushing the boundaries commonly followed by scholars and policymakers within this field. Here, they question dominant beliefs within a field of study that holds a high moral standing. Through their work, readers begin to see a clear gap between what we already know and what remains uncertain regarding the fundamental principles of transitional justice and how effective proposed solutions may be. Divided into three parts with an introduction written by the editors, this text examines the complex knowledge landscape of transitional justice and prompts us to ask: who has the power to consider what we count as ‘knowledge?’

Jones and Lühe open their collection by stressing the need to “go beyond [previous] scholarship by focusing for the first time on what knowledge is valued and foregrounded, which agendas shape the scholarship and practice of transitional justice, and the profound consequences this has on policy and practice” (2). The introduction details points of conflict in knowledge production as it describes the volume’s three sections: “Politics of Knowledge for Peace;” “The Interlinked Politics of Knowledge Production and Agenda Setting;” and “Knowledge Producers: Experts and Expertise.” In these sections, four key debates are discussed: the emergence of transitional justice norm; knowledge imperialism; identifying the ‘local’; and the research-policy-practice nexus” (3).

Including the index and notes, Knowledge for Peace is 288 pages with each part containing chapters from a diverse array of contributors. Chapter titles for this book are descriptive—perfect for a reader who is interested in applying select topics and scholarship to their own research/work. While this text is available for purchase, Open Access is available through the publisher’s website free of charge. Considering the depth of work from this text’s thirteen contributors—I will highlight select chapters from the book’s three sections that provide a captivating analysis of the politics of knowledge production, and whose ideas work in tandem with their fellow contributors.

Part I, Chapter 4 “Producing knowledge on and for transitional justice: reflection on a collaborative research project” is co-authored by Briony Jones, Ulrike Lühe, Gilbert Fokou, Kuyang Harriet Logo, Leben Nelson Moro, and Serge-Alain Yao N’Da. This chapter takes an extremely reflexive, conscious, and fascinating approach to conducting collaborative research that examines key questions of power and partnership. Funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation and the Swiss Development Cooperation, this project, titled, “Knowledge for Peace. Understanding Research, Policy and Practice Synergies.” conducted empirical research on knowledge production and examines “debates on research partnerships, both at the policy level and in academic debates, highlighting in particular the question of positionality that have been identified in shaping these partnerships” (51). The nuance behind this work, and the chapter as a whole, is its emphasis on the act of “doing” research, its challenges and benefits, and the interplay between researcher’s experiences that so often is cast to the side in academic discourses. Jones et al.’s work critically questions ‘insider-ness’ versus ‘outsider-ness’ in research contexts, detailing that, “Global South partners are likely to be based in case study countries where victimization and marginalization…are both the subject of the research and the context in which research takes place” (56). Similar threads discussing whose ‘knowledge’ is valued manifest in earlier chapters such as Chapter 2, “Knowledge production and its politicization with IR and Peace Studies,” which discusses knowledge as a social process—one that stresses that producing knowledge is a relational activity (27). In doing so, we see knowledge production is never purely academic, but an outcome of broader contexts that are vastly influenced by economic, social, and political dynamics.

A theme that this text explores consistently is how transitional justice scholarship treats people as objects of study rather than active leaders and contributors in work that directly affects themselves and their communities. In Part II Chapter 6, “Power struggles and the politics of knowledge production in the Burundian transitional justice process,” Wendy Lambourne examines the historical stages in approaches to transitional justice, specifically in Burundi, and the UN’s significant role in setting international transitional justice norms and practices. By critiquing international transitional justice standards and investigating how the UN’s standard procedure through FONAREC/JT1 was inappropriate for Burundi, this chapter emphasizes the need to value the voices of participants from these initiatives even if they deviate from international standards and norms.

Harking back to the text’s main theme of “whose knowledge counts as knowledge?”—we see the ways in which power and control from larger international mechanisms impact our communities. An extension of this conversation occurs in Chapter 10, “Playing politics with knowledge: the work of multiple actors within IGAD PLUS” written by Kuyang Harriet Logo. Logo addresses how dominant notions of what is considered ‘knowledge’ imposed by authorities, such as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), conflict with local understandings of human rights violations, especially within non-transitional States. Focusing on how transitional justice was executed in South Sudan, Logo invites the reader to consider the interplay between local knowledge, the value it holds, and how the disconnect between international transitional justice practitioners and local, grassroots organizations and individuals manifests in policy change.

Part III, Chapter 8 “Who are the members of truth commissions?” is written by Dietlinde Wouters and discusses a critical debate regarding the emergence of ‘truth commissions’ that has long been discussed amongst oral historians, human rights advocates/practitioners, and social scientists regarding the background of commissioners. Drawing on data from truth commissions of Argentina, El Salvador, South Africa, and Chile—Wouters shows the reader how the selection of commissioners greatly influences both reports and the transitional context itself. Combating the narrative that commissioners are purely objective, this author identifies the many ways in which personal ideas, opinions, and values influence them and, therefore, the results of their work. High status and power shape the general profile of many commissioners, and Wouters’ analysis intricately assesses representation in truth commissions, the statuses of commissioners as ‘experts’ or ‘laypeople,’ and the selection process itself. Overall, this chapter serves as an important resource for human rights practitioners interested in documenting narratives from communities that have endured human rights violations and whose aim is to center the voices of survivors from the community.

The conclusion of this collection, authored by the editors, provides an introspective, cohesive summary of the many threads explored throughout its twelve chapters. Containing practical guidance toward peacebuilding and an engaging account of the politics of knowledge, Knowledge for Peace invites the reader to pause, reflect, and be conscious of their own transitional justice practices and theories. As mentioned by the editors: “The field of transitional justice derives its identity from its inherent tensions: claims to universality are being made while intervening in particular contexts; normative goals co-exist with a call for reflexivity and critique; and a crystallized international norm reproduces and is reproduced by an elite intervening in contexts of injustice and inequality” (261).

Due to its ability to challenge dominant narratives and the neocolonial nature of transitional justice, this book should be of interest to social scientists, human rights practitioners, advocates, scholars, and policymakers whose work centers the Global South. This collection not only challenges transitional justice norms but opens and invites new conversations for the field as a whole. Speaking from perspectives of both the Global North and Global South—this text offers much-needed insight and representation to a field that has historically, and currently, been largely influenced by Western perspectives. With this collection’s depth, richness, and engaging writing, it’s a perfect read for anyone in the field of transitional justice, and broadly for the wider human rights community as well.



Columbia University 

[1] Forum of Community Facilitators in Transitional Justice