Skip to main content

Stories of “Success”: Narrative, Expertise, and Claims to Knowledge

  • Briony Jones (a1)

This paper explores the possibilities provided by narrative interviewing for critically assessing claims of success regarding reconciliation policies in Brčko District, Bosnia-Herzegovina. More specifically, the paper argues that such claims of success are based on claims to expertise. Certain understandings of the harm, i.e., the inter-ethnic violence committed during the 1992–1995 war, and of the policies designed to address it, i.e., reconciliation policies based on a logic of multi-ethnic living, gain credence based on the supposed expertise of particular actors. However, knowledge of harm and of the impact of policies designed to address it is produced through the subjectivity of different actors’ positionalities, and therefore assumptions about the figure of “the expert” need to be unsettled. This paper explores the possibilities offered by narrative interviewing and analysis for bringing to the fore the complicated ways in which expertise is produced in certain places at certain times.

Hide All

1 Hazan, Pierre, “Das neue Mantra der Gerechtigkeit. Vom beschränkten Erfolg international verordneter Gerechtigket,” Der Überblick 1 (2007): 1022; Subotić, Jelena, “The Transformation of International Transitional Justice Advocacy,” The International Journal of Transitional Justice 6 (2012): 106–25.

2 Kagoro, Brian, “The Paradox of Alien Knowledge, Narrative and Praxis: Transitional Justice and the Politics of Agenda Setting in Africa,” in Where Law Meets Reality: Forging African Transitional Justice, ed. Okello, Moses Chrispuset al. (Cape Town, Dakar, Nairobi, and Oxford Pambazuka Press, 2012).

3 Kagoro, “The Paradox of Alien Knowledge,” 12.

4 Subotić, “Transitional Justice Advocacy,” 110.

5 It is these sets of ideas that have prompted the structure and approach of this special issue.

6 Blaikie, Norman, Designing Social Research: The Logic of Anticipation. First Edition. (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000), 120 (emphasis added).

7 The experience of this in Nepal is discussed by Simon Robins and Erik Wilson in their contribution to this special issue.

8 The author would like to thank the United Kingdom Economic and Social Research Council for funding this fieldwork.

9 Subotić, “Transitional Justice Advocacy,” 109.

10 McEvoy, Kieran, “Beyond Legalism: Towards a Thicker Understanding of Transitional Justice,” Journal of Law and Society 34 (2007): 411–40.

11 Thomson, Susan and Nagy, Rosemary, “Law, Power and Justice: What Legalism Fails to Address in the Functioning of Rwanda’s Gacaca Courts,” The International Journal of Transitional Justice 5 (2011): 13.

12 The question of the legal development of different typologies of harm is addressed by Hirad Abtahi in this special issue.

13 Kelsall, Tim, “Politics, Anti-Politics, International Justice: Language and Power in the Special Court for Sierra Leone,” Review of International Studies 32 (2006): 587–88.

14 Kelsall, “Politics, Anti-Politics,” 593.

15 Wilson, Richard A., “Through the Lens of International Criminal Law: Comprehending the African Context of Crimes at the International Criminal Court,” Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism 11 (2011): 107.

16 Campbell, Colm and Turner, Catherine, “Utopia and the Doubters: Truth, Transition and the Law,” Legal Studies 28 (2008): 378, 381.

17 United Nations, The Rule of Law and Transitional Justice in Conflict and Post-Conflict Societies, Report of the Secretary General, 23 August 2004, S72004/616, 6.

18 See for example Rosalind Shaw and Lars Waldorf, Localizing Transitional Justice: Interventions and Priorities After Mass Violence, eds. (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2010); Kieran McEvoy and Lorna McGregor, eds.,Transitional Justice from Below: Grassroots Activism and the Struggle for Change (Oxford and Portland: Hart Publishing, 2008).

19 Thomson and Nagy, “Law, Power and Justice,” 16.

20 The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is an ad hoc international court based in Arusha that was established in November 1994 by the UN Security Council with a mandate to try those responsible for the Rwandan genocide.

21 See for example Moses Chrispus Okello et al., eds., Where Law Meets Reality: Forging African Transitional Justice (Cape Town, Dakar, Nairobi and Oxford: Pambazuka Press, 2012); Tom Bennett et al, eds., African Perspectives on Tradition and Justice (Cambridge, Antwerp, and Portland: Intersentia, 2012).

22 Subotić, “Transitional Justice Advocacy,” 122.

23 Bell, Christine, “Transitional Justice, Interdisciplinarity and the State of the ‘Field’ or ‘Non-Field,’The International Journal of Transitional Justice 3 (2009): 527.

24 Sandra Rubli, Transitional Justice? Justice by Bureaucratic Means (working paper, swisspeace, April 2012,

25 Subotić, “Transitional Justice Advocacy,” 106–125.

26 Ibid., 120.

27 See for example McEvoy and McGregor, “Transitional Justice from Below”; Chandra Sriram, “Transitional Justice and the Liberal Peace,”’ in New Perspectives on Liberal Peacebuilding, edited by R. Newman et al. (Tokyo and New York: United Nations Press, 2009).

28 Marshall, Catherine and Rossman, Gretchen, Designing Qualitative Research. 3rd Edition. (Thousand Oaks, London and New Delhi: SAGE Publications, 1999), 123.

29 Elliot, Jane, Using Narrative in Social Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches (London, Thousand Oaks and New Delhi: SAGE, 2005), 3.

30 Misztal, Barbara A., Theories of Social Remembering (Maidenhead and Philadelphia: Open University Press, 2003), 56.

31 Somers, Margaret R., “The Narrative Constitution of Identity: A Relational and Network Approach,” Theory and Society 23 (1994): 605–49.

32 Somers, “The Narrative Constitution of Identity,” 607.

33 Ibid., 606.

34 Selma Leydesdorff et al, “Introduction: Trauma and Life Stories,” in Trauma and Life Stories: International Perspectives, edited by Kim Lacy Rogers et al. (London, New York: Routledge, 1999), 13.

35 Colette Daiute and Cynthia Lightfoot, “Editor’s Introduction: Theory and Craft in Narrative Inquiry,” in Narrative Analysis: Studying the Development of Individuals in Society, edited by Colette Daiute and Cynthia Lightfoot (Thousand Oaks, London and New Delhi: SAGE, 2004), xi.

36 Molly Andrews, “Counter-Narratives and the Power to Oppose,” in Considering Counter-Narratives: Narrating, Resisting, Making Sense, edited by Michael Bamberg and Molly Andrews. (Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2004), 1.

37 Bamberg, “Counter-Narratives,” 359.

38 Ibid., 351–70.

39 Jovchelovitch, Sandra and Bauer, Martin W., “Narrative Interviewing,” in Qualitative Researching with Text, Image and Sound edited by Bauer, Martin W. and Gaskell, George (Thousand Oaks and New Delhi: SAGE, 2000), 65.

40 Jovchelovitch and Bauer, “Narrative Interviewing,” 58–59.

41 The 1992–1995 Bosnian war was part of the breakdown of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) and was connected to violence taking place elsewhere in the Balkans at this time.

42 These are the three main ethno-national groups in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

43 On fertile land, close to international borders, and in between territory controlled by different armed forces which were later to become the Federation of Muslim and Croats and the Serb Republic in a post-war consociational political arrangement.

44 Such high levels of funding were not maintained over time.

45 Insights presented in this paper are also informed by a short return trip to Brčko District in 2011.

46 See for example Backer, David, “Watching a Bargain Unravel? A Panel Study of Victims’ Attitudes about Transitional Justice in Cape Town, South Africa,” International Journal of Transitional Justice 4 (2010): 443–56; Millar, Gearoid, “Assessing Local Experiences of Truth-Telling in Sierra Leone: Getting to ‘Why’ through a Qualitative Case Study Analysis,” International Journal of Transitional Justice 4 (2010): 477–96; Merwe, Hugo van deret al, ed., Assessing the Impact of Transitional Justice: Challenges for Empirical Research (Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2009).

47 Schema adapted from Jovchelovitch and Bauer, “Narrative Interviewing.”

48 The presence and role of the interpreter was extremely important, and this is often overlooked by researchers working in other languages. Indeed, it certainly does not often feature in presented analyses. The author has written about this elsewhere in Ficklin, Lisa and Jones, Briony, “Interpreting Translation Practices in the Field,” Graduate Journal of Social Science 6 (2009): 108130.

49 Interview 080508.

50 Bosnia and Herzegovina.

51 Paddy Ashdown cited in International Crisis Group, Bosnia’s Brčko: Getting In, Getting On and Getting Out, International Crisis Group, Balkans Report No 144 (Sarajevo, Brussels: ICG, 2003), 1.

52 This is the civilian office responsible for overseeing the transition in Bosnia-Herzegovina and ensuring that the reforms laid out in the Dayton Peace Accords of 1995 are implemented.

53 Brčko District Supervisor Raffi Gregorian, 8 March 2009,

54 Field diary extract 12 July 2007.

55 Interview 150308.

56 Interview 040607.

57 Interviews 290408b, 110707c, 190707a, 160408, 200308.

58 Dahlman and Ó Tuathail, “Bosnia’s Third Space?,” 670.

59 Bieber, “Post War Bosnia”; International Crisis Group, “Bosnia’s Brčko.”

60 Jašarević, Larisa, “Everyday Work: Subsistence Economy, Social Belonging and Moralities of Exchange at a Bosnian (Black) Market,” in The New Bosnian Mosaic: Identities, Memories and Moral Claims in a Post-War Society, edited by Bougarel, Xavieret al (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), 284.

61 The High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina has so-called “Bonn Powers” (named after the location of the agreement signing) which allow him/her (it has always been a man in fact) to pass laws and remove democratically elected officials if such measures are considered necessary for the implementation of the Dayton Peace Accords.

62 The author has published elsewhere on this case study in more detail: Briony Jones “Exploring the Politics of Reconciliation through Education Reform: The Case of Brčko District, Bosnia-Herzegovina,” The International Journal of Transitional Justice 6 (2012): 126–48.

63 The author has published elsewhere on this case study in more detail: Briony Jones “Who Does this District Belong to? Contesting, Negotiating and Practicing Citizenship in a Mjesna Zajednica in Brčko District,” Transitions 51 (2011): 171–91.

64 Interviews 110408, 150308, 13032008, 250707.

65 Interview 080508.

66 Interviews 120707, 290408b, 290408c, 100308, 040607.

67 Informal Interview 100308.

68 Brčko District Government (2003) Law on Mjesne Zajednice, Article 9.

69 Interview 100308a.

70 Interview 100308a.

71 Field notes 180707.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Canadian Journal of Law and Society / La Revue Canadienne Droit et Société
  • ISSN: 0829-3201
  • EISSN: 1911-0227
  • URL: /core/journals/canadian-journal-of-law-and-society-la-revue-canadienne-droit-et-societe
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 6
Total number of PDF views: 39 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 304 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 19th July 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.