Claims to ignorance as a form of participation in transitional justice

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Transitional justice is premised on participation that allows local publics to construct, critique and have some ownership over the process. The current scholarship assumes that individuals openly express their views of the process, or that they remain silent. The scholarship has neglected a third, significant form of participation: active withholding of views by saying “I don’t know”. This article examines such claims to ignorance and argues that they can provide insight into participation. While both qualitative and quantitative researchers of transitional justice have observed a pervasive pattern of high “don’t know” responses, such claims to ignorance have not been studied. This article develops a theoretical framework that shows that “don’t know” responses are a valuable source of information and argues that they are often an expression of a lack of willingness to respond, rather than genuine ignorance. Drawing on an original corpus of data collected through inter-ethnic focus groups and surveys conducted in four former Yugoslav countries, the study demonstrates how claims to ignorance are constructed as novel manifestations of resistance, restraint or disentitlement. These point to a rejection of transitional justice, which needs to be addressed if individuals are to feel like legitimate participants in the process.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages27
Journal Cooperation and Conflict
Early online date18 May 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 May 2022


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