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Between the Lines: Brendan Ciarán Browne

Between the Lines asks researchers about the process of writing a book. Dr Brendan Ciarán Browne reflects on the process behind writing his book Transitional (in)Justice and Enforcing the Peace on Palestine.

When did you first come up with the idea for the book?

I have been working in and on Palestine now for the best part of 12 years, and during that time I have been focused on many different issues. However, I have long been critical of the misapplication of ‘peace building’ practices that have taken place there, as they have always been based on Palestinian concession rather than focused on justice. As someone with a legal background, I have retained a critical interest in the growth of transitional justice as a means of dealing with complex past human rights abuses. Having witnessed transitional justice practices being trialled in the context of Palestine and seeing how they have been used as a way of containing legitimate demands for ‘justice,’ I realised that there was a need to provide a more radical interpretation of this form of liberal peacebuilding intervention.

Did you start out with the intention of writing a book about a particular topic, or did a book begin to make sense as you were researching?

Actually, I have written several pieces on the topic of transitional justice in and for Palestine, including a book chapter and an article (published in 2017 & 2021 respectively). So, I have been publishing various critiques of transitional justice in Palestine for some time. The idea to do the book came from conversations with a number of colleagues who encouraged a more extensive examination, and upon reviewing what I saw as a pretty obvious gap in the critical literature. In addition, some of the existing discourse around transitional justice in Palestine I found to be way off in terms of being an accurate description of its usefulness (or lack thereof) in the context of Palestinian resistance to ongoing Zionist settler colonialism.

What are the book’s main ideas?

This book considers the growing interest in transitional justice practices that take place against the backdrop of ongoing attempted Zionist settler-colonial erasure in historic Palestine. It does so by critiquing the role of common top-down and bottom-up interventions, namely truth recovery and international criminal justice, and argues that transitional justice acts as an extension of a deeply flawed peacebuilding process, one that has been so destructive in Palestine. The central argument is that transitional justice in this context has a deflating effect when it comes to advancing calls for meaningful decolonisation. In the conclusion, I call for a ‘radicalisation’ of transitional justice that takes place in settler-colonial contexts, one that prioritises conversations around meaningful decolonisation.

What did writing a book allow you to do that wouldn’t have been possible in another medium eg. journal article?

Really, it allowed for a more in-depth analysis and gave me an opportunity to forge stronger connections between inter-related transitional justice themes. Similarly, the book permitted me to explore some of what I perceive to be limitations in other work that has taken transitional justice in Palestine as its focus, and to tease out in more detail why I view these interventions as problematic.

How did you decide which publisher to place the book with?

I really like the Palgrave Pivot form. This type of publishing allows for work to be put out there in its natural length. It cuts out a lot of padding that you often find in so many academic books. The publisher is also internationally renowned, has a great audience and is linked to many global distributors. In a new age of communication, where the need to share complex ideas in a more digestible and consumable way, I think this type of publication is ideal. Palgrave were also super easy to work with. Finally, the book is part of an ongoing series, ‘Rethinking Peace and Conflict Studies’ under the direction of who I would argue are two of the biggest names in Peace and Conflict Studies at present, (Oliver Richmond and Gezim Visoka) so to have a piece in their collection was also a draw for me.

How long did it take to write?

I’ve been writing it on off for some time, but sitting and really focusing in on the process, I guess it took around 6 months in total. But, like I said, I was able to draw on material I had noted before, over time.

Did you ever experience any moments of writer’s block? What did you do to overcome this?

For this book, not so much. I had a good structure agreed from the outset and gathered a wealth of material before I sat down to make my line of argument. In addition, I am fortunate in that the intellectual scaffolding has been provided by so many great Palestinian and international scholars, many of whom have been critiquing the weaponizing of peace building praxis against the Palestinians for years.

What advice would you give someone thinking about writing a book?

Plan it out meticulously; set realistic goals and deadlines; don’t wait for the ‘right moment’ to start; always jot down ideas in small notebooks or on your phone whenever they come to you. These are the building blocks that you will refer back to when you come to write.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice before you started writing, what would that be?

When you finish the entire process and hit submit, take a breath, and try and enjoy it a bit! I’m often spinning many project plates, so much so that I forget that writing a book is a big achievement and we should take a bit more time to enjoy it more when its in and over the line.


Brendan Ciarán Browne

Dr Brendan Ciarán Browne is an interdisciplinary scholar with degrees in Law (LL.B, LL.M Human Rights) and a PhD in Sociology. He has held academic and research positions at Queen's University Belfast, Al Quds (Bard) University, Palestine and is currently Assistant Professor of Conflict Resolution, Trinity College Dublin (Belfast campus). His research interests are focused on transitional justice, settler colonialism and liberal peacebuilding, and conflict and forced displacement.