Research project P7/22 (Research action P7)
Research on ‘Justice in Relation to Society’ is an expanding domain but is generally lacking a multidimensional approach in the social sciences. Building on the experience and results of a previous IAP project on “Justice & Society” (P6/01) which has covered major gaps in the knowledge about Belgium’s national justice history from a top-down and institutional perspective, the current project extends the scope to tackle the theme of the relationships between Justice and populations from an interdisciplinary, long-term perspective, covering the period from 1795 (end of the Ancien Régime in Belgium) up to the present.
a) The Belgian experience is systematically examined in its international context, that of an increasingly globalised world. For the domain of justice, especially for the 20th-21st centuries, this necessitates an innovative approach to demonstrate how 'justice' is historically and geographically located in terms of the global/local context, and how the ‘local’ can be widened out to look at inter-, trans- and supranational aspects of justice. To Belgium, this is of particular relevance, since for several aspects and at different times in its history it has functioned as a “laboratory of Western Culture” (e.g. penal policies; experiences of wartime occupation; the Belgian colonies).
b) A bottom-up perspective implies a focus on “populations”: both judicial actors and social groups and communities and individuals in their dealings with justice. From a social science perspective, this means that class, age, gender and ethnic or national differences are taken into account in all research projects.
The following scientific objectives are put forward:
- Shift from more ‘justice-centred’ approaches to the study of interactions between judicial institutions, social groups and individuals.
- Deepen diachronic knowledge, comparing past and present societies: identifying both long-term continuities and evolutions and moments of crisis and transformation.
- International perspective: discuss issues of justice in a comparative and critical way, comparing national experiences, but also examining transnational transfers and the circulation of concepts, knowledge and practices within the framework of global processes.
- Interdisciplinarity: the above objectives imply the involvement of various disciplines: history, legal studies, sociology, criminology, political science, management studies, archival science.
Methodology and Project Structure
The project is structured around 5 integrated work packages: 4 thematic work packages, in which different national and international partners intervene to examine transnational key aspects of the relationships between Justice and Populations from various disciplinary angles and scales of analysis (macro, meso, micro, long term). The fifth WP is dedicated to the development of joint knowledge management strategies (sources, tools, methods, training, valorisation), aimed to support and promote the research of the entire network. Following a multidimensional and multidisciplinary approach, a variety of social science and historical methods are brought together, ranging from contextual legal history to social policy analysis, critical source analysis, discourse analysis, prosopography, case-studies and criminological field work, involving both quantitative and qualitative expertise of the partners.
Work Package 1: Justice, the national State and international dynamics
Composed of two distinct sub-Work Packages, this WP takes the judicial system as its point of departure to examine different levels of justice-society relationships. WP1a aims to move beyond the level of the nation-State to consider the networks of international law, justice and policing, as well as colonial powers in their exchanges with the metropolis. WP1b looks inside the national justice system to the functioning and interaction of its institutions and actors, as shaped by their relationships to society, and to the professional and social networks of judicial personnel.
Work Package 1a: Justice and international dynamics (BeJustInt): At the international level, Belgian jurists play(ed) an important role in configuring International Justice through exchanges on international law, colonial law, occupation law, law of armed conflicts, war crimes and human rights. There is also considerable Belgian involvement in the development of transnational jurisdictions of regulation and control (such as Interpol, Euro-Pol and Euro-Just) as well as in international policing practices.
Work Package 1b: The State justice system: functioning, reform, actors (BeJustState): At the national level of the State justice system, both its structure and functioning are shaped by constant interaction between institutional actors at various levels of the ‘judicial chain’ (policing, prosecution, judgment, penal practice), which is, in turn, subject to change and reform as a result of varying public demands and attitudes towards justice. Examining the agency of collective judicial actors also necessitates further study of the intellectual, social and professional networks of justice: prosopography of justice personnel; processes of professionalisation and professional culture; (inter)national associations of magistrates, policemen, lawyers, jurists, etc.
Work Package 2: Justice and the citizen (BeJustCitiz)
The research conducted within WP2 approaches justice-society relationships from the viewpoint of the citizen, as both subject and client of legal and judicial systems. Following a ‘bottom-up’ perspective, citizens are not merely viewed as passive subjects meekly acquiescing in state-practised repression; rather, they are forces that react or turn to judicial institutions, in order to defend or serve their own interests.
This WP focuses in particular on citizen involvement in the functioning and reform of legal and penal systems and on citizens’ experience and attitudes towards police and judicial practices and punishment. Three research axes are prioritized: 1) the experiences and attitudes of citizens as clients of justice, which is related to the issues of citizens’ trust or distrust in the judiciary, citizen involvement in the administration of justice, and public influence on judicial reform; 2) the (re)actions of citizens belonging to stigmatised target groups, the subject of specific police, judicial and social policies, including f.e. young offenders and ‘difficult’ detainees. Particular attention is paid to their daily interactions ‘on the ground’ with regulatory instances and the impact of judicial and police intervention on their careers of stigmatisation and confinement; 3) the experiences of ordinary citizens in their dealings with law and justice in particular contexts of crisis, conflict and reform, in times of revolution, colonisation or global conflicts.
Work Package 3: Justice, Crisis and (At-)Risk Populations (BeJustCrisis)
This WP examines experiences of global crisis and domination, which often induce specific transformations of judicial institutions and practices and, as times and contexts of exception and experiment, bring about fundamental shifts in justice-citizen relationships. The focus is on how contexts of crisis or domination affect and are experienced by specific populations subject to justice, and how these, in turn, develop their own mechanisms transforming dominant society.
The research firstly addresses experiences of military domination, including the repression and resistance during periods of French, Dutch, German or Belgian domination/occupation; the role and status of military justice; and post-war retributive policies (amnesty, ‘incivism’). A second research axis focuses on contexts of colonial domination, examining both colonial law and justice and police systems in the Belgian ‘colonial empire’ (Congo, Ruanda Urundi), in the framework of European colonisation. Within both research axes, particular attention is paid to the question how, in contexts of crisis and/or domination, specific risk and at-risk populations are defined, policed and possibly confined: from ‘rebellious’ populations, political opponents and war collaborators, to gypsies, refugees and migrants in contemporary globalised society.
Work Package 4: Long-term (self-)representations of justice (LongTermJust)
This WP departs from the idea that “not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done”. One of the most important relationships of justice to society and its citizens consists of the ways in which justice is represented and presents itself to the outside world. These (self-)representations are manifold and can be expressed through and shaped by various ‘media’, ranging from, for example, ‘sites of justice’ such as monuments, buildings and execution sites, and literary, visual and other expressions in popular culture, to expert discourses, judicial statistics and law reviews reflecting a ‘scientific’ professional culture of justice as well as technical information.
Since this field is so vast and an integrated multidisciplinary approach is still in the making at the international level, it has been decided to combine two targeted in-depth research projects with smaller exploratory studies. The two main projects are concerned with judicial iconography, allowing Belgium to catch up with this highly developed international field of research, and the new domain of judicial archaeology, with a focus on the ‘built’ representations of justice such as court rooms, prison buildings, police quarters, etc. An important area for exploratory research concerns the role played by visual material and literature related to the judicial sphere in constructing collective representations of Society, more in particular in the representation of the colonial order, in the development of a ‘scientific culture of justice’ and in the symbolic representation of State power in the urban context.
Work Package 5: Knowledge Management for a Social Science History of Justice: Sources, Tools, Training and Valorisation (DigitJustHis)
This transversal WP is intended to support and promote the research of the entire network: it aims at 1) supporting strategies of collection, appraisal and digitisation of (un)published judicial sources, 2) developing methodological tools, research instruments and metadata, 3) making research in the field more productive and visible, both to the scientific community and the larger public, 4) organising common research training. The platform for these network-wide efforts is the existing IAP Portal “Just-His.be”, developed in IAP phase VI, which already contains several source and documentary collections and textual, prosopographical and statistical tools. Central points of attention involve in particular the inclusion of electronic publications; computer-based analysis; data archiving and retrieval; new digital source collections. Next to the specific expertise of archival science mobilised here, research will be oriented towards the internationally burgeoning field of the Digital Humanities, in which law and justice history plays a steering role. This is coupled with specific training for the IAP researchers on data management, computer-based analysis, data privacy and copyright issues, etc.