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Silencing Dissent: A comparative study of criminalising political expression and conflict transformation

Kirkpatrick, Daniel (2017) Silencing Dissent: A comparative study of criminalising political expression and conflict transformation. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:66777)

Language: English

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This thesis analyses the relationship between criminalising political expression and conflict transformation. It begins with a discussion of traditional approaches to researching crime in conflict contexts, arguing that the assumptions of state legitimacy and 'criminal' illegitimacy are particularly problematic in the contested contexts of deeply divided societies. Instead, drawing on critical legal and criminological research, it argues that through considering the process by which such categories of 'crime' are created - criminalisation - it is possible to analyse the contested role they can have. This means taking crime to embody a social construction which contributes towards a wider social reality of crime and the criminal. How this takes effect is through what the thesis describes as the interaction between formal criminalisation - the legal processes which codify and embody legal norms and principles established by a government - and informal criminalisation - the social reality of the formal process which is given expression through the way it is implemented, interpreted, resisted, or accepted by the wider population.

From the perspective of conflict transformation, conflict is not the problem but rather encapsulates a problem, and frequently embodies at least part of the solution. Indeed it is through dialogue and communication which transformation can occur (both constructively and destructively), and so the thesis narrowed its focus onto the criminalisation of political expression. Criminalising political expression, therefore, can directly shape the nature of an intergroup conflict in deeply divided societies undermining the ability of actors to find a peaceful resolution to their conflict, or potentially enhancing it depending on how it operates. Accordingly the thesis argues that this can be distinguished into an explanatory typology of three 'targets' of criminalisation: identity, activity, and violence. These, together with the nature of informal criminalisation, have important implications for conflict transformation depending on the context. Through considering four conflict contexts which criminalisation responds towards - namely non-violent movements, collective political violence, negotiations, and peacebuilding - the thesis argues that when criminalisation targets non-violent political expression it will likely undermine conflict transformation in the short and long-term by closing down opportunities for dialogue, contributing towards intergroup polarisation, and dehumanising actors. On the other hand, criminalising political violence may facilitate conflict transformation, but this depends on the legitimacy of criminal justice and the nature of its enforcement.

Employing an interpretivist methodology, the research involved an in-depth comparative analysis of the case studies of Northern Ireland and South Africa through poststructuralist discourse analysis and practice tracing, drawing on original interviews with key actors, and archival research. Furthermore, the thesis then employed a small-n study of Belgium, Canada, Turkey, and Sri Lanka to consider how this theoretical relationship between conflict transformation and criminalising political expression applies to crucial, typical, and counterfactual cases. The thesis concludes by discussing the implications these findings have for a number of policy areas including criminalising non-violent extremism and legacy issues associated with criminal records for political offences.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Cochrane, Feargal
Thesis advisor: Toros, Harmonie
Uncontrolled keywords: conflict transformation, criminalisation, Northern Ireland, terrorism, conflict analysis, criminalising political expression, South Africa, peace negotiations, counter-insurgency, political violence, non-violent movements, criminal record expungement, counter-terrorism, transitional justice
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Politics and International Relations
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 18 Apr 2018 11:10 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2021 13:54 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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