De-constructing the ‘Legitimate’ War Victim

Rashaam Chowdhury1
1School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia

This paper utilises data gathered from interviews conducted in Bangladesh to explore victimisation experienced by Bangladeshis during the 1971 liberation war. It considers the multifaceted nature of victimisation during the war – from well-known kidnappings, torture, rape to little known long-term impacts of women who underwent abortions, ‘forced’ adoptions; to effects on standards of living amongst whole families and other traumas. Criminological and transitional justice research overwhelmingly focuses on the extreme aspects of victimhood that define particular wars. Such processes of categorizations render experiences of individual victims invisible. Drawing on existing research in the area of ‘victimology of ordinary crimes’, the paper argues that such invisibility results in the ‘common’ war victim receiving less public sympathy. Ultimately, the failure to gain a ‘legitimate’ war victim status, along with limited academic and activist curiosity has the capacity to erase the ‘common’ victim from transitional justice efforts – whether it be trials and tribunals or broader efforts of remembrance or truth seeking.


Rashaam is a PhD Candidate at the University of Melbourne. She is interested in areas of state crime, refugees, genocide and war victimisation. Her thesis explores feelings of victimisation and perceptions of justice amongst Bangladeshis in relation to the 1971 liberation war.

State Recognition, Ontological Justice, and Transgender Children

Matthew Mitchell3
3School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia,

Between 2004-2017, the Family Court of Australia regulated minors’ access to gender-affirming hormones. In these cases, access to hormones depended upon being recognised as a legitimate subject for treatment by the Court. From an analysis of these cases’ reasons for judgment, I examine how the Court constructed and deployed an ontology of gender identity as part of the “conditions of recognisability” that governed this process. First, I describe the characteristics of this ontology and identify several inconsistencies and incoherencies within. I then analyse this in terms of ontological politics—that is, showing how power shaped and enabled the Court’s conception of the ‘real’ nature of transgender identity and the subjects before it. From this, I argue that these cases prompt important questions about ontological justice—that is, about who has the power to construct this reality, and the consequences of that reality for those who must live it. I conclude by discussing how these questions help us to consider what a more just encounter between law and gender difference might look like, and how this might help us to better understand the struggles of queer lives lived with law.


Matthew is a PhD Candidate in Criminology at the University of Melbourne. He is interested in examining issues of gender and sexuality through the lens of the sociology of law. His PhD dissertation examines how the Australian legal system regulated transgender young people’s access to gender-affirming medical technologies between 2004-2017.

Identities beyond conflict: Rights, recognition, and reconciliation within Myanmar’s post-conflict justice agenda

Bethia Burgess2
2School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia

Despite the military’s gradual withdrawal from the Myanmar government and the commencement of state-wide peace talks in 2016, armed conflicts remain virulent across several of the state’s ethnic regions. Media and scholarly reporting on the political and security situation in Myanmar suggest that ethnoreligious identities are at the core of ongoing violence, with the term ethnic conflict used widely as shorthand across a complex landscape of social and political discord, and ethnic identities pathologised as such. My research focuses on the ways in which identities matter in establishing peace, justice and reconciliation in Myanmar. Its central aim is to develop a better understanding of the relationship between post-conflict justice and intergroup reconciliation in deeply divided societies by investigating the roles that identities play in grassroots justice agendas. This approach adopts a broad understanding of post-conflict justice to include not only immediate responses to the violations of human rights, but also to the structural roots of such violence. It will seek to understand what makes initiatives successful in promoting reconciliatory agendas within communities, how intergroup tensions are acknowledged and approached through these initiatives, and what identities mean to those involved in seeking justice. It will further investigate the ways in which justice initiatives that acknowledge group identities are able to make visible the collective prejudices underlying mass violence that must be addressed before reconciliation can occur. A particular effort to understand multiple sources of identity formation, including gender, ethnicity, location, and class, will be made through the application of feminist theories.


Bethia is a PhD Candidate at the University of Melbourne. She is interested in how structural harms and state crimes are actively resisted through innovative approaches to justice in the absence of traditional legal responses. Her PhD dissertation focuses on the microdynamics of peace and justice processes in Myanmar, with a particular emphasis on gender and ethnic identities.



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