Feature Stories Campus Events All Stories

W&L Law Hosts Research Roundtable on Informers and Collaborators in Repressive Regimes Law professor Mark Drumbl and Scholar-in-Residence Barbora Hola are working on a book that explores why people inform on others under authoritarian regimes.

W&L Law recently hosted a roundtable discussion for a faculty book project focused on the phenomenon of informing or snitching under authoritarian governments. The event was co-sponsored by the Frances Lewis Law Center and Center for International Education.

The roundtable features a book-in-progress authored by Mark Drumbl, Class of 1975 Alumni Professor of Law and Director of the Transnational Law Institute, and Barbora Hola, who is a senior Researcher at the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement and Associate Professor at the Department of Criminal Law and Criminology at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Hola also served as this year’s Lewis Law Center Scholar-in-Residence at the law school.

Using Communist Czechoslovakia as a starting point, Drumbl says the book will explore why ordinary people inform on others in repressive times and how the law should deal with collaborators and informers in the aftermath.

“The roundtable generated terrific energy,” said Drumbl. “The interdisciplinary insights contrasting various Communist regimes, as well as differentiating ordinary informing in settled polities from similar conduct in repressive times, helped crystallize the central takeaway question for us: should informers become subject to transitional justice processes?

He also noted: “To see the communal reaction to the personal histories of informers culled from the huge archives was really helpful—we have decided to include these more squarely in the book itself, based of Barbora Hola’s detailed review of many secret police files conducted while she was Scholar-in-Residence at W&L. This is a hugely labor-intensive process and really produced vignettes and snapshots of Cold War life in authoritarian regimes as lived by ordinary people.”

Participants in the roundtable includes a number of W&L faculty members from the Law School, Williams School, and College, notably Mark Rush, Krzysztof Jasiewicz, Tim MacDonnell and Alex Klein. They were joined virtually by professors Kjell Anderson (University of Manitoba), Patrick Bergemann (University of California Irvine), and Cynthia Horne (Western Washington University): experts respectively in transitional justice, informing, and post-Communist reconstruction.

It is the authors intent to complete a manuscript in 2023 for publication shortly thereafter. The book is under contract with Oxford University Press, and the authors retain rights in a translation into Czech for broader popular distribution in the local market.

If you know any W&L faculty who would be great profile subjects, tell us about them! Nominate them for a web profile.