Starting from the complex reality of return, this paper recognizes that cycles of violence, displacement and return are intimately related and often inherently part of one another. This paper offers a critical overview and discussion of scholarly and policy-oriented literature on return processes in conflict and post-conflict societies without ignoring the international historical and political contexts and policy frameworks that continuously shape and influence research agendas. The paper argues much of the literature has maintained close connection to the official policy-frameworks and rationales of repatriation operations and discourses in terms of peacebuilding and economic development. Furthermore, the paper posits the scope of many studies tends to be limited to specific social groups of returnees and localized understandings and researches return on a case-by-case basis, which explains the absence of a deeper understanding of how returnees, but also stayees, and political and humanitarian actors experience, practice and give meaning to ‘return’.