Source: (2004) European Journal of Crime, Criminal Law and Criminal Justice. 12(2): 132-149.

The relationship between penal reform and new ideas that aim to inform penal practice on the one hand, and the (lack of) actual achievements ‘in the field’ on the other, is a privileged topic for sociological criminology. However, even though the discipline has boomed as the twentieth century drew to a close, it seems to me that the topic of ‘restorative reform’ has largely been by-passed by the social analysis of other penal developments, notably the expansion of penal systems in the West. The argument of this paper will be that this is partly due to the difficulties ‘floating’ criminologists encounter when attempting to integrate restorative developments within their interpretive frameworks. My discussion aims to point to some of these difficulties and hopes to contribute a more fruitful debate between ‘players’ and ‘floaters.’ This paper is structured as follows. In a first paragraph the revamped interest for the sociological analysis of penal developments will be discussed. In a second paragraph, I will point to two problems within this recent literature, that is, a tendency to overstress the dystopic character of contemporary penal developments and the (hidden) political agenda of some of these studies. It will be argued that these tendencies may lead to distorted pictures of the penal landscape. The third paragraph will present two themes that can explain why restorative justice is often the blind spot on the penal map of recent analysis. (excerpt)