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Review: The psychology of emotion in restorative practice: how Affect Script Psychology explains how and why restorative justice works

February 2, 2015

This book is clearly structured to include theory and practice. Most of the contributors are practitioners, and one is the widow of a victim of murder. After Part I covering the underlying theory, Parts II to IV show the theory in action in communities and criminal justice, organisations, and education. In the opening chapter the psychiatrist Vernon Kelly explains key technical terms which non-psychologists (like your reviewer) will have to grasp. ‘Affect’ is an established term for an innate programme causing us to feel emotions in response to stimuli. ‘Script’ is a newer idea, meaning patterns of behaviour with which we respond to affects. ‘Shame’ is used in a broader sense than the everyday reaction to having done something wrong, and includes feelings of inferiority and inadequacy. 

The core of these chapters is Silvan Tomkins’s theory of affect, and Donald Nathanson’s exploration of shame. Tomkins says that there are nine affects, including a neutral one ‘surprise-startle’, and negative ones such as fear, anger, shame and disgust. For some reason he does not spell out the corresponding positive ones such as satisfaction or pleasant smells but lumps them together as interest-excitement and enjoyment-joy, so that they are outnumbered by the negative ones. From this he proposes a ‘Central Blueprint’ for wellbeing: to maximise positive affect, minimise negative affect, to minimise the inhibition of affect (which seems to mean to encourage people to express their feelings), and the slightly tautologous ‘to maximise the power to [do the other three]’. Nathanson focuses particularly on the affect ‘shame-humiliation’, and the different ways in which people react to it, which he calls the four points of the ‘compass of shame’, ‘attack self, attack other, avoidance and withdrawal.’

Kelly distinguishes shame, a feeling that one’s self is inadequate, from guilt, recognition of harm caused to another person. Revenge and punishment cause shame, which tends to produce the compass-of-shame reactions; what is needed instead is to shift from shame to guilt. His second chapter shows how meeting in a circle can promote the central blueprint, transforming the offender’s feelings into positive ones; the victim’s feelings are also respected, which brings relief (in a better way than victim statements without dialogue in an adversarial court, he might have added). The process is also conducive to forgiveness and the reduction of fear. 

In Part II Lauren Abramson, a child psychologist, describes the theory in action in a community conferencing centre in Baltimore. Two case histories (sexual harassment in a middle school and a three-way neighbourhood dispute) are analysed in the light of affect theory and the biology of emotion. John Lennox, a former police officer, applies the compass of shame to a policing environment, with a case of arson dealt with in a conferencing circle. The head of the school did not feel able to forgive, but in the next chapter Katy Hutchison describes how she refused to give in to hate and rage against the man who killed her husband. She believed that a meeting can repair relationships, but prison does not; she saw him experiencing the compass of shame, but she wanted him to create something good with his life. Four practitioners who work with domestic violence tell their clients about affect theory. They find that many women wanted their relationship to improve, not to end. Knowledge of theory helps people to move out of the compass of shame; case histories show for example how Nathanson’s ‘Blueprint’ can improve relationships by providing people with ‘the tools of life.’ 

Part III shows the theory in action in organisational settings. Siân Williams, an educator and trainer, came to a youth arts organisation where there were a lot of cliques, and used restorative language and systems with the ‘central blueprint’ to create a more enjoyable atmosphere. She started by recruiting some suitable staff; some might envy her having the resources to do so. Margaret Thorsborne, a pioneer of restorative practices in schools and workplaces, presents a case history of a school where two drama teachers were in conflict. An attempt at mediation by the college principal was unsuccessful, but a workplace conference, bringing in a wider group of people who were affected, resolved issues and identified changes that were needed. 

Two examples from schools are described in Part IV. Graeme George, a teacher, applies the ‘central blueprint’, differentiating shame (evaluating one’s whole self against a standard) from guilt (evaluating one’s behaviour). Community is built in the school, and affect (interest and enjoyment) enhance the learning process. A teacher who understands the ‘compass of shame’ will be able to get a struggling student back on track, and there is a note on the importance of language in giving feedback. Finally Bill Hansberry, a teacher of children with dyslexia and autism, gives a composite case history of a seven-year-old boy, ‘Bradley’, who has ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Bradley kicks a little girl, and the teacher pays attention to her own response as she resists the temptation to suspend or punish him. The experience of a boy who lives with this condition, and ‘has little ability to put his brakes on’, is described in the context of Nathanson’s affects and Tomkins’s compass of shame; this is used to show how restorative conferencing can be used as a first approach, not a last resort. A behaviour plan for Bradley is worked out, with examples of the questions which could be put to him and to the girl whom he kicked, and a caring circle in which a small group of his peers sit down once a week to support him. 

The book presents a way forward for those who recognise that punishment is counterproductive but don’t know what to do instead. Its examples and case histories should be useful for anyone trying to translate the theory into practice, especially in schools but also in other settings. 


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