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The moral imagination for restorative justice.

Levad, Amy
June 4, 2015

Source: (2009) Dissertation. Doctor of Philosophy. Emory University.

Criminal and juvenile justice systems in the United States have reached a crisis point.
Christian social ethicists and theologians have responded to this crisis in part by recommending
“restorative justice,” a movement that involves a variety of sentencing practices in which victims,
offenders, and community members meet to reach an agreement about how to “repair the
harm” caused by crime. Advocates in a broader movement for restorative justice trace crises in
our criminal and juvenile justice systems to the rehabilitative and retributive ideologies and
practices that have dominated these systems. As a work of Christian social ethics, this
dissertation explores restorative justice as an alternative to these ideologies and practices in terms
of its specific type of “moral imagination” and its capacity to realize “justice as equity.”
Drawing on Aristotle, modern virtue ethics, and recent works on moral imagination, the
dissertation establishes the premise that the realization of justice as equity requires vivid and
expansive moral imagining in our processes of ethical discernment. Furthermore, the quality of
our moral imagining depends partially upon the narratives, metaphors, and symbols that
compose the types of moral imagination that we use to organize our experiences. Our social,
cultural, and institutional locations inform the types of moral imagination that we use, and thus
the quality of our moral imagining. The dissertation analyzes the different types of moral
imagination presupposed and supported by models of restorative, rehabilitative, and retributive
Through an ethnographic study of five restorative justice programs in Colorado, the
dissertation then argues that as participants in restorative justice practices use and negotiate
restorative, retributive, and rehabilitative moral imaginations in their processes of ethical
discernment, they engage in activities of vivid and expansive moral imagining that are not
supported in more common sentencing practices. Their facility with moral imagining therefore
better enables them to realize justice as equity in response to particulars of specific cases of
crime. The dissertation concludes that further institutionalization of restorative justice may help
answer some aspects of crises in our criminal and juvenile justice systems. (Author’s abstract).


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