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The Practice of Restorative Justice: An Ethnographic Exploration of One Community’s Attempt to Implement a Community-based System.

Chang, Won Kyung
June 4, 2015

Source: (2009) Dissertation submitted for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy. Indiana University.

The objective of this study is to examine the practices of a particular community
while it is attempting to employ principles of restorative justice to create a community based justice system. The theory of restorative justice seeks to establish a more genuine justice from within the community. This is a justice system in which those human relationships harmed by crime can be healed by taking into account the material and emotional damage that crime exacts on the individuals involved. However, key theoretical concepts in restorative justice—such as norm, crime, responsibility, and certainly community—remain unclear and are still in the process of being wholly defined. This study investigates to what extent these key concepts are incorporated into the design of the particular restorative justice program and to what extent participants in the program are able to embrace an entirely new concept of justice and produce restorative justice as described by the theorists. Adopting as a reference Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of habitus, from which an individual derives his or her distinct “feel for the game,” this study illuminates the ways in which each player modifies objective structures while playing the game of restorative justice. Ethnographic techniques and a detailed analysis of discourse are used to examine specific practices of the participants in the restorative justice program (i.e., the program facilitator, the actual offenders, and certain community volunteers who were mostly indirect victims). Within the ambiguously-designed restorative justice structures in this program, both offenders and non-offenders, as groups, demonstrated clearly distinct habitus as they approached the restorative justice structures.
The facilitator and community volunteers held fast to abstract ideals of community and to pre-disposed notions of normalcy and morality. Furthermore, this group expected these concepts to transcend the specific circumstances within which the offenders committed their crimes. In contrast, offenders grounded their normative evaluations in the particular social contexts in which they lived and acted. The society which considered them criminals lay outside and separate from their community, and therefore could not be the source of any moral grounds to transform their behaviors. This study shows how, in these incongruous worlds, participants’ plain discourse lacked shared concepts of community or moral commonalities, which proved inconsistent with the stated goals of restorative justice.(Excerpt).


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