Restorative justice at the crossroads: politics, power, and language

Thalia González*, Annalise J. Buth

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


In “Neither Boat Nor Barbeque,” Schiff and Hooker create analytic space and discursive context aimed at developing a more nuanced understanding of how the language of “restorative justice” hinders its transformative potential for achieving right and equitable relationships. Despite what may appear to be a more narrowly tailored focus on linguistic constructions, their desire to grapple with the practical and imaginative limits of language establishes a broad container for exploration of multivariate tensions within the field. As such, they place restorative justice—as a movement, project, theory, or practice—at a crossroads. We enter into that crossroads in the following conceptual manner. First, we contend that simultaneous to a call for, and ultimately development of, a new language of restorative justice there must be a close interrogation of the politics of restorative justice. Specifically, we call for scrutiny of individuals who have shaped the framing, transmission, and institutionalization of the pre-existing restorative justice language (e.g., values, philosophies, and ideas). We believe this is essential to guard against replication of a conversational domain dominated by speakers that constrain a new language’s end goal, and this will ultimately address the concern Schiff and Hooker raise about the inability for restorative justice to remain inside the current justice discourse and produce a new possibility for right relationship. Our second objective is to bring distinct attention to the need for any new restorative justice language to shift away from defining itself in relationship to systems. Grounding restorative justice within or adjacent to systems will continuously plague any efforts to achieve a movement building vision or to realize change for those most impacted by injustice. We introduce these ideas to invigorate a new conversation and enrich the conventional restorative justice discourse by highlighting the possibility for new lines of theoretical and empirical analysis, which may in turn redefine the lexicon of restorative justice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)242-256
Number of pages15
JournalContemporary Justice Review: Issues in Criminal, Social, and Restorative Justice
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 3 2019


  • Restorative justice
  • framing processes
  • linguistic constructions
  • narrative frames
  • norm theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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