Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

Does Interpreting 'Steal' Conflict? A Translational Perspective on Power and Restorative Justice

Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

Does Interpreting 'Steal' Conflict? A Translational Perspective on Power and Restorative Justice

Article excerpt

1. Introduction and background

In the UK, the National Occupational Standards for Restorative Practice is a suite of performance benchmarks identifying key competencies for successful interventions between a person harmed by a crime and the person responsible for causing the harm. Within the suite, a unit entitled "Use interpreters in restorative processes" covers the performance criteria, knowledge and understanding applicable to "anyone working within restorative practice who works with interpreters to enable participants to access restorative processes" (Skills for Justice, 2013e, p. 1). In a subsection entitled "Knowledge relating to the use of interpreters", the unit calls for restorative practitioners to understand the role of "power" in a restorative setting, "and how it can be used and abused when working with participants who require interpreters" (p. 6). The issue of power appears throughout the standards, in relation to minimizing "conflicts around differing understandings" (2013a, p. 6), agreeing on means of communication that "minimise potential for power imbalances" (p. 3), or creating a "safe environment" by "acknowledging diversity and difference between participants" (2013d, p. 2). No explanation is given as to what power looks like, who exercises it, or what constitutes its "abuse" when interpreters are concerned. But in each of the occupational standards where the notion of power is invoked, the term is modified either by "imbalance(s)" between parties (2013a, p. 3, p. 7; 2013b, p. 6; 2013c, p. 4; 2013d, p. 2, p.5) or by "group dynamics" (2013a, p. 7; 2013b, p. 6; 2013d, p. 5), and on one occasion appears alongside a reference to "gender equality, racial and cultural difference" (2013c, p. 4). By taking this holistic view of the ways in which power is articulated across the standards, what becomes clear is that it is the intersubjective nature of restorative justice that raises issues of power, when victims and offenders as bearers of different individual and group identities--and the diversity of human experience this implies--come together to talk about a harmful incident which, by its very nature, positions them on opposing 'sides' and where the starting point for communicative interaction is the very breakdown of relationships that occasions the interaction in the first place. It is to this prismatic space that this article is addressed, where imbalances of power are linked inextricably to the performance of identity in the encounter with the ontological and linguistic 'other'.

The philosophy of empowerment (Braithwaite, 2006a, p. 396) that underpins restorative interventions--that power lies with primary stakeholders (i.e., those responsible for and harmed by a crime, their family members and/or supporters, and wider public) rather than with professionals engaged in supporting stakeholders or administrating justice--is shaped against a context of courtroom justice thought to increase, rather than diminish, feelings of unfairness and marginalization among victims and offenders. (1) From a so-called 'restorative' perspective, crime is viewed as behaviour that causes harm; restorative responses are intended to promote the needs of the parties in response to harmful behaviour through processes that focus on participation, the expression of feelings and exchange of information in a supportive and collaborative environment. In the words of the UK Restorative Justice Council (RJC), restorative justice is about "victims and offenders communicating within a controlled environment to talk about the harm that has been caused and finding a way to repair that harm", giving victims "the chance to meet or communicate with their offenders to explain the real impact of the crime" and empowering them "by giving them a voice" (n.d.). But what happens to these ideals when victims and offenders do not speak the same language, or their level of proficiency is not equal? If an interpreter becomes involved, where is the locus of power when, of necessity, we move from a communicative constellation in which, in principle, there is no intended centre of gravity to one in which all speech both gravitates towards and emanates from the interpreter? …

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