Academic journal article School Community Journal

Identity Border Crossings within School Communities, Precursors to Restorative Conferencing: A Symbolic Interactionist Study

Academic journal article School Community Journal

Identity Border Crossings within School Communities, Precursors to Restorative Conferencing: A Symbolic Interactionist Study

Article excerpt


Our study uses an interdisciplinary theoretical lens to understand the complexity of community building as a precursor to restorative practices. Key to these measures is that offenders take responsibility for their actions and undergo reintegration into the school community. Yet, until these students feel they belong to the school community in the first place, "re"integration is moot. Thus, we interviewed 14 adults who had been school offenders, asking them what might have been done to make them feel a part of school, and then we focused analytically on the symbolic interactions they described. We first present their stories as vignettes using their own words to make illustrative points. Weaving interview data throughout fictional research writing (FRW), we conclude with classroom dialogical groups and restorative circles that illustrate how educators could develop communities where our participants could have seen themselves in others.

Key Words: identity, border crossings, schools, classroom, community, restorative conferencing, symbolic, interactions, interactionist, practices, responsibility, engagement, behaviors, offenders, fictional research writing, dialogical groups, teachers, shame, belonging, bullying, dropout prevention, social, emotional, development, culture, climate


When school infractions occur, antithetical to retribution, restorative practices rely heavily on circle/conferencing group encounters. With pre-conference preparation, victims, offenders, and their supporters encourage a wrongdoer to take responsibility for the infraction. The group then determines how s/he can make amends (Braithwaite, 2000; Braithwaite & Mugford, 1994; Retzinger & Scheff, 1996). This is a social process, theoretically and practically, that intends to mend a school's cultural fabric. Yet flurries of scholars have debated the ennobling or debilitating role that "reintegrative shaming" and subsequent guilt can have on offenders before, during, and after restorative conferencing (e.g., Harris, Walgrave, & Braithwaith, 2004, p. 192; Stokkom, 2002).

Springing largely from Erikson's (1950) seminal work on identity development, some researchers remind readers that an infant's failure to experience autonomy and a toddler's inability to achieve initiative result in negative consequences: shame and guilt, respectively (Maxwell & Morris, 2002). Other scholars make distinctions between the two, claiming one or the other can lead to productive empathy, remorse, and subsequent restorative action (Harris et al., 2004; Moore, 1997; Parker & Thomas, 2009; Retzinger & Scheff, 1996; Scheff & Retzinger, 1991; Tangney, Wagner, Hill-Barlow, Marschall, & Gramzow, 1996). Initially Braithwaite and others painstakingly discriminate between effective and derisive shaming. The former focuses on the offense itself and reintegrates the recalcitrant student back into the school, whereas the latter results in stigmatizing (Braithwaite, 2000). Yet in later work, Braithwaite and other scholars acknowledge that the emotional volatility involved in a restorative conference can be hard to handle and devolve into both the offender or victim feeling negatively shamed (Harris et al., 2004; Morrison, 2006; Stokkom, 2002).

Irrespective of this debate, no restorative process can "re"integrate a victim or offender back into the classroom culture of which s/he never felt a part. In this article we select a group of 14 formerly disaffected students and uncover their stories of rejection and a few of acceptance to determine how educators might have encouraged an inviting classroom community. The reader will meet each of them through individual vignettes laced with their own words. Following the edicts of fictional research writing (FRW), we also use the participants' narratives or paraphrased statements, always nesting both within the original context, to create scenarios of a positive classroom community building circle and successful restorative conference (Spindler, 2008). …

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