Academic journal article Dalhousie Law Journal

The Structure of Dialogue: Exploring Habermas' Discourse Theory to Explain the "Magic" and Potential of Restorative Justice Processes

Academic journal article Dalhousie Law Journal

The Structure of Dialogue: Exploring Habermas' Discourse Theory to Explain the "Magic" and Potential of Restorative Justice Processes

Article excerpt

The theory of restorative justice has always lagged behind practice. As such, gaps in theory have developed, existed over time and continue to exist today, particularly in terms of explaining the so-called "magic" that occurs within the encounter process. By exploring the theories of Jürgen Habermas, it is suggested that new frameworks can be developed that can help theorists think about and explain the experiences central to restorative processes. This paper focuses on Habermas' theory of universal pragmatics and communicative action as a means to better understand the workings within the encounter process that give rise to common understanding, agreement, learning, and strengthened relationships.

La théorie de la justice réparatrice a toujours été à la remorque de la pratique. Par conséquent, des failles sont apparues, et les écarts qui se sont creusés au fil du temps existent toujours, particulièrement pour ce qui est d'expliquer la réaction qualifiée de « magique » qui suit le processus transactionnel. Il est suggéré que, grâce à l'étude des théories de Jürgen Habermas, il serait possible de créer de nouveaux cadres d'action qui pourraient aider les théoriciens à se pencher sur les expériences au coeur du processus de réparation et à les expliquer. L'article examine la théorie de Habermas sur la pragmatique universelle et les énoncés performatifs comme moyens pour mieux comprendre les mécanismes du processus transactionnel qui mènent à une compréhension commune, à l'entente, à l'apprentissage et à des relations plus solides.


I. Habermas ' theories of universal pragmatics and communicative action

1. The role and function of language

2. The three-world concept

3. Validity claims and argumentation

II. Communicative action and the experiences of learning and bonding within the restorative justice process

1. Learning potential

2. Binding or bonding force

III. Explaining the restorative encounter process

1. Framework to understand the restorative encounter process

2. The significance of Habermas ' theories for restorative justice


An important aspect of the restorative justice process is a commitment to the bringing together of all parties involved in a wrong in a face-to-face encounter, to allow the parties to dialogue about the wrong committed and search for ways to make the wrong right. Despite encounter being at the heart of any restorative justice process, what happens within or during the face-to-face restorative process remains to some extent ambiguous and unclear. Authors have described the experiences witnessed in encounters such as strengthened social relationships, personal transformation, learning, and coming to a common understanding.1 To date, however, there is little explanation of the basic workings of the encounter and how it produces the above-noted experiences. Theorists have instead often simply skimmed over this element with vague terminology, or have taken a romanticized approach referring simply to the so-called "magic" that happens within or during an encounter.2 Still others suggest that there is "something significant" going on, but acknowledge that we are still struggling to explain it. As Paul McCold suggests:

Facilitators of restorative processes regularly observe a personal and social transformation occur during the course of the process. There is often the strong sense that something significant is occurring which has very little to do with the facilitator and operates at a subconscious level among the participants.


Today we struggle to understand what it is we see, although those observing the transformations that can occur in restorative processes would agree, we "know it when we see it." A shared language will eventually develop from how we interpret what we see and how we express those visions to others.3

Although never writing on the topic of restorative justice, the theories of German philosopher and sociologist Jürgen Habermas may provide a helpful framework or perspective from which to explore, further examine, and begin to understand the "something significant" that is occurring during the encounter process. …

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