Couter Pol20 20 Jennifer20 Llewellyn
Mar 12, 2024

Peace as an Active Goal: Restorative Justice Principles & Depolarization with Jennifer Llewellyn (podcast)

What is the correlation between traditional approaches of justice and the current crisis of polarization in democracies? How might restorative justice principles offer a path toward depolarization?

By Templeton Staff

How might restorative justice principles serve as a strategy for coming together as communities who share national or regional identities?

What is the correlation between traditional approaches of justice and the current crisis of polarization in democracies? Listen to this episode of CounterPol podcast to learn about peace as an active goal.

Jennifer Llewellyn, Director of the Restorative Research, Innovation, and Education Lab, and Professor of Law at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, joins CounterPol podcast host and producer, Ceejay Hayes for a conversation about the potential of restorative justice principles to depolarize democracies.

Restorative justice seeks to repair harm by providing an opportunity for those harmed and those who take responsibility for the harm to communicate about and address their needs in the aftermath of a crime. Restorative justice principles can be applied at all levels, from individual criminal cases to national truth and reconciliation commissions.

"Us vs Them" Dynamics

In the show notes, CounterPol briefly describes affective polarization — the type of polarization that happens in democracies:

"One of the markers of a deeply polarized society is an inability to talk with those outside one's political or social groups. There's a heightening of the 'us versus them' dynamics that make any intergroup interactions undesirable or even impossible. This breakdown in communication contributes to the iterative nature of polarization; we spend more time sequestered in our in-groups and develop stronger animosities towards our out-groups."

Restorative Justice and Breaking the Cycle

"How, then, do we break this cycle?" asks CounterPol. "Restorative justice may have an answer to that. Restorative justice principles are used throughout the world as an alternative to punitive forms of justice and remediation. It brings victim and perpetrator together to communicate why the harm was committed and encourages all parties involved to participate in repairing the damage caused by said harm. In other words, these principles offer a framework for building lines of communication between polarized communities."

Identity, Information Sources, Groups, and Good Judgment

A key aspect of the conversation focuses on the spread of what is labeled misinformation or disinformation. "Identity and where you pick up information are so deeply interlinked," notes Hayes. Perception of information is often influenced by biases or relationships, and may not always present the complete truth. "How do you confront this dissonance in what is accepted as factual? And how do you...invite somebody to think critically through that without it being a threat to their identity," he asks.

One way "has to be increasing opportunities for people to be seen and to matter and to feel they belong to more diverse groups," says Llewellyn. Restorative justice offers an opportunity to shift the focus from blame to responsibility, fostering community-level conversations and understanding to address complex societal issues.

"Rather than demanding something of people, the most important way to begin conversations about coming together is to invite people to find a way to help." - Jennifer Llewellyn

Llewellyn believes "rather than demanding something of people, the most important way to begin conversations about how are we going to come together is to invite people to find a way to help." She says "there are important opportunities to ask people, what do you need? What do you want people to understand? How would you want to come into this conversation if the conditions were ideal?"

Llewellyn sees "part of the beauty" of these restorative processes as "not just that we use them to negotiate and come to decide as groups and communities what is true, how do we make sense of this, how do we move forward on the basis of a shared understanding about what matters about what's happened — that's true in a kind of a practical group-based way. It's also true, though, that those experiences of sitting in processes where you can hear and understand the perspective of how others think about and judge in the world makes the difference." 

Restorative justice processes can help us think critically and avoid the influence that echo chambers have on our judgements. With a nod to Jennifer Nodelsky's work based on that of Hannah Arendt, Llewellyn points out to have good judgement, "you have to develop it, refine it, and exercise it through relational means." She illustrates this with a thought exercise. "Think about when you've made a really hard decision. Usually what you do to make sure that your first blush opinion is actually a good judgment is call somebody who you care about, or whose judgement you trust... Not because you want to substitute your judgment for theirs, but because you want to be able to assess whether your own judgment is good. If we only ever travel in circles of people who look and think like us, we can't actually interrogate our first blush experience against other views because we have no experience of those other perspectives."

If we participate in restorative processes, however, "when we go back on our own, or when we go to our social media," our judgments can now be "informed by those other perspectives, like sort of voices in our head." But "you can't get those if you have no experience of others," she emphasizes. "You can't get those without deliberately creating opportunities in our social institutions, in the places and spaces where we learn, where we pray, where we play, where we work, where we actually get to sit down and hear from one another. If we could see [restorative justice processes] as less threatening, as a gift that helps us figure out what we think, then it's not this kind of wag your finger sensitivity training, putting people in a room and telling them to think better. It's an opportunity to see through someone else's eyes."

Listen to the episode with the above player.

You'll learn about:

  • How punitive justice reproduces systems of inequality
  • How restorative justice shapes one's relationship to the community around them
  • Restorative justice acknowledging historical generational trauma related to racial, class, gender, and xenophobic injustices
  • The organizations that are bringing restorative justice theory into practice in small and large ways.

Click here for a transcript of the episode.

Learn more about Templeton World Charity Foundation's Listening & Learning in a Polarized World (LLPW) priority.

CounterPol (short for "Counter Polarization") is a new podcast from The Cambridge Overcoming Polarization Initiative (COPI). COPI, funded by a grant from Templeton World Charity Foundation with its LLPW priority, brings together scholars from across disciplines to develop a nuanced understanding of how polarization affects communities and how to counter such division, aiming to tackle polarization at its root.

In this first series, CounterPol features conversations with researchers, social media experts, conflict specialists, and peacebuilders to get their take on the characteristics and lived experience of polarization in society. CounterPol goes beyond the political to interrogate why us-versus-them dynamics are so salient, and how we could possibly repair our fractured relationships. Join Ceejay Hayes, Alan Jagolinzer, and Sander van der Linden as they dive into the complex world of polarization.