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Season 2 episode 5 of the Resist + Renew podcast, where we talk about some frameworks of justice, and reflect on them in relation to conflict.
‘Whose responsibility is the conflict? Is it the responsibility of the people within the conflict…or is it the responsibility of the whole group? Because they are nodes within a network of a group – they are in conflict, so the group is in conflict’
Show notes, links
An explainer for the different approaches to justice that we use to reflect on conflict in this episode:
Note: these words are used in many different ways. Some use restorative justice (RJ) and transformative justice (TJ) interchangeably; some see RJ as between TJ and punitive systems; some see RJ as focusing on individuals and TJ as situating individuals in structures etc. Words are multivalent – don’t get too bogged down on “the right definition”.
A quick summary of the episode:
- People choose the tactics they use to respond to conflict in service of a broader aim.
- These different approaches all come up when thinking about what tactics to choose to respond to conflict. People may respond because they want to disappear a problem through punishment, or because they want to bring cohesion back to a group.
- So it’s useful to have some shared language to discuss in your groups the different tactics you use. What are your rituals around conflict in service of?
- Deeper responses to conflict should look at the people in your group, the relationships between people, and what need to change in the wider structures.
- Conflict can be one of the most visible instances of structural power in a space. Working with conflict in a group can be a path to address how those structural powers impact the group and the relationships within it, in a way that could help shift or transform things.
Some useful links:
- Brick By Brick, a new book by Cradle Community on prison abolition and transformative justice.
- A collection of resources on transformative justice at Transform Harm
- Fumbling Towards Repair, a workbook for community accountability facilitators. A small bit from that book, to give you a flavour:
- our sister facilitation collective Navigate have a conflict facilitation booklet (from back when they were called Seeds For Change Oxford).
- See our “What is facilitation?” podcast episode page for more general facilitation resources.
This is Resist + Renew,
the UK based podcast about social movements,
what we’re fighting for, why and how it all happens.
The hosts of the show are
and me, Ali.
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Welcome back to the Resist + Renew podcast. This is another Toolbox episode with a focus on conflict. Last episode we looked at some of the common ideas around conflict, which might be floating around in people’s heads and groups; which may not be that helpful as to impacting how we approach conflict.
In this episode, we’re going to take a look at some ideas around conflict, which are often held up as better, as more appropriate ideas around conflict, particularly in social movement spaces. These might be ideas like restorative justice, and transformative justice. But as they’re used quite a lot, we’d like to take a bit of time to explore what those words mean a bit. So yeah. Gonna get a bit more clear on that. Sami, are you up for giving us a bit of a spiel around these frameworks of justice?
[Laughs] Yeah, I can, I can definitely start with a bit of a spiel. So I think so I guess a few things to note so like, yeah, we mentioned terms like ‘transformative justice’ and ‘restorative justice’, I guess, like one thing to note is like, often these things are brought in as ideas that are a lot broader than things that you’ll talk about, relating to like conflict and working with conflict and moving through conflict and resolving conflict and all that kind of stuff. It’s often, they’re often used in far more broad, far more societal ideas of, like, how justice works, rather than like approaches to conflict, necessarily.
But I think there is a lot of commonality between the approaches. And like, so I think that’s what we can flesh out a little bit here is like, when we talk about transformative justice, what does that mean, in practice? What does that look like? How’s that structured? And therefore, like, how is that relevant to conflict? This may be like, how we can approach it. And to go back to the caveat from episode one. Like, again, often these things that use in the context of like, often more abuse, like dynamics would be more like in terms of like negotiating abuse dynamics, and things like that. And like, that’s not what we’re talking about here today, there’s a lot of chat that you could also find and read and listen to about applying these ideas to different areas. But that’s not what we’re talking about now.
Before we get started, it might be just useful to say that, because we’re talking about a few different frames and different aspects of those frames, just listening along could get quite confusing. So we have created a visual resource to go with this. It’s like a table. And it might be helpful while you’re listening along just to have a look at that. If that’s something you’re able to do. We will mention it again later. But yeah, just just before we get started might be helpful. But yeah, back to you, Sami, to start.
So I guess to start, yeah. So, people have like, there’s like a framework that people will use when talking about, like, different ‘models’ of justice is often a phrase people will use where people will put three different approaches to justice out there, and then use them to talk about different ways that different people approach justice. So one of them is transformative justice, one of them is restorative justice, and then there’s a third one, which people use a lot of different names for often kind of synonymously, which would be like punitive justice, or like carceral justice. And sometimes there’ll be scare quotes there. Sometimes people say like, carceral injustice, or people talk about, like, retributive justice and things like that.
So those are like kind of three, three different models of conflict. And I guess a way to kind of differentiate those different models of conflict is having a think about like, what are the like, what are the different strategies that those different types of those different approaches to justice, employ, to achieve the justice that you’re talking about? And I guess, like maybe starting from like the kind of carceral justice/retributive justice/punitive justice one, because that’s like, that’s the model that’s used a lot in the society that we live in. Like, it’s what’s used in our so called ‘justice system’, which involves like courts, policing, and exclusion from schools, all this kind of stuff. And, like the strategies that are used in those forms of justice are strategies of like, retribution, of punishment of like, ‘someone did a bad thing and so a bad thing should be done to them’ to, like, balance the scales-type thing. So that’s like, that’s like a, an overarching strategy that kind of comes up a lot in punitive justice. And there’s also often something around like, incapacitation, incarceration, things like that: like, isolating people who have done harm in some way from the wider collective as like a method of justice. And that’s, like, the logic that underpins prisons, and also the logic that underpins, like school exclusions and a lot of those other forms of like, incapacitation, and remove, like removing stuff: disappearing the problem basically, is one way of thinking about it with.
With, with, with like prisons especially but probably other areas, people talk about ‘social death’ as like the punishment, like the reason prison is so horrible is because you are ripped from your communities and ripped from your families and loved ones and put away from them and like those connections have been severed. And that’s part of, part of the punishment, I guess.
Yeah, yeah, I definitely think that’s true. And like, I think there’s also a frame that I know like Angela Davis has used before and other people, which is like ‘prisons are like a way of society for disappeared to disappear its problems, basically, like. And, and in that frame, often the problems are, like, people. It goes back to that, like, essentialist idea, like: there are bad people that do bad things, because they’re bad people. And so the strict like the strategy is that we get rid of those bad people, and we put them somewhere else. And that’s like our solution to the problem.
And so that’s like, those are the kind of strategies. And then like, there’s a lot of different tactics within that you can talk about like prisons, you can talk about like all these different tactics of those approaches to justice. But then then maybe thinking about like some of the ones that often use more positively as terms you’ve got like restorative justice and transformative justice. And there’s often like a bit of a crossover in some some of the strategies between restorative and transformative justice: some people use them synonymously. Some people use them to mean different things depending on like, what kind of background you come from, and like what I guess, like, what tendency you come from and stuff as to how you use the words.
But like, often, in both of those approaches to justice, there is at least an intention, often in the strategy for prevention. So like the aim of restorative justice, transformative justice, is to try and prevent some kind of harm from happening. And I guess the differences sometimes between restorative and transformative justice is restorative justice often has a strategy around like, reparation, I guess, like trying to, in the sense of like trying to repair things that have been broken. So a restoring like restorative approaches, if you look at things will, which will call themselves like restorative justice projects and things like that, then you’ll often see things which will be around like, like mediation to bring people together and try and like rebuild links that have been broken between them and things like that, which is that it’s like a classic, like restorative justice-y type thing.
And then you’ve got maybe how transformative justice can differ from restorative justice is that often like, and this isn’t like a clear cut thing. But like, I never had a better word for this, like, so I often rely on the word like rehabilitation, but there’s often there’s something in that that is around like, kind of trying to do something to change the situation that people have been in, in some way. And like, that’s not really what rehabilitation means. But like, often, those are the kind of words that get deployed to do it.
And I think those are like, those are some like broad, different ways of thinking about those different models of justice. But I guess, like probably the thing for conflicts that are most useful for reflecting on is thinking about, like, what are the purposes of those different types of justice? Because often it’s those purposes, it’s those aims, that are what lead people to choose the tactics that they’re choosing within those models, like broad models of justice.
And like, for some stuff, it’s pretty simple. Like, you can you can describe the purpose in some ways of like, punitive justice, carceral, justice, things like that. It’s like it’s a it’s a it’s a very punishment-based purpose. And there’s many other purposes, if you talk to an academic-y person, they can give you a problem. There’s more detail around that. But like really fundamentally, like punishment is a really core thing in it.
And when it comes to restorative justice, then often like kind of there’s a there’s a cohesion, there’s a community cohesion, ‘rebuilding things back to the way it was’ type thing.
And then in transformative justice, transport with justice, in at least one summary of a history came out of resisting that tendency for like, ‘we need to get things back to the way they were’ with a critique of like, well, ‘what if the way they were before it was shit too?’ Like, and so often there’s an element of the purpose of transformative justice being trying to, like, change the structures of stuff.
And often that’s around like trying to, unlike maybe undoing structural power, or like removing structural harms, or things like that, is often one of the like, purposes of transformative approaches to justice. So like removing it from just an individual focus, I think people will say is like, often you’re fighting on two fronts. When you’re doing transformative justice work. It’s both, like, focusing on people as individuals, and focusing on the structures that they sit within. And like, you kind of have to do both of them at once. Because either one on its own is rarely enough to be able to make progress, which I guess links back to that chat we were having in the last episode around culture change, and all those kind of things.
That’s super helpful. I find that especially that distinction between the kind of reparation, the reparative, and the transformation. Thanks. I’m finding that really interesting. And I guess I’m kind of curious, like, with the reparations part, there’s like a desire to go back to the time before it was broken, and therefore maybe there’s some kind of indication of what it was like back then or before the harm was m- was happening. And maybe we have information about like, what the relationships were like before harm happened. So you know, if I repair in this way, I can go back to that state. And I guess, like apology and acknowledgement might often, like, fit somewhere within there. But if we’re, if we’re in the, like, transform the system transform the way we relate to something else, like not back to something before, what are we trying to transform it to? Like? What does that look like? How do we what’s the desired goal, as it were?
Yeah. So I think often like and I think the reason that I think we thought it would be helpful to bring this in when talking about conflicts, though like conflict is not normally where these things are deployed, is because I guess there is, there is a shift within, like, you mentioned at the start. There’s like a shift within the movements that we’re linked to in the groups that we’re part of where we are seeing a lot more language around in this, like, abolitionist upswing around people been like, oh, yeah, like we believe in transformative justice, we believe these things, etc. And feeling not necessarily super clear what people mean by that.
And I think how that relates to, like, dealing with, like, kind of conflict situations is thinking about like, so it’s both the, like, maybe like your classic restorative tactics of like, having some kind of, like, facilitated conversation between some people that are in, in disagreement, there’s like tension between them, like the definition we gave at the top of the series, like disagreement difference or argument between people, as what conflict means. Like, so like some kind of facilitated conversation between those people could be a thing.
But then there’s also making sure that then you’re making space of like, well, what are the, what are the structures that we have within the space within this group within this culture that led to this conflict playing out the way that it did? And what could we do about that, to try and like, prevent something like this happening again, and to try and move us closer to the group you want to see in the world you want to see? And I guess that’s where it comes into things. Like, going back to a previous example, like, if the reason that people are beefing in a meeting is because they both want to discuss something and there’s not enough time on the agenda, like, there is a the way that like you both seem to be struggling with this specific interaction. And so like, Let’s spend time on that. And let’s try and support you both through it. And there’s a like, why is it the case that we don’t have time to talk about things that people think are important? Like, what is it that we’re, is this a problem with prioritisation? Is this a problem of expectations? Is this like, is this a problem of resource within the group? And so like trying to zoom out and be like, what, what are the, what are the kind of more structural impact like structural drivers that led to the situation? And let’s make sure we also focus on them. So it’s not like these people beefed in a meeting, because they fundamentally don’t like each other. And instead, it’s like, we created a situation where people did things. And it helps.
I think the reason that it’s often linked to transformative justice is not just because you’re trying to transform the systems, but also because what you’re trying to do is you’re then de-individualising the problem and been like, it’s not because you’re broken that you had this disagreement. It’s not because you’re bad. It’s not because you’re wrong. It’s because we’ve created a culture between us in terms of our interactions that that have made that a reasonable path you take and that’s not in line probably with the values you hold the other person holds them, that we, I, everyone else in this group holds and so like, let’s have a think about how we can structure things better. To be more in alignment with those values.
Does that make sense?
Yeah, definitely, that’s really helpful.
It makes me think of a conflict process or some kind of document I saw of a different group. And one of, it had like a series of questions. And part of it was about, like, What’s going on between the people? And then there was like, further down the list was like, how did the group contribute to this situation? And I feel like that’s the zooming out. That’s like, it’s a bit of a shift in perspective, right? It’s like, okay, like, it’s not really, it’s not just about them. It’s about how we’ve constructed the situation. I think that’s like, quite a bit of a quite a shift.
Yeah, I’ve like I’ve heard people talk before as like, it’s like it being for some people like a question of responsibility, and where the responsibility lies, like, whose responsibility is the disagreement? Is the conflict? Is it the responsibility of the people within the conflict? Is that the responsibility of the ‘incorrect’ (scare quotes) person in the conflict? Or is it the responsibility of the whole group? Because they are, they are, they are nodes within a network of a group. And they’re in conflict. So the group is in conflict. And that is like a that is a group responsibility to be able to work on. I guess it’s like, one way of, one way that people bring those thoughts in.
That all makes a lot of sense. So: so far, you’ve talked about the strategy of the different frameworks. You’ve talked about the purpose of these different frameworks. There’s also like, the frame, like what, what, what aspects of conflict do they look at? Could you say something a bit about that, maybe?
I can definitely give it a go. I think like, I think restorative justice has kind of like the simplest frame, I guess, is like, often the phrase that’s used in restorative justice approaches to conflict, like restorative approaches to conflict is ‘conflict resolution’, you’ll get words around like, ‘we’re trying to resolve the conflict’, ‘we’re trying to solve it’, ‘we’re trying to, like, repair things’, it’s a lot about like, it really goes into that, like getting it back to how it was before, like removing the harm that has been introduced by this conflict-type stuff. So like, yeah, there’s a real like, conflict resolution-y thing in there.
And it’s in reaction to that, that you’ll see the buzzworthy suffer on like ‘conflict transformation’, rather than conflict resolution, all this kind of stuff, even though like that phrase like that doesn’t really mean anything. The phrase doesn’t mean stuff when you just swap one of the words out, but like, I guess it’s trying to allude to a broader thing.
I feel like in like, in like, like carceral, punitive retributive justice, I guess there’s a few frames are employed, like there’s a really strong rule breaking one, which we talked about in the last one of like, and I think we will continue to talk about in this session of like, we had an agreed set of rules, and you broke them. So regardless, from what is regardless of what is a good idea, and like, what is in line with our values and things like that, there’s a rule that has been broken, and therefore there needs to be like a punishment because a rule has been broken. So like, there’s a real like, rule breaking type frame thing.
And I feel like there’s also one about like, basically, there’s, I don’t have a good word for it. It’s probably smarter academic stuff out there. But I feel like there’s a real thing around like security and safety, in that, in that frame that’s used around like: when there is a threat, and when there is a danger that comes from people disagreeing with each other, that should be moved out of sight, out of mind, it’s the like, we shouldn’t have an argument in a meeting, not because we think it’s not productive, not because we think it’s not helpful for the people. But because meetings are the places where we do those things, we do those things outside of meetings for, for reasons, like we present a more positive front in the space type stuff, I think is where that can come up in groups.
And it’s often what leads to that thing of like, it quite easily shifts into: ‘this person is a disruptive person, this, this person is a dangerous person, and so we need to move them out of the space. We need to, we need to make sure they’re not part of the group anymore,’ and things like that.
And that’s not to say that like, like, I am a person that thinks like, at some point, like breaking links with people within groups like is a strategy that you will have to deploy in some situations. Like I’m not an absolutist about it, but like, I think it’s also true that like that’s often deployed a lot more as a solution in in some groups that I’ve seen, then like maybe I think is was necessary or whatever we can talk about the details of that, I guess another time.
And then the last one on that list, like transformative justice, I guess has this like, I think of it as like having like a systemic frame of like, the, the frame that it brings us thinking about systems rather than just people. And it’s like people are part of the systems that part of these groups, they’re part of these networks. And we should analyse them as if they’re part of these groups and part of these systems and part of these networks. And I think is a frame that lends itself a lot better to thinking about like, like, you can obviously talk about like restorative approaches to conflict, which can acknowledge societal and structural racism and things like that, but like it in some, in some approaches, and some ways of framing it, like, it does feel a little bit like an addition rather than kind of embedded in the like: ‘There are these structures that affect how we interact with each other, and so let’s think about how these structures in affects how we interact with each other, and what we can do about it.’ What’s in our control, what’s not, etc, etc.
Yeah, that I find that really helpful to think about. And I guess, like, it touches back into something we were just saying about, like, sometimes you will need to break links with people within groups. And, like, the idea of seeing the system, because I think there’s something that I maybe have fallen into a bit with thinking about transformative justice is like, it’s so on the systemic levels that like, well, you can explain away any behaviour that is harmful because of what’s happened to someone or the society that we’re raised in or whatever it might be. But like, I’d just love it, if you could say a bit more around like how transformative justice like does deal with like day to day harm or harm that happens in groups, that is still acknowledging the system, but doesn’t like, avoid or ignore the individual responsibility within that.
Yeah, and I think it’s like, a big question, right?
And I guess, like, and part of that is because I think often what people are looking for with questions like that is they’re looking for like a ‘one size fits all’ answer of like, what is the way that we can like, do that, agnostic from the group or whatever.
And the reason that is difficult, and this is a thing that will come up a lot in transformative justice tech chats, aside from thinking specifically about conflict is, like, there’s. We’re not talking about like, trying to come up with one solution. Like it comes up a lot in terms of like, well, what do you like, what, if you don’t want police, then what do you want? Like, what are you going to replace the police with? It is like, partly the flaw there is they’re assuming that replacing the police is our intention.
But like, I think it’s that there is often a way of thinking that’s like we need there is like a one generic approach to this that can be that can be applied to different situations. And I think often the problem with that is like a lot of those solutions rely on like, relationships within groups. If we’re talking with conflict within groups specifically, like, knowing what the way that you can raise something with a with a person that can both highlight to them, that like you, like you think they’re acting in a way that they will think is inconsistent with their values when they thought about it later. But that’s maybe not what they’re thinking about now, like the’re too in the moment, there’s all the heat, etc. So I’ve been like, I don’t think you’re acting in the way that you want to act now. And that’s often what a lot of a lot of these things boil down to like, is, I don’t think you want to do this, rather than like, I don’t think you should do this. And I think that that’s so individual, right? Like, that’s not a thing like how I would say that to Ali would be maybe how I’d say it to you would be different from how someone would say to me, because like we all interact with these things, and these ideas so differently. And I think what it really requires, especially within the context of groups, is to make sure that there are those relationships, and there are those things that you can build on. Because that’s really what to be able to do things like this, you need to have that basis to be able to interact with people and to be able to know people and to be able to, like, have thoughts of like how you can raise things sensitively in a way that will like enable them to be able to hear it, and all that kind of stuff. Like some people, you’ll maybe mention something in a meeting, if you think they’ve said something kind of shady, some people, you would never raise it in a meeting. And you’d always talk to them about it later. Because you just know because of the kind of person they are, they will just immediately shut down if you raise it in the meeting. Whereas if you talk to them about it later, you’ll be able to, like, have more of a chat about it, or whatever.
Like, and it’s so individual, right? So I guess refusing to give a solid concrete answer of the way that you can do that more providing like some things to think about, but I guess then we can talk about it. This will come up in the future practical toolbox episodes, like so I think it’s a question that we should maybe come back to in all of our future things. Was that a persuasive evasion?
Very, very, very nicely done. Yeah. Great. Thanks for the challenge, I think that’s good.
Wow, I should be a politician
Okay, I think we’ve been talking around these different frameworks and frame, strategy, purpose. And if you’re just listening to this, it could be a little bit confusing. So just want to point out that we are going to provide a specific resource for this episode, which will include a table and maybe it’ll be a nice Instagram graphic or something who knows I haven’t got there yet, but it might be something that you want to refer to while thinking these things through, because like, translating and mapping these things across could be a bit confusing. So just to like, encourage people to like, step back and have a look at things at the same time as the sing along, if that’s something you’re able to do, that could be quite helpful.
I guess to say that like, the real, like condensed version of the point of that entire chat, I think, is to be like, people choose the tactics that they choose in terms of, like, working with conflict, whether the aim is moving through it, resolving it, whatever it is, like, they choose those tactics often in service of a broader aim. And because they think that those tactics support the values of the group or themselves or the space, or whatever.
And I think, so what this, this kind of framing is transformative, restorative, punitive justice, and these different kind of like purposes of like, punishment and cohesion and undoing structural power, and these frames of like rule breaking versus conflict resolution, are the things that come up when people choose tactics. They’ll choose tactics, because they want to punish rule breaking, they’ll choose a tactic because they think that, like, resolving the conflict is the aim and things like that. And so this, hopefully, is providing a bit of a language that will then allow people when they’re thinking of what tactics are a good idea, which is where the conversation is going to go after now and in the future episodes, you’ve got a bit of a way of analysing that tactic selection. Being like, is this a good tactic? And what what what does a good tactic look like? Like, what is what does being ‘good’ mean? What is it in service of, what we’re trying to achieve? Is this effective? for what? to do what?
Great, yeah. So just to add something for myself, like, when we’ve been doing some of the planning around this and talking, we’ve had quite wide ranging, wide ranging chats around like these frameworks of justice. And where I was kind of at before this episode was that lots of people talk about transformative justice. What groups actually do is tends to be in the restorative justice, because of time or whatever, or because of some of this, like the wider, like, literature and ideas around transformative justice is like transforming the system: big system. And that’s just like, way outside what most groups tend to focus on or have the capacity to, alongside, like handling conflict in their groups or like the, like, aims or whatever.
But I think what I’m taking from this is like, systems can, systems are fractal, they have different sizes. So like the group system is still a system which can be transformed.
And it doesn’t have doesn’t necessarily have to be like, society system level. And, I still think lots of groups who probably use transformative justice or like have the values that we’re kind of talking about and other groups that we work with and stuff. And the way that I approach it is like a blur between the two. I don’t think the the distinction between restorative and transformative is like super clear all the time. So I think, going forwards, we’re probably embedding a bunch of assumptions from both of those areas, and less of the, less of the punitive stuff. So yeah, if that is broadly the case, like, maybe we want to just say a bunch of assumptions that we think we will be working with going forward, because this is the end of ramble-y frames of chat of around conflicts. And we’ll be going into tools, tools, tools.
So yeah, I guess like just to start with, then, like some of our assumptions that we’re carrying forward around conflict is that: doing conflict in this restorative or transformative or mixed way, can deepen relationships so that we can hear each other, understand where we’re coming from, think about why we’ve done what we’ve done. And what we need to maybe do differently as individuals in relationship but also what needs to change in the wider system of our group.
And I guess that is, that kind of approach or that kind of thought is alluding to the fact that conflict and engaging with conflict is a way through to get to repair on the other side, and that might be resolution led, like repairing the relationships to how things were before, or there might be deeper repairs around looking at what kind of things led to that situation arising in the first place.
Yeah, and I think, I guess there’s an assumption I guess it links what you’re saying there is like: conflict and like working on/with conflict in groups can be… it’s often, like, conflict can be one of the most visible instances of like structural power in a space. And so, like, working with conflict can be a solid avenue within a group to be able to think about how those structural powers impact the spaces and impact your group. And that will give you an opportunity to be able to do something about it. And like we talked about before, like maybe it’s not your favourite way to deal with structural racism, or whatever, but like, it’s a way that you’ve got and so like, use it if it comes up.
Cool. Does that cover all of them?
Yeah, I think so. Just want to also say a massive thanks to Sami for leading this episode. A lot like and your knowledge on this has really enriched this conversation because we’re a lot asking questions, so thank you for holding, holding the floor.
It’s okay, this is good. It’s been a while since doing the whole like kind of transformative justice 101 trainings because of pandemic. So this has been good practice for me to get back in the headspace. [Laughs] Appreciate it.
Thanks for listening to this episode of the Resist+Renew podcast.
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That’s it for this week. Catch you next time!