Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Justice Performed: The Normative, Transformative, and Proleptic Dimensions of the Restorative Justice Ritual

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posted on 2021-12-08, 08:06 authored by Pointer, Lindsey

As William Everett notes, “Symbols and rituals are indispensable for our efforts to contain, transform, and resolve conflicts.” For this reason, the performance of justice is highly ritualized. Two contemporary examples of this performance are the mainstream criminal trial and the restorative justice conference, each of which has a distinct ritual structure. This thesis explores these two ritual structures and how they fulfill, or fail to fulfill, the multifaceted human need for justice. By employing ritual theory in respect to these two justice performances, an analytical framework will be developed that describes how each ritual’s process affects its function.  Theories of ritual are specifically concerned with the functions that rituals have in society. This thesis proffers three dominant ritual functions related to the performance of justice: the normative, the transformative, and the proleptic. Rituals have a normative function when they provide a sense of safety and security through establishing a set way of doing things and reaffirming communal values. Transformative rituals offer a means of attaining significant and sustainable change at personal and relational levels. Proleptic rituals are capable of envisioning and temporarily creating a different possible societal future by generating social and power relationships that can challenge the status quo. Not every ritual performance is oriented to achieving these various functions, yet it will be argued that the nature of justice demands attention to all three.  This thesis applies this analytical framework of the various functions of rituals to two justice performances: the criminal trial and restorative justice. It proposes that while the criminal trial fulfills the normative function through upholding laws and associated values, it commonly falls short of creating the conditions for personal or relational transformation, nor does it anticipate a future where a greater measure of justice is achieved. By contrast, it is common for restorative justice conferences to result in transformative outcomes for participants and to provide a foretaste of a more just social order, inasmuch as they subvert hegemonic power arrangements.  By advancing our understanding of the ritualistic features of justice, this thesis can help to answer three prominent questions that have beleaguered the restorative justice field. First, how is the personal and relational transformation apparent in the restorative justice process achieved? This will be addressed through an application of the theories of ritual put forth by Victor Turner and Émile Durkheim to the restorative justice process in order to better understand and describe its transformative function. Second, can restorative justice have a normative impact that satisfies the wider public, particularly in comparison to the criminal trial? This criticism will be considered in light of a normative ritual framework along with the alternative structures that have been suggested to remedy this issue. Finally, given its primary focus on making amends at an interpersonal level, does restorative justice routinely fail to address larger, structural injustices? By examining the expansion of restorative justice from a justice reform mechanism to a wider social movement, I will argue that the proleptic function of the restorative justice ritual has played a key role in this expansion by temporarily creating a “restorative society in miniature” that participants often emerge with a desire to experience again and extend to others, thereby enlarging the original scope of the restorative justice intervention.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Restorative Justice

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



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Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Government


Marshall, Chris; Noakes-Duncan, Tom