31 Pages Posted: 25 Feb 2003
Restorative justice needs something to restore, and one key thing it is very often said to restore is, in some formulation or other, "community." But "community" is a very dangerous concept. Sometimes it means very little, or nothing very coherent; sometimes it means so many things as to become useless in legal or social discourse; and sometimes the sunny harmonious sound of the very word "community" masks conflict and indeed discriminatory exclusion, or at least arbitrary political arrangements (as in "the international community"). This paper explores the various uses of the "community trope," from "community" as an ideal to "sense of community" as a social goal, to "the community" as a supposedly identifiable social entity to "the [group name] community" as the designation for a certain social, racial, ethnic, or other associations. It argues that greater self-criticism in the use of these tropes is essential to a thoughtful programs in the area of restorative justice. The paper offers such admonitory examples as the "deinstitutionalization" of mentally ill people in the 1970's, an unequivocal social and economic catastrophe that was motivated in part, the paper argues, by widely shared, unexamined notions of how gravely disabled and often abandoned people could be treated "in the community."
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