Restorative Justice in Transitions: The Problem of ‘The Community’ and Collective Responsibility

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Transitional Context, Restorative Justice, Community, Social Relationships


In transitional contexts, communities face the challenge of recovery and rebuilding from conflict, violence, and oppression, which typically requires moving beyond individual ascription of blame and liability for past harms, to understanding the social contexts and causes of harms, and securing the conditions for just social relationships in future. Given these requirements, restorative justice approaches can be particularly important in transitional contexts. In this chapter, we examine the promise of restorative justice in transitional contexts, and focus on the significant role of the community in such approaches. While the involvement and commitment of the broader community is clearly required for restorative justice processes to succeed, there are conceptual and practical challenges in understanding and operationalising the role of ‘the community’. It can be difficult to ascribe responsibility to a community rather than only to individual agents, defining ‘the community’ in restrictive ways can neglect important relationships, and some individuals involved may refuse to see themselves as part of ‘the community’. In this chapter, we address these challenges, showing that philosophical debates about collective responsibility can serve as one source of insight into the difficulties of conceiving of ‘the community’, and we argue for the need for a relational approach to understanding the community in restorative justice.