Aligning Action Research and Restorative Justice: Highlighting Epistemological Tensions


  • Brunilda Pali Institute of Criminology, KU Leuven



participatory action research, conflict, social justice, restorative justice


The epistemology of participatory action research sets a high agenda for pursuing and engendering change oriented towards social justice. This article is based on a participatory action research project, anchored both in the principles of restorative justice and action research. The project aimed at mobilizing local participation, knowledge and resources and creating restorative dialogue and encounters in handling social conflicts in intercultural settings in four different countries. Restorative justice and action research are highly compatible in terms of some of their core principles, but the project revealed important tensions that this article will reflect upon. Zooming into a town in Hungary – one of the four action research sites – the article addresses these tensions by focusing on two central themes. The first theme, encountering the silence and micropolitics, relates to the challenges created in the site, due to our encounter with its micropolitics and the existing ‘culture of silence’ about social conflicts. How should researchers enter a site, how far should they stir the depths of conflicts and disturb the silence and status quo in order to unearth injustices, multiply narratives, and stage different perspectives? The second theme, rethinking conflict participation, relates to the tension created between a more naïve idea of participation and a more antagonistic one. In restorative justice, it is often assumed that if everybody were included and participated in restorative processes, staging their different perspectives, then consensus could be reached. But considering the possibility that different views cannot be reconciled, and power relations cannot be suspended, we need to rethink the meaning of conflict participation in restorative praxis.