oa Fundamina : A Journal of Legal History - Prolegomenon to a materialist history of restorative justice

Volume 18, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1021-545X
  • E-ISSN: 2411-7870



The proponents of restorative justice regularly attempt to harness history to their cause. They argue that the origins of restorative justice mostly coincide with the origins of human society and that restorative composition is at least as prominent historically as retributive punishment. This essay relies on the theoretical resources of historical materialism to analyse critically the historical claims of restorative justice. The conventional division between prehistory and history is comprehended materialistically, with reference to the modes of production - primitive communist, Asiatic, slave, feudal and capitalist - which have structured the human record thus far. The essay considers humanity's response to transgressions across these modes of production, with a view to assessing the space occupied by composition, as opposed to punishment, in our dispositional history. The materialist analysis of this history discerns a close relationship between composition and commodification, in the sense that usage of the former was dependent upon the development of the latter. Commodification is a specifically historical phenomenon and had no place in our prehistory, which spans the vast bulk of human social existence. In the consequence, the claims that restorative justice has a prehistoric provenance are indefensible.

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