Carl Stauffer (Co-Director, Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice, Assistant Professor of Justice and Development Studies, Center for Justice and Peace, Eastern Mennonite University, USA) speaks of a fundamental tension in the RESTORATIVE JUSTICE field: whether one believes that RESTORATIVE JUSTICE is a social movement or an emerging social service (practice) field. He writes:

For those proclaiming Restorative Justice as a social movement it is abundantly clear that social movements are best guided by a set of common values and principles for action and that the quickest way to suffocate a social movement is to constrain it to a well-defined set of technical skills and bureaucratic policies. Whilst for those determined to establish Restorative Justice as a qualified social service practice, the need for coherent, evidence-based skill-sets is paramount in order to lay the groundwork for empirical research to go forward and to evaluate the quality of those working professionals who want to practice in the field.

In reality, this form of debate presents an unnecessary polemic in both theory and practice. Firstly, we know that sustained social movements must be strategic, organized and constrained in order to effect durable social change (Pearlman, 2011). Secondly, we know that social movements in their essence consist of, and are bolstered by complex levels of practice. The function of strong, localized practice is to provide the direction, guidance and restraint for social movements to progress with the necessary equanimity. In other words, social movements and social practice have a symbiotic relationship (Opening Address: Restorative Justice in Motion Conference – June 14-17, 2016, Eastern Mennonite University).

For us in South Africa, facing the challenges of skills shortages and severe economic pressures, this challenge is very real. The Restorative Justice Centre believes we need to nurture a vision of the application of restorative concepts and values in a range of fields, while simultaneously always striving for good practice.