DOI: 10.5553/TIJRJ/258908912020003001001

The International Journal of Restorative JusticeAccess_open


A landmark in social sciences: 30 years after John Braithwaite’s Crime, shame and reintegration

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Lode Walgrave, 'A landmark in social sciences: 30 years after John Braithwaite’s Crime, shame and reintegration', (2020) The International Journal of Restorative Justice 3-9

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      In 1989, John Braithwaite’s Crime, shame and reintegration was published by Cambridge University Press. The volume presented its core concept, reintegrative shaming, as a very powerful mechanism in socialisation, in crime prevention and in the response to crimes committed. ‘Disintegrative shaming’, on the contrary, leads to stigmatisation and more deviance. The strength of the theory is that the available criminological theories were synthesised and completed with a moral-emotional dimension in criminality and in responding to crime. While most other predominant theories at that time focused as distant experts on the mechanisms that may lead to crime and delinquency, Crime, shame and reintegration described moral and emotional dynamics within the persons.
      Crime, shame and reintegration was a landmark in the development of criminology and, indeed, of social sciences. It marked the definitive breakthrough of John Braithwaite as one of the most authoritative criminologists of his time. A jubilating book review called John Braithwaite ‘the new Durkheim’ (Scheff, 1990, mentioned in Karstedt, 2005).
      Reintegrative shaming was one of the dominating theories in criminology in the 1990s. It was quoted and commented upon and inspired much empirical research. A study in the Journal of Criminal Justice (1999) concluded that Braithwaite was ‘the most cited scholar’ in international criminological journals in the 1990s. Nowadays, Crime, shame and reintegration is part of the basic patrimony for all criminologists worldwide.
      Contemporaneously, New Zealand introduced in 1989 the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act with Family Group Conferencing as a crucial process in the Youth Justice system. John Braithwaite recognised conferencing as a prototypical practice of his reintegrative shaming theory (Braithwaite & Mugford, 1994). It was, in fact, the first theoretical model to explain what happens in restorative conferencing, and it positioned reintegrative shaming for a long time as a central theoretical approach to restorative encounters. Since then, theorising on restorative dynamics has become more nuanced and sophisticated. The initial theory has been refined, adapted and weighed empirically (Ahmed, Harris, Braithwaite & Braithwaite, 2001; see also the contributions by Forsyth and Braithwaite and by Strang in this issue). There was also criticism, for example that it focused too much on the offender while restorative justice is focused primarily on repairing the losses caused by the offence, especially for the victim (see the contribution by Wemmers in this issue). The theoretical understanding of the dynamics in restorative encounters was also completed by procedural justice theory (Tyler, 2006), interaction rituals theory (Collins, 2004) and other models. While the position of shaming is nowadays probably less central, the moral-emotional dimension in the settlement of crime remains crucial (Harris, Walgrave & Braithwaite, 2004).
      A less quoted, but equally groundbreaking, volume followed in 1990: Not just deserts, written with Philip Pettit (Clarendon Press). This book offers a coherent political vision to ground an option for a kind of criminal justice that would be participatory, leave the punitive premise and would safeguard what the authors call ‘dominion’. In later publications, ‘dominion’ was renamed ‘freedom-as-non-domination’, to mark the difference with ‘freedom-as-non-interference’. In short, it can be seen as the background set of assured rights and freedoms. Legal rights and freedoms are the ‘objective’ element of dominion, but its ‘subjective’ dimension is the assurance that fellow citizens and the authorities will respect these rights and liberties. It makes clear that we depend on each other to enjoy and expand our rights and liberties. Dominion, or freedom-as-non-domination, is a common good. Not just deserts offers a political and criminal justice theory that opens a fruitful track for reflecting on how to frame restorative justice into a societal conceptualisation. The republican theory that underpins the approach presented offers a view on democracy and makes the link between restorative justice and a more participatory form of democracy.
      A third key publication came in 2002 with Restorative justice and responsive regulation (Oxford University Press). Braithwaite demonstrates the multiple layers in restorative justice, from a moral-emotional event on the micro level up to a theory of the state on the macro level. He explores the potentials to implement the principles of restorative justice and of responsive regulation on a far wider social field than just responding to crime. The conception of responsive regulation applies to all aspects of social life. While the social institutions and the authorities must have the capacities to deliver enforced decisions if necessary, they must use these capacities in a very moderated and ‘parsimonious’ way, to give maximal space to the options taken through deliberation at the bottom. With regard to responding to crime and other injustice, the ‘regulatory pyramid’ leaves ample space at the bottom for free deliberation on resolving conflicts and tensions in community; the narrow top presents a very reduced possibility for incapacitation when all other possibilities to cope with serious problems in public life are exhausted. The pyramid provides for the possibility to increase pressure and coercion gradually. But even at the bottom level, the possibility of coercion is already implicitly present (as the idea of ‘minimally sufficient deterrence’ expresses, Braithwaite, 2018). Conversely, wherever and whenever possible, ‘de-escalation back down the pyramid’ is needed. This presupposes a moderated and reserved attitude in all social institutions, especially in the justice system.
      Restorative justice and responsive regulation demonstrates John’s broad, ongoing interests from restorative justice in the response to offending and injustice towards all kinds of regulation with a view on more social justice, more participation and more sustainability in the global community. It yielded the foundation of Regnet (Regulatory Institutions Network), ‘to undertake regulatory research that promotes social justice, fairness, human rights and freedoms, and efficient, ecologically sustainable development …’ ( Such research focuses, among others, on the threat of unrestrained capitalism for a sustainable and peaceful development in the global community, or on the possibilities to reorient tax systems towards a fairer contribution by the very rich and multinationals to the economies of developing countries.
      John Braithwaite is currently also very much engaged in a very large scientific project ‘Peacebuilding and responsible regulation’. Together with two other co-directors, John tries to unravel the dynamics of peacebuilding in communities that have suffered (or are still suffering) collective armed conflicts. It is based on more than 50 case studies from all over the world. The theoretical framework for this endeavour is inspired by restorative justice and responsive regulation.
      Clearly, restorative justice in the strict sense of the term is transcended. John’s commitment to restorative justice is an expression of his much wider dedication to sustainability, including not only a concern for the ecological environment, but also for a world community governed through principles of responsive regulation. It is pursued with an admirable mélange of personal involvement, an open mind, respect, strong convictions, modesty, theoretical perceptions, knowledge of empirical data, all wrapped into a friendly, supportive personality.
      Since Crime, shame and reintegration (1989), the restorative justice community has benefited enormously from John Braithwaite’s participation. With his natural leadership, his personal and scientific commitment, he still is one of the most important players in restorative justice, in its scientific development, as well as in the movement. In numerous seminars, conferences and congresses, he presents new visions and surprising approaches. His open-minded experiences in the non-Western world deepen reflection and debate in the restorative justice community, which is still dominated by Western approaches. John remains a gently provocative, respectful and supportive leader of the community of research and practice, bridging the gap between scientific accuracy, political commitment and involvement in practice.
      Our colleague in the Editorial Team of The International Journal of Restorative Justice, Fernanda Fonseca Rosenblatt, drew our attention to the 30th anniversary of the publication of Crime, shame and reintegration. We agreed that it was the occasion to take stock of John Braithwaite’s contribution to the development of restorative justice as a philosophy, a theoretical approach and as a practice and to the wider social ethical and political vision that inspires not only restorative justice but also a more comprehensive approach to the governance of societies and communities. The result of it is this Braithwaite symposium.
      We have been brainstorming on the possible subjects for the symposium and on possible authors for each of the subjects. The promptness with which the invited authors accepted the invitation may spring partly from Fernanda’s diplomatic way of inviting the authors and from her kind determination in collecting the papers. But it certainly also reflects the great appreciation for John’s person and his work. The variety of the subjects reflect the broad scope of Braithwaite’s thoughts. They deal with shame (of course) and other emotions, social sciences, empirical experiments, political theory, feminism, corporate crime, victims, and much more. Together, the contributions illustrate how thought-provoking John’s work is for contemporary scholars. As a true intellectual adventurer, Braithwaite left the beaten path and opened new innovative ways for (criminological) reflection and research.
      The first two contributions are written by (former) members of his team and link closely to the initial theme, reintegrative shaming. In ‘From reintegrative shaming to restorative institutional hybridity’ Miranda Forsyth and Valerie Braithwaite look at the pathway reintegrative shaming has followed since its original formulation in 1989. They indicate it as a core concept in restorative justice and as an inspiration in the search for justice traditions that ‘represent the best side of humanity’ across the globe.
      Crime, shame and reintegration: from theory to empirical testing’ by Heather Strang gives an account of one sequence in the theoretical construction of reintegrative shaming. When her empirical testing did not confirm the initially supposed opposition between reintegrative shaming and stigmatic shaming, John Braithwaite was keen to revise his theory. Strang presents this sequence as an example of how empirical research and theory construction must remain closely intertwined.
      The next two articles concentrate on the victim. Jo-Anne Wemmers addresses in ‘Restorative justice: how responsive to the victim is it?’ one of the critiques of reintegrative shaming and restorative justice, namely the risk that it would focus too much on the offender, to the detriment of the genuine needs of the victims. She proposes a concept of ‘reparative justice’ that would address victims’ needs and interests more directly.
      ‘From victim blaming to reintegrative shaming: the continuous relevance of Crime, shame and reintegration in the era of #MeToo’, by Shadd Maruna and Brunilda Pali, takes a feminist standpoint in the exploration of the concept of shame and emotions in restorative justice. Referring to the current #MeToo phenomenon, both authors ask relevant questions regarding the applicability and relevance of reintegrative shaming.
      Jacques Claessen digs deep into the moral emotions at the core of restorative encounters in ‘Forgiveness, compassion and loving kindness in restorative justice’. The ground is the view that ‘all people are connected and consequently depend on one another’. Referring to John Braithwaite, he advances empathy as the key to forgiveness and compassion and wonders which ‘general and universal value’ is underlying the option for such restorative justice.
      In ‘Citizens and denizens’ Clifford Shearing reflects on a wider dimension of John Braithwaite’s work, his vision on responsible citizenship, which is ‘required in democracy as an inclusive form of governance’. At the heart is nodal governance in ‘islands of civility’, produced by active citizens and ‘exploring possibilities that enable these islands to become continents’.
      Also rooted in political theory, Philip Pettit reflects on the republican way of thinking on democracy in ‘A republican dispersion of powers: an essay in honour of John Braithwaite’. His central question is ‘how to constrain the state, so as to render it non-arbitrary?’ The key is ‘contestatory citizenship’. He compares the moderate version of mixed constitution (a parliamentary democracy) with the radical version (presidential democracy) and opts for the first model.
      Richard Sparks comments on ‘Crime, shame and reintegration as a challenge to the social sciences’ in his article with this title. What Richard especially draws from John’s work is his indifference about disciplines as well as about the separation of the descriptive and the normative. Social sciences are ‘concerned’ about the world and its social problems and must transcend the disciplines in the exploration of these problems.
      The last two contributions show John Braithwaite at work. In ‘Feminism, justice and ethics: reflections on Braithwaite’s commitments’ Kathleen Daly describes her cooperation with John in co-authoring an article with him, and she witnesses his openness towards the feminist approach to crime and justice. Daly concludes her reflections with two fundamental questions: ‘How do we treat wrongs with the seriousness they deserve without relying on harsh, exclusionary types of punishments? How do we do justice in an unequal society?’
      Kieran McEvoy and Allely Albert describe in ‘John Braithwaite: standards, ‘bottom-up’ praxis and ex-combatants in restorative justice’ how influential John’s personal intervention was in winning the authorities over and making them accept the involvement of IRA ex-combatants in restorative practices to challenge cultures of violence and to complement the limits of top-down state formalism in justice delivery.
      John Braithwaite has the last word in this symposium. ‘His master’s voice’ sounds loud and clear. His comments on the articles above are an occasion to clarify and/or to illustrate ideas, visions and theoretical concepts and to document them with empirical data and experiences. The article is typical of the wide lens through which John looks at society and at the role of social sciences in it. In his conclusion, John Braithwaite, locates his Crime, shame and reintegration on the pathway of an everlasting conversational trajectory. For me, the most intriguing subject for further conversation is his answer to Jacques Claessen’s question about ‘the most general and universal value behind restorative justice’. I read: ‘freedom’, or ‘domination reduction’. My question is whether freedom should not be contextualised more in a normative frame. Oriented towards social responsibility? Let the reflection continue.
      The section ‘Notes from the Field’ shows John Braithwaite in the field. Ali Gohar witnesses of John’s commitment, personal courage and keenness to learn in his meetings with peacemaking initiatives in Pakistan. Aleksandar Marsavelski gives an account of John Braithwaite’s work in the former Yugoslavia for the project Peacebuilding Compared.
      Albert Dzur’s conversation with John Braithwaite is another witness of the broad cosmopolitan perspective. John is not only a theorist. He has been there, observed it personally, shuttling between the micro and the macro, the personal and the global, between academic seriousness and commitment to social movements, between erudition and feet on the ground. Personally, I was very happy to read the very last sentence: ‘The (restorative justice) brand is useful, but it is more powerful interconnected in a respectful way with the brands of other social movements’.
      Two reviews of recent books (co-)authored and co-edited by John Braithwaite complete this issue. In John Braithwaite and Bina d’Costa (2018), Cascades of violence: war, crime and peacebuilding across South Asia, reviewed by Vesna Nikolić-Ristanović, a glimpse is caught of John Braithwaite’s commitment to the massive project Peacemaking Compared. It is an account of the broad vision, the wide ambition and the search for data and experiences to underpin them. Susan Sharpe, in her review of Gale Burford, John Braithwaite and Valerie Braithwaite (eds.) (2019). Restorative and responsive human services, especially appreciates the extension of the concept of responsive regulation and its link with restorative justice.
      All in all, we believe that this issue offers a thought-provoking collection of excellent papers. Of course, we could have invited other authors. To reflect John’s global perspectives and his worldwide impact, we could have asked, for example, a Japanese academic on shaming, a middle-eastern scholar on how John’s ideas are being integrated into the development of restorative justice in Islamic countries, a continental European scholar on restorative justice in civil law regimes, or a scholar from Bangladesh on John’s peace work.
      There is no doubt that social sciences, especially criminology, would have been different if John Braithwaite had become a politician (as he risked becoming at the beginning of his professional life, Walgrave, 2015) and not an academic. His social theoretical work on criminality and law enforcement is deeply rooted in his social ethical conviction. Not only has it inspired descriptive, explanatory and empirical investigation, it has also expanded towards a vision on the global political and macro sociological context. At the same time, he is an authoritative pioneer to include social sciences in a movement for more sustainable social life through more participatory democracy, more social justice, more safety and peace (Parmentier, 2011). The bottom line is his personal dedication to the ‘just cause’, a sustainable planet and the quality of social life imbued with respect, solidarity and active responsibility. He is the personification of these virtues.

    • Ahmed, E., Harris, N., Braithwaite, J. & Braithwaite, V. (2001). Shame management through reintegration. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    • Braithwaite, J. (2002). Restorative justice and responsive regulation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    • Braithwaite, J. (2018). Minimally sufficient deterrence. In M. Tonry (ed.), Crime and justice: a review of research (Vol. 47, pp. 69-118). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    • Braithwaite, J. & Mugford S. (1994). Conditions of successful reintegration ceremonies. British Journal of Criminology, 34, 139-171.

    • Braithwaite, J. & Pettit, P. (1990). Not just deserts: a republican theory of criminal justice. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

    • Collins, R. (2004). Interactional ritual change. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    • Harris, N., Walgrave, L. & Braithwaite, J. (2004). Emotional dynamics in restorative conferences. Theoretical Criminology, 8(2), 191-210.

    • Karstedt, S. (2005). Introduction of John Braithwaite for the Prix Emile Durkheim. Philadelphia: International Society for Criminology.

    • Parmentier, S. (2011). Laudation for John Braithwaite. Delivered at the occasion of John Braithwaite’s honorary doctorate at the KU Leuven on 4 February 2008. In S. Parmentier, L. Walgrave, I. Aertsen, J. Maesschalck & L. Paoli (eds.), The sparkling discipline of criminology: John Braithwaite and the construction of critical social science and social justice (pp. 7-10). Leuven: Leuven University Press.

    • Tyler, T. (2006). Restorative justice and procedural justice: dealing with rule breaking. Journal of Social Issues, 62(2), 307-326.

    • Walgrave, L. (2015). Significant others: John Braithwaite. Tijdschrift over Cultuur & Criminaliteit, 5(2), 58-66.

This introduction has been written in close interaction with the other members of the Editorial Team: Ivo Aertsen, Albert Dzur, Fernanda Fonseca-Rosenblatt, Stephan Parmentier and Estelle Zinsstag.Contact author:

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