Transformative Justice handbook: theory, practices and perspectives
As politically active people from various emancipatory movements and projects in German-speaking countries, we are repeatedly confronted with social power structures that are also perpetuated in our environments and political communities. As symptoms of these power structures, for example, cases of sexist discrimination and sexualized violence regularly become known. Movements such as #metoo and Ni una menos or the incidents surrounding the festival ‘Moni’s Revenge’ have also brought these issues to a wider public in German-speaking countries.
In reaction to such cases, we repeatedly experience an inability of (communal) responses to violence, and instead ignorance and helplessness towards those affected as well as those perpetrating violence. Attempts at action often remain in “fire department politics” from case to case, which, however, do not get to the systematics of internal (let alone overall social) power structures, but merely overburden active persons and often do not achieve the hoped-for purposes. Thus, only recourse to punishment and exclusion, justice and police seem to promise help. But here, too, (patriarchal) structures are perpetuated: affected persons are not believed or a potentially retraumatizing (Compulsory police) procedure is set in motion, which neither enables affected persons nor their communities to come to terms and heal and does not even promote the assumption of responsibility.
Such dynamics weaken and damage political structures and movements, indeed entire communities and our society, which then tend to lose more marginalized people, become entangled in internal conflicts, and ultimately break down as a result. Such dynamics occur again and again because there is a lack of structures that can gather alternative experiences and generate, offer, and share agency. In the search for alternatives, concepts of transformative justice (TG) have recently received attention for the first time in the German-speaking context. Transformative justice refers to approaches to conflict and interpersonal violence that rely on empathy, healing, individual and societal transformation, and the responsibility of the people involved, rather than punishment and institutionalized ways. Concepts of Transformative Justice are based on alternative conflict resolution strategies of indigenous communities such as Restorative Justice and have been developed under this name by Queers and Feminists of Color in North America since the 1980s. They aim to deal with interpersonal violence within one’s own community without exposing oneself to the racist and patriarchal violence and marginalization of mainstream society and the state. This means, for example, not allowing the police as a central agent of patriarchal, queerphobic, and racist violence, as well as the racist and classist industrial-prison complex, to intervene in one’s own community, but working with one’s own actions to make them obsolete. Thus, it is not about taking punishment into one’s own hands, nor is it about apologetics towards interpersonal violence. On the contrary, transformative work aims to empower communities to take conflict into their own hands and find actual help and healing apart from state punishment, to address violent behavior within their own community, and at the same time to transform the structures that make it possible as well as the violent social relations as a whole. TG thus places various power-critical concerns in a constructive intersectional relationship and embeds individual instances of violence within a fundamental analysis of supremacy. TG also offers a practical framework in which previous fields of action, such as support for affected people and political work, are seen as part of a larger whole and are supplemented by fields of action that were previously mostly ignored, such as dealing with people who use violence.
We are a group of people who have experienced patriarchal violence and oppression, such as sexism, homophobia, transphobia, queerphobia, sexualized violence and rape. We have all gained experience in the German-speaking and European left scene and anti-authoritarian contexts, and some of us have been working with concepts of Transformative Justice for many years.
In order to share our experiences and to enter into exchange with others, we would like to publish a handbook on the topic. The book will bring together different approaches to the topic, both theoretical and practical. Our interest is to find, try out and broaden approaches to interpersonal violence beyond police, prison and justice. The book is primarily intended for people who already have prior knowledge of Transformative Justice and to complement the existing basic literature that has recently emerged in German. We want to create space for different formats, from non-fiction texts and interviews to poetry and art. In addition, there will be perspectives and offers for further thinking on transformative ideas. Through its diversity, the book will also open up access for people who are just beginning to deal with the topic or who want to approach it on a theoretical-academic level. Last but not least, the practical relevance in combination with concrete methods also allows access for all people who want to make existing relations of violence in their relationships, structures or self-organizations discussable, reflectable and finally transformable.
The book is intended to complement various existing texts and thoughts on TG as well as to think further and, for the first time, to offer translations of English-language publications on the topic in German. The editors’ collective is also in close contact with other TG practitioners and would like to obtain their expertise in the form of individual texts. With their own introductory and overview texts, the editors’ collective provides a framework for the various perspectives. In addition, the editors’ own texts on various topics will round out the anthology on transformative work.
The publication is to take place in 2022 through a political publishing house. Talks are already underway for this.
We see the book as a particularly important project in the current pandemic, as the need for community cohesion and struggles against racism and domestic violence is currently particularly evident. In addition, the project opens up possibilities for continuing our political work, even though many forms of action and educational opportunities are currently being eliminated. With the book, we want to maintain the rather young discourse on transformative work in the German-speaking world about this time, carry it further and show why answers are more important now than ever.