Reportback: June 14th PSN: How Can Oral History Support Restorative Justice?

Restorative justice

On June 14th, 2018 Groundswell: Oral History for Social Change hosted an online Practitioner Support Network session with oral historian Alisa del Tufo Luis C. Sotelo Castro, theater professor at Concordia University,

The session focused on what restorative justice is and how oral history can be used to “create a space for the full telling of one’s story in a way that is not timebound or based on value judgements, but a very open and free experience that give’s people the opportunity to tell their story their way.” 

Alisa began by sharing a series of slides that describe what oral history does and how it overlaps with restorative justice. 

Oral history is able to do the following: 

1.    Center the voice of survivors

2.    Serve as a tool that can help us understand and interpret the world and injustice

3.    Provide entry points through which we can discern, reveal, challenge and change narratives.  

4.    Recording the oral history adds significance to a person’s story and allows a certain level of distance from the story for the survivor. 

Oral history and restorative justice overlap in the following ways:

1.    Both center survivor’s stories

2.   Both encourage empathy through deep listening and understanding

3.   Both promote personal discernment 

4.    Recorded oral history interviews can help support survivor/offender dialogue.

Alisa mentioned that sharing recorded interviews of survivors and offenders can help communities understand the grievances involved in a particular situation and can help hold individuals accountable and facilitate reconciliation. Participants were able to listen to stories collected by Threshold Collaborative for a project called  #thisismystory which documented stories of domestic violence survivors. 

When it came time for Professor Sotelo Castro to speak on his experience with oral history and restorative justice, he mentioned quite emphatically that he is not an oral historian. He informed all participants that he is a professor in the theater department at Concordia University and that his use of oral history comes from his preoccupation on how to make public history, archives, oral histories and fine arts available to the general public. “Basically the main concern that I have is how to use performance strategies to give access to archives and in particular oral history archives and in particular how to engage people with the issues raised by stories.” 

Professor Sotelo Castro has partnered with a local organization called Centre de Service de Justice Reparatrice which conducts events in which both survivor and offender stories are documented. For example, the organization brings together three survivors and three offenders of the same type of crime and they facilitate a discussion. The work of the organization led the professor to ask how oral history could be used to better understand survivor's stories. Together with his theater students, he created a class in which survivors record audio of their story and then assign a particular section of their narrative to a student actor. They in turn listen and perform the survivor’s story simultaneously. The survivor is in the audience and the distance created by this audio/visual performance helps them arrive at new understandings of their narrative. 

To listen to the full audio recording of this Practitioner Support Network session, click HERE.

To watch the full recording of this Practitioner Support Network Session, click HERE.