In recent years, the field of restorative justice has witnessed a narrowing bias toward "victim-centered" approaches, which evaluate success primarily through crime victims' satisfaction with program outcomes. This focus on "victim-centrality" has diverted attention away from research that could uncover the underlying mechanisms responsible for the effectiveness of restorative justice programs; in doing so, it has also obscured the "relational" roots of the restorative justice paradigm and the challenges that the restorative justice movement faces in garnering public support. This thesis seeks to address these concerns by proposing an explanatory theory of restorative justice that redefines "success" as the affirmation of shared values among all participants engaged in a restorative process. Drawing upon the Social Identity Approach (SIA) from social psychology, this theory posits that justice processes primarily assist individuals in making sense of offenders' identities relative to their own following a transgression. This research study centers on the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup riot, a significant event in Vancouver, BC that prompted strong community support for severe punishments for the riot's participants. Building on an analysis of post-riot "collective narratives" which indicated that riot participants were framed as "outgroup members" by members of the Vancouver community to justify their punishment, I conducted surveys and interviews with Vancouver community members nine years after the riot to explore how considerations of social identity influenced their justice preferences towards the riot's participants. Research findings supported the notion that justice determinations are context-dependent and rooted in identities, affiliations, and societal roles, rather than derived solely from empirical evidence. Study participants' receptiveness to restorative justice was influenced by such factors as their disillusionment with social identities, their desire to understand the riot's underlying causes, and their disappointment with "Vancouver leadership". Their preference for a restorative response appeared contingent on their willingness to identify with the riots' participants, highlighting the relationship between justice preferences and identity dynamics. These findings lay the groundwork for advancing restorative justice as a "relational" theory of justice, facilitating a more comprehensive application of restorative justice principles in contemporary society.
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