Speaking to Scepticism
Jun 05, 2009
In mid-May, I taught one module in a Restorative Justice Diploma course organised by Prison Fellowship of Bolivia and the Universidad Publica de El Alto. Course participants included public servants, members of the military, social workers, and others working in the prison setting. As I talked about the implementation and practice of restorative practices, several students raised questions and concerns about such work.
The theme of scepticism seemed to run through the questions about practice, the need to have an “inter-disciplinary team,” and concerns about the qualifications for facilitators. This could be seen by a statement made by students in both classes that I taught, “You have to understand our culture in Bolivia is different.” This was usually followed by explanations of how judges in Bolivia would never accept such ideas or of how retribution is too much a part of the culture for the theory or practice of restorative justice to have an impact.
Students reacted with surprise as I explained that restorative justice advocates in the United States also face some resistance from judges and individuals tied to ideas of retribution. Descriptions of the work in some Latin American countries such as Colombia seemed to ease concerns, but the idea of Bolivian culture being “different” and “hostile” to restorative justice remained.
What are your experiences with working in cross-cultural contexts? How would you respond to the statement, “Our culture is different and this will not be accepted here?”