Sharing and Regulating Emotions in Legal Spaces: Mediation, Restoration, and Reconciliation

31 May to 01 Jun

Coordinators: Susanne Karstedt (School of Criminology and Criminal Justice), Darío Páez (University of the Basque Country), Bernard Rimé (University of Louvain)

Description of the meeting

Legal spaces are seething with emotions, and emotions are salient where justice is sought, and injustice addressed. Even in courts where emotions seem to be constrained by the ‘rational sphere’ created, their presence can hardly be denied. Emotions are even more forcefully present in the quasi-legal spaces of mediation, restorative justice and reconciliation. These spaces, which are linked to, and situated side by side with the justice system, are designed to explicitly address emotions in and through their procedures, and consequently emotions often take center stage. Forgiveness, apologies, revenge and remorse, guilt and shame are all invoked in these spaces and procedures, and those who participate in these procedures in various capacities, will express them, listen and respond to them, and also have to address, handle and deal with them. In particular in transitional justice procedures emotions are salient, given the moral outrage that these crimes elicit, and the experiences of trauma, anger, hatred, and fear that are given voice by participants. In domestic courts and cases of serious crimes, victim statements allow for expressing emotions.

However, the juxtaposition of reason and emotion is deeply engrained in legal procedures and principles (Bandes), and it favours the restraint of emotions and their expressions in legal fora. As much as emotions are a powerful presence in legal settings, as much they are supposed to be restrained in the interest of the legality of the procedure. Furthermore, the quasi-legal spaces of mediation, restoration and reconciliation are designed with the explicit aim of addressing and dealing with emotions of all involved, therefore with comparatively lower levels of required formality, participants are less restrained in expressing emotions, or addressing them. Presently, we know little is about emotions, their dynamics and impact in legal settings in general, and in particular in these quasi-legal settings, where emotions are more free-flowing. There is mixed evidence at best of beneficent outcomes on the emotional experiences of e.g. victims and offenders. In transitional justice settings, these procedures are tasked to reach out to groups and collectivities, they are supposed to impact on collective emotional climates, and shape collective emotions in communities.

This lack of evidence has given rise to a wide range of claims as to the impact of such procedures on emotions, which are particularly exaggerated if these procedures are part of transitional justice, and with often little or mixed evidence on which such claims are founded. Notwithstanding a growing body of academic analysis and reflection, there is a dearth of research with regard to evaluating the role of emotions in legal settings generally and in mediation, restorative justice and reconciliation particularly, and the outcomes that can be attributed to them. What exactly happens with and through emotions in such legal spaces? In which ways are participants and wider communities affected, and what exactly can emotions effect in terms of the aims of such procedures? How are emotions regulated in legal spaces, more generally and specifically in mediation, restorative justice and reconciliation? In particular how do emotional dynamics evolve if such legal spaces are part of transitional justice mechanisms?

The workshop will address these questions with a focus on the legal spaces of mediation, restoration/ restorative justice and reconciliation, in domestic justice systems as well as in transitional justice mechanisms, and for a spectrum of conflicts, ranging from interpersonal encounters and emanating from the private sphere to public conflicts between national and ethnic groups, addressing present and past injustice. The workshop will thus span individual and collective emotions, and their role from mediation e.g. in domestic violence cases to reconciliation between groups in the international sphere, from emotions in private troubles to emotions in public issues as they are brought before such fora and to these legal spaces.

The workshop will address these issues in innovative ways. First, it will explore these questions through the lens of two frameworks, which have recently emerged in the area of emotion and law. These are the frameworks of “emotion sharing” (Rimé) and “emotion regulation” (von Scheve, Gross, Maroney), which both lend themselves to the interaction dynamics within legal spaces as well as beyond. From these perspectives both the nature of legal spaces where emotions are expressed and thus shared, and where they encounter specific boundaries and need to be restrained are captured. Taken together the frameworks can explore tensions and problems, but also the specific advantages that legal spaces offer for accommodating and dealing with emotions, and open up new avenues for research and practice in mediation, restorative justice and reconciliation. In particular the framework of emotion sharing has been used in mediation and training of mediators by one of the workshop organisers (Rimé).

Second, the workshop will provide the environment for interdisciplinary dialogue that this theme requires. The interdisciplinary group will include social psychologists, social and political scientists, as well as socio-legal scholars and experts on mediation and restorative justice. Two of the organisers and their teams are social psychologists. Third, the workshop has a clear focus on empirical research on emotions in these legal spaces; it will bring together advanced and early career researchers to explore directions, outcomes, to take stock and encourage research and research collaborations, aiming at an evidence base on emotions in legal settings. Finally, this research is truly international, spanning research in Latin America, Asia and Europe, covering situations of collective and individual conflict, and a range of different participant groups, including the Basque country. The workshop will thus enhance the contextualization of emotion dynamics

The workshop will address the following key themes and the related questions across its sessions:

1. Legal spaces, collective gatherings and public rituals: Processes of sharing and regulating emotions.
2. The emotions of legal spaces: Guilt and shame, revenge and anger, hope and pride.
3. Responding to and addressing personal and collective emotions: the potential of legal spaces.
4. Trauma, coping, healing and post traumatic growth: Analysing outcome and impact.
5. Collective emotions, emotional climates and group dynamics: Beyond legal spaces and rituals.
6. Expressing, regulating or restraining emotions: Balancing needs and interests.

For more information: 

Malen Gordoa Mendizabal

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