Book Review – A Restorative Approach to Family Violence: Feminist Kin-Making

Published 15/10/2023
Type Review
Author(s) Jodie Hodgson
Corresponding Authors

Pennell’s A Restorative Approach to Family Violence: Feminist Kin-Making, provides an interesting and unique insight into the appropriateness of restorative justice approaches for addressing violence, a topic that has been widely debated in the field of restorative justice scholarship on an international basis. Pennell is a Professor Emerita of Social Work and director of the Centre for Family and Community Engagement at North Carolina State University in the United States. Her research is situated within the areas of family engagement and restorative justice approaches to addressing violence. Pennell’s work on restorative justice and family violence joins the work of other researchers, such as Godden-Rasul, Westmarland, McGlynn, Stubbs and Daly, seeking to understand and explore the limits and opportunities for the use of restorative justice approaches in the context of urgent and sensitive cases of violence, which are shaped by socio-structural divisions of gender, race, age, ability and sexuality.

The book reflects on Pennell’s experience of delivering a Family Group Decision Making project (FGDM), over 30 years ago, in the Canadian Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The project consisted of facilitating the FGDM conferencing model in the Inuit, rural and urban communities across the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Drawing upon the delivery of FGDM within these diverse communities, the book contends that such a restorative approach is successful in addressing family violence and reversing some of the harm caused by it, but such an approach requires adaptation in order to address the ways in which intersections of social divisions and systems of power shape individual experiences of violence and the FGDM process.

A theory of feminist kin-making is put forward as a perspective in which to apprehend and conceptualise FGDM and other restorative approaches as a viable approach to responding to family violence. The theory rests upon the remaking of relationships and the re-thinking of family violence in a way that does not serve to erase the historical and culturally situated ties of the family itself. This re-thinking of family violence, it is suggested, provides a space in which to transform patterns of abuse into relationships of care and support. For this to work, families are given the opportunity to play a central and active role in this process whilst state institutions and actors are afforded a peripheral role.

The author utilises the method of narrative inquiry to explore the experiences of different families in the three diverse communities. The book is structured around four different narrative threads which Pennell describes as central components of the larger narrative of feminist kin-making discussed above. These are: restoring family and cultural leadership; storytelling for hope and recovery; regulating responsively the healing process; and cascading trust and nonviolence. Whilst the exploration of these narrative threads demonstrates the success of FGDM, Pennell also pairs each of these narrative threads with a contradictory tension which draws attention to the complexity of using restorative approaches to address family violence. She also raises new questions about whether the involvement of state authorities and actors in the family group constrained the family’s ability to actively participate in feminist kin-making. Pennell also provides a thorough and critical insight into the various theoretical perspectives and concepts relevant to the critical issues surrounding restorative justice approaches to family violence and her scholarship more broadly. These include, for example, anti-carceral feminism, resistance to white supremacy, gendered shaming, trust, violence, masculinities and regulation.

Chapter three provides a historical insight into the three communities in which the FGDM project was facilitated as well as the development of the FGDM project. This discussion is interwoven with a discussion highlighting the importance of the socio-political and cultural contexts of each community at the time the project was undertaken. Chapter 4 discusses the findings of the FGDM project in relation to one of the aims of feminist kin-making: resetting family narratives. Here Pennell describes how findings from qualitative interviews with family members ‘enhanced family unity’ (pg:93) and the quantitative analysis of reports from child welfare assessments supported such views of family members. Chapter 5 concludes the book by reemphasising ‘that a restorative approach is remarkably suited to overturning family violence’ (pp.113).

The research study, however, was undertaken over 30 years ago, and thus questions regarding the temporal relevance of the findings the book presents are raised. In addition, there is scope to further explore the extensive body of critical literature surrounding restorative justice approaches to conflict resolution, for example the significance of power relations relevant to restorative processes or the role stigmatisation and the gendered politics of shame may have on the outcomes and individual experiences of restorative justice interventions. Overall, however, the book contributes to existing literature which advocates the use of restorative Justice approaches to family violence whilst also stressing the importance of recognising the significance of how factors such as culture, intersectionality, gender, race and community can shape the FGDM process. Pennell frames such advocacy of restorative approaches for family violence as directly contributing to current debates concerning carceral intervention into people’s lives by questioning whether state intervention is justifiable in cases of gendered and intergenerational violence. As such the book’s conclusions can be situated within contemporary abolitionist theorising and scholarship. Finally, the book lends itself to a variety of audiences within academia, activism and professional practices. The book draws and builds upon a variety of theoretical concepts, themes, narratives and concepts and in doing so provides a unique example in which they can be applied and understood: the example of FGDM as a restorative approach to addressing family violence.

A Restorative Approach to Family Violence: Feminist Kin-Making

Written by Pennell J, (2023) Routledge: ISBN 978-3-031-14375-5


McGlynn, C., Westmarland, N. and Godden, N., 2012. ‘I just wanted him to hear me’: Sexual violence and the possibilities of restorative justice. Journal of Law and Society, 39(2), pp.213-240.

Stubbs, J., 2007. Beyond apology? Domestic violence and critical questions for restorative justice. Criminology & criminal justice, 7(2), pp.169-187.

Daly, K., 2002. Sexual assault and restorative justice. Restorative justice and family violence, pp.62-88.

Godden-Rasul, N., 2017. Repairing the harms of rape of women through restorative justice. In Restorative Responses to Sexual Violence. In E. Zinsstag and M. Keenan (Eds.) Restorative Responses to Sexual Violence (pp. 15-27). Routledge.

Reviewer: Jodie Hodgson

Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Manchester Metropolitan University