International Journal of Speech Language and the Law, Vol 28, No 1 (2021)

A study of psycho-correction discourse in community correction under restorative justice from the perspective of individuation

Jie Zheng
Issued Date: 15 Oct 2021


Psycho-correction in community correction in China includes activities helping the offender return to society, such as psycho-counseling, legal counseling, criminal psychological correction and personality disorder treatment. The present research studies the psycho-correction discourse in community correction, which is used to help the offender eliminate criminal mentality and other psychological problems, build legal awareness, improve social adaptability and reintegrate into society. Psycho-correction in community correction is still developing in China, and it is faced with many problems in practice. Psychological correction is not only a research topic of psychology, but also is closely related to law, pedagogy, sociology, linguistics and other disciplines. The present study explores the psycho-correction discourse in community correction by integrating linguistic theory and the theories of educational sociology and law.

The present study investigates its research object from the perspective of Individuation Theory (Martin, 2008; 2010) under restorative justice (Zehr, 1990; Martin and Zappavigna, 2016) to find out the patterns of language used by the psycho-correctors in practicing psycho-correction, the social semiotic resources utilized by the offenders to exhibit their changes and reintegration and the practice of restorative justice in psycho-correction discourse. To achieve this objective, three research questions are raised: What are the generic features of psycho-correction discourse in community correction? How is the offender discursively corrected by allocation and affiliation with the unfolding of the genres in psycho-correction discourse? From the perspective of restorative justice, why dose the discursive practice need to be conducted in psycho-correction discourse?

Methodologically, adopting the method of ethnographic fieldwork and SFL approach to discourse analysis and taking the corpus software UAM Corpus Tool 3.3k as the analytical tool, this study analyzes twelve psycho-corrections (including six psycho-counseling sessions and six legal counseling sessions). Based on Individuation Theory and combined with Sydney School approach to genre (Martin and Rose, 2008), Legitimation Code Theory (Maton, 2014; 2019) and Iconography (Tann, 2013), this study sets up an analytical framework, which demonstrates the analysis of psycho-correction discourse in community correction from the allocation and affiliation of Individuation Theory and the practice of restorative justice in psycho-correction discourse.

Data analysis shows that psycho-correction in community correction consists of two macro-genres: psycho-counseling and legal counseling. The former is composed of three elemental genres: problem diagnosis, problem decomposition and problem elimination, and the latter also contains three: knowing crime, pleading guilty and showing repentance. Both of the two macro-genres have distinctive linguistic realizations.

The Individuation analysis of psycho-correction discourse is conducted with the unfolding of the genres. With UAM CorpusTool 3.3k, the present study analyzes the characteristics, categories and distribution differences of attitude resources used by the offender in psycho-counseling and legal counseling. It is found that Specialization dimension in Legitimation Code Theory offers a means of identifying the offender’s personae. With the unfolding of macro-genres, the offender’s persona changes from a self-abandoned offender, an alienated offender, a frustrated offender to a capable offender in psycho-counseling, and from a culpable offender, a stubborn offender, a repentant offender to a redeemed offender in legal counseling. Combined with Semantics dimension in Legitimation Code Theory, the fluctuation of semantic waves in the legal counselor’s utterance scaffolds the offender’s cumulative knowledge-building by channeling legal knowledge into his or her repertoire, expanding the offender’s repertoire and helping the offender obtain a correct and complete understanding of the conviction and sentencing.

While the offender’s repertoire expands and persona changes with the advancement of the genres, the affiliation also strengthens in psycho-correction discourse. It is found that the psycho-corrector uses the bondicons stored in the offender’s repertoire as Oracle to evoke the offender to share the values and beliefs (Doxa) around which the community (Gemeinshaft) rally. Then, the offender aligns with the community and becomes a member of it, facilitating his or her reintegration. Iconography explains how the psycho-corrector scaffolds the offender to share values and to foster alliances with members of a particular social group and then to affiliate to that social group.

The discursive practice in psycho-correction discourse is conducted under restorative justice. Restorative justice emphasizes tearing off the criminal label, the prevention of recidivism and the offender’s full reintegration into society. It is found that the offender’s persona change along with the expansion of his or her repertoire is the process of de-labeling. The reduction of recidivism is one of the goals of restorative justice. The unpacking and repacking of semantic waves in the legal counselor’s utterance channels legal knowledge into the offender’s repertoire, helping to prevent the re-offending. Semantic waves prompt the offender’s mastery of legal language, which is a kind of powerful knowledge indispensable for the offender’s participation in a higher level of social life. The discursive practice of iconisation in psycho-correction discourse that realigns the offender with the community by sharing communal values is conducted under the restorative tenets of reintegrative shaming, relation restoration and empowerment.

In the present study, the complementarity of Individuation Theory with other theories enhances the explanatory power of Individuation Theory, explaining how the psycho-corrector corrects the offender’s problematic psychology and behaviors with discursive strategies, and how the offender uses repertoire resources to achieve change and reintegration. This study realizes appliability stressed by SFL through explaining linguistic phenomena and problems in the field of penalty execution and ameliorating the psycho-corrector’s counseling language. The findings of this study will guide the psycho-corrector’s discursive counseling strategies to better serve community correction. It is also hoped that this study may shed light on more applications of restorative justice in judicial practices in China.

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DOI: 10.1558/ijsll.19076


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