DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.24889 ISSN: 2692-7691

Restitution versus repatriation: Terminology and concepts matter

Ciraj Rassool, Victoria E. Gibbon
  • Paleontology
  • Archeology
  • Genetics
  • Anthropology
  • Anatomy
  • Epidemiology



Through museum collecting practice, the deceased, possessions, plants and animals were turned into objects, removed from their communities and places of origin, and were segregated and divided into museum classificatory systems. In the decolonial work of embarking upon purposeful and proactive acts of return, the terms “repatriation” and “restitution” have often been used interchangeably.


To assess the terminological differences between repatriation and restitution.


Here, we critically discuss the politics of these terms and present an argument for restitution as restitutionary work.


Repatriation refers to the legal, administrative and logistical matters of returning across national borders. However, restitution is a preferred concept highlighting deeper meanings of return to the proper owner, with restitutionary work being time‐consuming, emotional, often painful, enriching acts of restoration, and transitional justice. Restitution is about the embodiment and empowerment of choice over all aspects of the return.


Here, we argue that terminology matters. While restitution may involve repatriation, repatriation is not a substitute for acts of restoration embodied in restitutionary work.

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