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Conceptualisation and articulation of justice: Justice in social theory

Research output: Working paperWorking paper and Preprints

Original languageEnglish
Pages1-30
DatePublished - 1 Dec 2017

Abstract

This deliverable outlines the conceptualization and articulation of justice in social theory. This deliverable will principally focus on sociological and anthropological theories that relate in one way or the other to philosophical reflections on justice and fairness. At the beginning of these disciplines’ developments, their founders were deeply interested in justice related issues, reflecting on legal, economic, social and interpersonal aspects of (in)justice and offering macro- and micro-level interpretations of causes and outcomes of (in)justice and (un) fairness. However, the closer we come to current academic theorising the less these concepts are articulated. Hence concepts of justice and fairness disappeared from social theoretical vocabulary and were replaced by ‘objectively measurable’ concepts like inequality, stratification, social capital and in/exclusion.

We recognise that the boundaries between the empirical and the normative are highly contested, and that social theorists can be concerned with the normative as philosophers can be engaged with the empirical and indeed both are often interested in exploring precisely the relation between ‘what is’ and ‘what ought to be’. We outlinehow different challenges to abstract European moral reasoning have attempted to develop grounded theories of justice. We focus on theories that analyse structurally embedded forms of (in)justice and theories that engage with the perspectives of those who are marginalized and articulate the interdependence of social theory and political philosophy and the continuing relevance of some of the critiques of European theory’s universalism, disembodiment, abstraction, individualism, and methodological nationalism.

Different theories of justice emerge from different standpoints and classic liberal theory has emerged from the standpoint of the white, male, able-bodied property owner, i.e. one that it is partial and is historically embedded in values of independence and freedom. The selected approaches differently emphasize a) relationality and interdependence; b) embodiment/identity and subjectivity; c) mobilities and citizenship. Looking at the literature on care, gender, and interdependence informs critiques on liberal notions of citizenship and outlines a notion of justice that accounts for the interdependence of human subjectivity. The selected literature on identity provides us with a way to understand issues of justice from particular standpoints which shed a critical light on the generalised disembodied understanding of justice. And by drawing on specific critiques emanating from migration and mobility studies we highlight the dominance of the national as the frame of thinking and researching in social theory. We view race, gender, abled-ness, and sexuality as processual and relational rather than as given attributes and shed light on how these social relations fundamentally shape people’s empirical experiences of injustice and the deeply contested relation between the law and justice.

Starting from the position that: ‘A theory of justice and fairness is most plausibly [....] understood as a social construction or contract, rather than a timeless truth.’ (ETHOS application: 20) means that critical social theory is very valuable. The purpose of applying critical social theory is to analyse the significance of dominant understandings generated in European societies in historical context, examining how vulnerable categories of people occur and are represented in the real world, and how such representations function to justify and legitimate their domination.

    Structured keywords

  • Migration Mobilities Bristol

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