Social Justice. Lesson Reflection Literature & Language Coursework (Coursework Sample)
The paper should be written in the first-person voice (i.e., use “I”). Be sure to write in full, complete sentences. You will be graded for content and quality of writing.
Reflect on one social issue that you are passionate about and think about how it is or is not a social justice issue.
In what ways did reading the information on social justice influence how you understand inequality in general and the social issue you are passionate about?
How might you address or explain this social justice issue from a community psychology perspective?
Lesson notes for your reference:
As you read the chapter, think about this:
When a society does not create a system to protect the people who are marginalized and most vulnerable, when citizens are not able to achieve their capabilities (e.g., achieving good health, having sufficient food, be able to safely move around in a neighbourhood, have positive social interactions), is that society based on fairness and social justice?
What Exactly is Social Justice?
In order to understand social justice we will need to dive a bit into history to unpack the philosophical and political underpinnings including traditional, modern, contemporary and global perspectives of social justice.
The following text is from an article that I (Felix Munger) submitted to an academic journal for publication (the article is currently under review) with my colleagues Tim MacLeod and Colleen Loomis. In the article we argue that community psychologists and those studying community psychology, despite addressing many social issues and injustices, tend to lack historical and contemporary understandings of social justice.
As discussed in lesson 1, the discipline of community psychology has long recognized the role of values as central to the discipline (Rappaport, 1977, 1984; Sarason, 1978). One of the first examples includes the eminent 1977 book by Julian Rappaport titled Community Psychology: Values, Research, and Action. The value of social change, in particular, has a long history in community psychology.
Notably, many community psychologists such as Julian Rappaport have adopted the definition of empowerment provided by Cornell University (1989) that explicitly identifies improving access to resources among individuals and groups who are disproportionately disadvantaged (Kloos et al., 2012).
The following several pages (excerpts from Munger, MacLeod, & Loomis, under review) provide an overview of some of the most important theories of social justice including classical (e.g., Plato, Aristotle), modern (i.e., liberal, Marxist) and contemporary (i.e., communitarian and liberal) concepts of justice and social justice.
I will also present several global concepts of social justice with a focus on the capabilities approach developed by Amartya Sen (1999).
There is a hypothesis about human beings suggesting that humans are driven by self-interest. Identify to what degree you agree with the following hypothesis: human beings are driven by self-interest.
Social Justice: An Introduction
If you were in agreement with the statement that human beings are driven by self-interest, you subscribe to the predominant hypothesis—the idea that human beings as mostly driven by self-interest. Philosophers in support of this idea are Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and Adam Smith (1723-1790) among many others. If you disagreed with the statement you are also correct because there is evidence that people have the capacity to act in pro-social ways.
Acting in pro-social ways means that people sometimes engage in ways that do not serve their self-interest but instead are about fairness and intend to penalize others for being unfair—sometimes even at their own costs (Johnston, 2011).
While less dominant as a hypothesis, the idea of caring for a certain ‘justice for all’ and not just thinking of oneself has a long tradition – as long as the concept of justice itself.
Retributive justice concerns the rectification of injustice by restoring equality (e.g., punishment for theft) (Blackburn, 1996) and is found throughout much of ancient history, ranging as far back as the Iliad (written around 760-710 BCE) and in the Hebrew texts, where justice as retribution is found in God’s punishments of his people, such as the story of Noah’s Arc (Johnston, 2011).
More important to the context of social justice is the concept of distributive justice. Distributive justice is not a new concept. It goes back to Plato (429-347 BCE) and Aristotle (384-322 BCE)! This type of justice concerns the distribution of benefits and burdens among members of society (e.g., property, income, trade) and is about the advancement of harmonious communities and the common social good—a predecessor to the concept of social justice that emerged in the modern period (Blackburn, 1996).
For example, Hebrew writings, as well as some of the earlier writings (e.g., Babylonian), contain a category of justice that “is realized through retribution or vengeance when the rights of the vulnerable – which are not necessarily equal to those of the powerful – are violated” (Johnston, 2011, p. 23). In other words, some of the ancient views of justice focus on the protection of the weak through their property rights, legal status, etc., that vaguely mirror or can be seen as the forbearers of contemporary notions of social justice (i.e., equality). However, it is imperative to note that this version of justice was only within the existing hierarchical structures, which were, at that time, clearly non-egalitarian in nature (Johnston, 2011).
Modern Concepts of Justice
The following text is based on my work with colleagues McLeod and Loomis, currently under review.
Many philosophers in the 17th and 18th century such as John Locke (1632-1704), David Hume (1711-1776), and Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) were concerned with legal and political power in the form of social contracts. Legitimate democratic governments (as opposed to feudal systems) represent social contracts between governments and the general population who trust governments to create stability and security. Such an implied social contract creates obligations among citizens on the one hand and between citizens and the political power on the other hand (Blackburn, 1996). This type of contract became increasingly important in the 17th century in terms of the distribution of benefits in a society with a growing middle-class and an emergent capitalist economy that was creating large inequalities (Kruger, 2004). The realities of the time forced philosophers to consider these social contracts and their effects on the stabilization of society by proposing that benefits were distributed equally and that this distribution was based on the idea of merit rather than—as was traditionally the case—economic or birth status.
Actually, Mindi Foster (an associate professor in the Psychology Department at Wilfrid Laurier University) has demonstrated in her research that the idea of merit-based distribution of benefits / meritocracy, as it was presented in the 17th and 18th century, has been found to be problematic in contemporary studies with Laurier students. “Group consciousness theories suggest that disbelieving that meritocracy exists will enhance psychological adjustment to gender discrimination” (2005, p. 1730).
Contemporary Concepts of Justice
Many of the contemporary discussions regarding justice revolve around questions of equality, human rights, and theories of distributive justice. However, as seen in the Marxist critique of modern theories of justice, notions and concepts of justice differ significantly and require considerations with regards to the political ideology and worldview in which they are constructed. In Justice, Campbell (2001) recognizes this and distinguishes between communitarian ideologies and liberal ideologies.
Communitarian ideologies of social justice
Communitarian ideologies tend to reject the liberal focus on the individual, focusing instead on the functioning of communities, societies, or states. In communitarian ideologies, a community, society or state is not a collection of independent individuals supporting the interests of others, but rather a collective whose values are shared. Among communitarian ideologies, Campbell (2001) proposes two main forms: traditional conservative communitarianism and progressive communitarianism. Traditional conservative communitarianism is aimed at maintaining existing social structures and relationships. Progressive communitarianism, on the other hand, is aimed at eliminating societal inequity (for example gender inequities within the feminist movement) or by “seeing to it that people have what they need to be full and equal members of their society” as in the case of socialist utopian ideas (Campbell, 2001, p. 8).
Liberal ideologies of social justice
Among liberal ideologies, Campbell (2001) proposes two main forms: libertarian ideology and liberal welfare ideology. Advocates of libertarian ideology such as Robert Nozick (1974) argue that justice is about individual rights, freedom, and autonomy, which creates the basis for social systems and protects individuals from oppressive government. To Nozick, in a just society each individual is provided for by virtue of his or her individual rights. Libertarian justice, in this sense, is focused almost exclusively on individual freedom – largely in terms of property rights – while equality only plays a role in terms of the distribution of rights. As such, libertarian justice does not advocate social or economic equality among citizens—in fact, the opposite is assumed (Campbell, 2001, p. 7).
Advocates of liberal welfare ideology, such as John Rawls (1971), also strongly support the importance of individual rights and freedoms. However, unlike libertarian ideology, welfare liberalist ideology only allows for basic individual rights and freedoms and, more importantly, is also concerned with the general distribution of benefits and burdens within society and “the alleviation of the suffering of the poor and disadvantaged” (Campbell, 2001, p. 7).
As you will see below in more detail, John Rawls’ ideas of justice as fairness play an important role in community psychology. But before we elaborate the philosophy of justice developed by John Rawls, let’s make sure you understand these early concepts.
By now you may have started to wonder why you read all this philosophical stuff about justice and social justice. What you have read is meant as an introduction for you to start thinking about the concept of social justice. I think that this history is very important to your understanding of what social justice means today.
Let’s take a quick break and watch an excerpt of a Ted Talk on moral behaviours in animals. In the excerpt, Frans de Waal shows us that animals (humans included) can be compassionate and fair and have a sense of when something is not fair – when someone is treated unjustly. The study shows what happens when two Capuchin monkeys are treated differently; that is, if they get different rewards for the same action. Watch the video, “Two Monkeys were Paid Unequally” (3 minutes). You can skip to 1.34 in the video to see the monkeys in action.
Justice and Fairness: John Rawls
A discussion of social justice would not be complete without consideration of John Rawls’s theory of justice, which is one of the most influential of its kind (Ehresman, 2009; Freeman, 2003). In A Theory of Justice, Rawls (1971) suggests that the current major institutions (political as well as economic and social) contain “especially deep inequalities” (p. 7) given that (depending on the social and economic realities) they privilege some members of society over others.
Veil of Ignorance: The Original Position of Equality
According to Rawls, people will privilege rights and rules according to their social and economic positions in a society. Meaning that if you were born into wealthy family, you would likely want to protect as much of the wealth your family has through low taxes and inheritance. However, if you were born into a family struggling with poverty, you would likely think that those with a lot of money should pay more taxes and maybe you would suggest eliminating inheritance completely in order to redistribute wealth and more importantly, opportunity. If you were born straight, you may potentially care little about same sex rights but if you were born gay or lesbian, you would care a lot about same sex rights and hate crimes.
So, how does one get rid of people privileging rights and rules based on their social and economic positions in sociality? This is why Rawls came up with a way to create a fair social contract (the original position of equality). Essentially, he argues that in order to avoid inevitable unfairness, people make decisions about laws and distribution of goods in an original position of equality without knowing their social status, economic position, or intellectual and physical abilities. Rawls termed this hypothetical situation the veil of ignorance. He believed it would ensure that “no one is able to design principles to favor his [sic] particular condition,” thus resulting in an unbiased social contract, which is the “appropriate initial status quo [in which] the fundamental agreements reached in it are fair” (1971, p. 12).
Following the conception of a just social contract, Rawls (1971) theorized that people in this hypothetical situation (under the veil of ignorance) would then decide on the rights and duties of members in society (principle 1) as well the distribution of benefits and goods (principle 2).
Two Principles of Social Justice
Rawls’s (1971) theory of justice holds two main principles.
Fair Equality Principle
The first principle, also called the fair equality principle, asserts equal rights and basic liberties for all, which too follows libertarian principles of rights and freedoms and is intended to limit the power of government and its institutions.
Rawls considers basic liberties to include:
freedom of thought;
freedom of association and;
equal rights for participation in politics (Freeman, 2003).
Non-basic liberties to Rawls are liberties that are less important such as freedom to own weapons, enter into any contract, and amass, exploit, and dispose resources—liberties that are commonly considered allowable liberties (Freeman, 2003).
Importantly, Rawls considers his first principle of equal basic rights and liberties to be more important than his second principle (the fair distribution of social goods) because it avoids “exchanges between basic liberties and economic and social gains” (Rawls, 1971, p. 63). By ordering the two principles, Rawls ensures that basic liberties such as freedom of speech and freedom of association cannot be exchanged for the greater good of society.
The second principle, called the difference principle,advocates a fair distribution of social goods (income and wealth) where inequality is only acceptable insofar as it advances benefits for all, and in particular the most disadvantaged members of society (Rawls, 1971). Through this principle, Rawls envisions social cooperation where no one person can benefit at the expense of the most financially disadvantaged. Rawls does not champion for full equality of income and wealth, but instead develops an egalitarian system where inequalities are sanctioned if they benefit all members of society: “[inequalities] are just only if they result in compensating benefits for everyone, and in particular for the least advantaged members of the society” (p. 14). As a result of the two principles, Rawls (1971) envisions a society where citizens are free, equal, and cooperative with each other for their personal benefit and, importantly, also for the benefit of the greater good. In this model, inequalities that do not benefit all members of society are considered unjust (Rawls, 1971, p. 205).
Section Two: Social Justice in the Global Context
While traditional, modern and contemporary philosophers were mostly concerned with social justice in the local or national context (e.g., Rousseau, Rawls) the realities of globalization raise new questions about the existence of a social contract among global citizens. A number of current theorists have considered these new approaches to social justice to reflect the current state of local, community and global justice.
For example, in “No Logo”, social critic Naomi Klein (2000) describes numerous local and global political anti-corporate movements aimed at addressing global, social and environmental inequalities.
Such movements include environmental, labour and human rights groups that are particularly interested in rectifying the disruption of social and material prosperity by global manufacturing.
To scholar-activist (and psychologist), Tod Sloan (2005), global capitalism has created a discrepancy between developed countries and the extreme levels of poverty leading to hunger, illness, illiteracy and human rights abuses in developing countries, all of which raise questions of global social justice. Similar to Klein (2000), Sloan (2005) argues for the need to end consumerist ideology in the developed world and to “replace [it] with more consciously chosen and sustainable lifestyles” (p. 320).
Finally, Amartya Sen’s (1999) and Martha Nussbuam’s (2006) ‘capabilities approach’ also addresses social inequalities and social justice in the context of international economic and social development on a more global scale than traditional (local) concepts of social justice. Let’s take a closer look at what Nussbaum proposes.
The Capabilities Approach to Social Justice
Amartya Sen, economist and philosopher, first introduced the concept of capability in the late 1970s. His conceptualization of capability included the complex underpinnings of human flourishing—influenced by the early work of Aristotle and Karl Marx—with an understanding that individuals differ in their capability to utilize available resources and may also differ in the extent that they internalize hardship and difficult circumstances.
Later, in the context of international development of the 1990s, Martha Nussbaum’s (2006) elaboration on Sen’s capabilities approach still fits within the liberal tradition of social justice—but, according to Ehresman (2009), has a stronger claim for the poor than the distributive approach proposed by Rawls.
The Capabilities Approach: 10 Basic Human Capabilities
Nussbaum (2006) proposes ten basic human capabilities that are all reciprocal and of equal importance:
Life (to live a full life)
Bodily health (e.g., good health, sufficient food)
Bodily integrity (e.g., free and secure movement)
Senses, imagination, and thought (e.g., cultivated by sufficient education)
Emotions (e.g., love, grief)
Practical reason (e.g., understanding good and bad)
Affiliation (e.g., social interactions)
Other species (e.g., relationships with animals and plants)
Play (e.g., laughter, fun)
Control over one’s environment (i.e., political and material) (p. 58).
Using these ten basic capabilities, Nussbaum argues “if we ask what people are actually able to do and to be, we come much closer to understanding whether full justice … has been secured” (p. 49).
Section Three: Environmental Justice
In this section we will look at social justice from an environmental perspective. Before we can do that, I need to introduce you to some of the concepts and the link between the natural environment and community psychology.
I am quite sure you have heard that we are facing some environmental problems – in particular the ability to sustain future generations of humans, plants and other natural resources. Global climate change, deforestation, rapid loss of biodiversity, shortage of water, and peak oil will make it more challenging for future generations to sustain themselves and benefit from the positive aspects of nature and its resources (IPCC, 2013).
Environmental Sustainability and Community Psychology
Environmental sustainability has many overlapping components with community psychology. According to James Gustave Speth, a former White House environmental advisor to U.S. President Jimmy Carter and distinguished leader in the environmental movement, “today’s environmental reality is linked powerfully with other realities, including growing social inequality and neglect and the erosion of democratic governance and popular control. […] As citizens we must now mobilize our spiritual and political resources for transformative change on all three fronts.’ (Speth, 2008, p. xi). Similarly, a growing number of community psychologists have started focusing their research on environmental sustainability acknowledging the importance of the natural environment such as global climate change and environmental issues because of the direct links to well-being, social justice, power and oppression (e.g., Riemer & Reich, 2011).
What is Environmental Justice?
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency environmental justice is “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. EPA has this goal for all communities and persons across this Nation. It will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work” (USEPA, 2015).
Congratulations, you have reached the end of Lesson 9 of this course. I hope you enjoyed learning and reflecting about social justice.
You should now be able to:
Explain the history of social justice
Compare and contrast different views of social justice
Articulate areas of social injustice
Define social justice and environmental justice
Describe the veil of ignorance
Define other justice ideas
Articulate how social and environmental justice fit with community psychology
Subject and Section
November 14, 2019
The principle of social justice is not new for us humans. As we’ve learned from the lessons, such concept has existed even during the early human civilizations. As of today, one issue that reflects the role and importance of social justice is the issue of racism. Without the idea of social justice, racist notions and ideologies would have proliferated until these days, since resources and culture would be monopolized by a particular group.
Even though racism seems to be addressed for almost a century ago, the mere struggles, process, and achievements that we have today shows the crucial nature of social justice in transforming society. In fact, racism is still present these days despite being less obvious as compared before. As we could remember, racism was not abolished in a single event. It took hundreds of years and thousands (if not mil
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