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social justice

  The distribution of society\'s benefits and burdens, and how this comes about. Social justice is the concern of various disciplines, in particular moral philosophy and political philosophy. The scope of the field, and the variety of perspectives adopted, is illustrated in a number of overviews, for example Arthur and Shaw (1991), Kymlicka (1990) and Sterba et al. (1995). There has been a resurgence of interest in social justice in geography in recent years. Geographical perspectives on social justice are informed by work in other disciplines, but there is also a specifically geographical interest in distribution among populations defined by the places in which they live, i.e. territorial justice. A separate but related field concerns geographical aspects of the implementation of justice in the procedural and especially legal sense (see justice, geography and).

In the first volume of his Treatise on social justice, Brian Barry (1989) states that \'a theory of social justice is a theory about the kind of social arrangements that can be defended\'. While social justice is a very broad concept, attention is often focused on the distribution of income and other sources of need satisfaction on which the material conditions of a population depend. To echo Barry, it is inequality or unequal treatment that requires justification. People\'s common humanity and capacity for pleasure and pain is a plausible starting point for egalitarianism, with such individual differences as strength, skill, intellect, family, race or place of birth being regarded as fortuitous and hence morally irrelevant to the way people should be treated.

However, it does not follow that there are no grounds on which different and unequal treatment can be justified. Some people may be deemed to deserve more or less of what there is to distribute, for example if they produce more than others or occupy positions of special responsibility. Greater or lesser contribution to the common good is often built into the justification of unequal rewards in relation to quantity or quality of work performed. Need is another frequently invoked criterion for unequal treatment, some people being in greater need than others (e.g. for certain services).

A common point of entry into the question of what specific conditions justify unequal treatment is to try to identify an initial state of affairs which can be agreed to be just, and to argue that any outcome will be just, providing that it arises from a just process. An example can be found in the libertarianism of Robert Nozick (1974). If peoples\' holdings of property (such as land and natural resources) have been justly acquired, for example by settling land that belongs to no one else or purchasing it by mutual agreement, and if they subsequently use this property justly to acquire further wealth, for example by free trade or mutually agreed employment of others, then the distributional consequences can be justified, no matter how unequal. In short, a distribution is just if it arises from a just prior distribution by just means: a process sometimes termed \'clean accumulation\'. There is thus no particular pattern to which a just distribution should conform. Such an argument is sometimes used to justify the distribution generated by free market forces, assumed to embody a just process, though the justice of the prior distribution (including how people actually acquired their property in the first place) may not be closely scrutinized.

An alternative starting point is to be found in social contract theory, the best-known contribution to which is the work of John Rawls (1971). Although subject to extensive subsequent critique, Rawls\'s theory of justice is still extremely influential, and figures prominently in some subsequent texts on social justice (e.g. Barry, 1989) as well as in a persuasive attempt to sketch out a theory of human need (Doyal and Gough, 1991). The approach adopted by Rawls was to try to deduce the social contract to which people would subscribe in particular circumstances. He began with an \'original position\' or \'state of nature\', in which people would have to approve of institutions under a \'veil of ignorance\' as to their social position, e.g. whether they would belong to the rich or poor. Not knowing who, and where, they would be in society, most people would be prepared to entertain only a narrow range of life chances, if any inequality at all, because they could end up among the worst-off (though a few might be prepared to take the risk of ending up very poor for the sake of the chance of being very rich). Rawls\'s statement of principles runs as follows (Rawls, 1971, p. 302):

First Principle

Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive total system of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty to all. Second Principle

Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both: (a)to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged, consistent with the just savings principle [required to respect the claims of future generations], and

(b)attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity.

The central distributional points here are that inequality can be justified, providing that society\'s poorest benefit from this, and that there are equal opportunities to acquire the positions of advantage. Rawls\'s formulation represents a strengthening of the familiar principle that contribution to the common good justifies favourable treatment: it is contribution to the well-being of the poorest that matters.

An interesting elaboration of Rawls\'s original theory has been provided by Peffer (1990), writing from a Marxian perspective. He departs from the position, common among Marxists, that morality and social justice are ideological constructs deployed by a ruling class to legitimate their position of privilege, to recover what he sees as the moral theory implicitly (for the most part) in Marx\'s voluminous and occasionally contradictory writings. He concludes with a modification of Rawls\'s theory, which is claimed to entail Marx\'s moral principles but to be more complete and adequate. The main effect is to prioritize peoples\' rights to security and subsistence, to make more specific certain liberties and opportunities which should prevail, and to further constrain the permissible degree of inequality by requiring that this should not exceed that which would seriously undermine equal worth of liberty or self-respect. However, some Marxists are suspicious of any suggestion that Marxism and liberal egalitarianism may share such common ground, preferring to maintain the critical edge of Marx\'s critique of capitalist social relations (or class) as the fundamental source of injustice.

Works addressing social justice in geography with some rigour have been rare. By far the most influential early treatment was by Harvey (1973), who argued that a just territorial distribution of income (broadly defined) would be such that: the needs of the people of each territory would be met; resources would be allocated so as to maximize interterritorial multiplier effects, thus rewarding contribution to national economic good; and extra resources would be allocated to help overcome special difficulties stemming from the physical and social environment, which could be considered as cases of merit. He also proposed that, in a just distribution justly arrived at, the prospects of the least advantaged territory would be as great as possible: a clear echo from John Rawls. Smith (1977) subsequently reviewed a range of perspectives that might be applied to the task of judging distributions as better or worse.

Until quite recently, preoccupation with distribution characterized much, if by no means all of the discourse of social justice in moral and political philosophy as well as in geography. The implications are explained by Young (1990, p. 25) as:

The distributive paradigm implicitly assumes that social judgements are about what individual persons have, how much they have, and how that amount compares with what other persons have. This focus on possession tends to preclude thinking about what people are doing, according to what institutionalized rules, how their doings and havings are structured by institutionalized relations that constitute their positions, and how the combined effect of their doings has recursive effects on their lives.To Young, social injustice concerns the domination and oppression of one group or groups in society by another, not merely the distributional outcomes. This involves not only formal institutions, but also the day-today practices whereby subordination and exclusion are realized and reproduced in the form of what is sometimes termed cultural imperialism. Democracy is central to social justice, but formal political rights conceived merely as \'one person one vote\' are not sufficient for the full democratization of society. She argues that we require real participatory structures in which actual people, with their geographical, ethnic, gender and occupational differences, assert their perspectives on social issues within institutions that encourage the representation of their distinct voices.

Other critiques of mainstream (\'liberal\') theories of social justice, with their emphasis on distribution, come from communitarianism and feminism. The former asserts the good of community, which should render justice a remedial virtue to be called upon when collective ethics fail, while the latter has generated a critique of the emphasis on justice in moral philosphy by proposing an \'ethic of care\' (see ethics, geography and).

While direct consideration of social justice in geography remained muted for much of the 1980s, interest in such issues as discrimination on grounds of race and gender raised relevant questions. However, at the beginning of the 1990s geographers began to return to the more explicit discussion of social justice. Something of the diversity of geography\'s reengagement with social justice is indicated in Laws (1994), in papers on substantive issues such as population migration (Black, 1996) and disability (Gleeson, 1997), and in treatments of theoretical topics (Gleeson, 1996; Smith, 1997). There is also work in the established tradition of territorial social justice (e.g. Boyne and Powell, 1991, 1993).

Central questions in contemporary social justice concern the possibility (or otherwise) of reconciling alternative theoretical positions, and the possibility (or otherwise) of transcending the specificity of historical-geographical circumstances. Working out questions of social justice in particular situations, such as postsocialist eastern Europe and post-apartheid South Africa, might be considered exercises in the contextual thickening of a thin theory with claims to universality, after the fashion suggested earlier. Social justice as a process of moving towards equality, constrained by Rawls\'s difference principle, has been proposed as such a theory (Smith, 1994).

Providing rigorous foundations for a general theory remains a major challenge, which Harvey (1996) still finds daunting in the face of postmodern attitudes. However, he remains committed to foundationalism: \'the task of critical analysis is not, surely, to prove the impossibility of foundational beliefs (or truths), but to find a more plausible and adequate basis for the foundational beliefs that make interpretation and political action meaningful, creative, and possible\'. Hence: \'We need critical ways to think about how differences in ecological, cultural, economic, political, and social conditions get produced … and we also need ways to evaluate the justice/injustice of the differences so produced.\' Harvey poses the tension between particularity and universality, asking whether it is possible to talk about justice \'as anything other than a contested effect of power within a particular place at a particular time\', but recognizes that \'Justice appears to be a foundational concept that is quite indispensable in the regulation of human affairs.\' He sees signs of discontent with the impasse generated by the relativism of particularity, leading to attempts to resurrect general principles of social justice which nevertheless acknowledge the force of poststructuralist critiques of universalizing theories, exemplified by Young (1990). Harvey emphasizes the importance of human similarity (rather than difference) in alliance formation among seemingly disparate groups. He concludes:

Only through critical re-engagement with political-economy, with our situatedness in relation to capital accumulation, can we hope to re-establish a conception of social justice as something to be fought for as a key value within an ethics of political solidarity built across different places.The incorporation of nature in Harvey\'s revisitation of social justice reflects an emerging interest in environmental justice as part of a movement involving geography with environmental ethics (see ethics, geography and), or what Low and Gleeson refer to as political ecology. A major concern is the uneven distribution of hazards generated by waste disposal, industrial plants and other noxious facilities or processes. Cutter (1995) makes a distinction between environmental equity and environmental justice. \'Environmental equity is a broad term that is used to describe the disproportionate effects of environmental degradation on people and places\', which implies an ideal of equal sharing of risk burdens; environmental justice is a more politically charged term relating to policy, connoting some remedial action to correct an injustice imposed on a specific group of people. The environmental justice movement represents a shift in focus from the \'white upper-class environmental rhetoric\' surrounding the preservation of distant pristine habitats to a more localized strategy of environmental improvements closer to the homes of affected residents, who are usually those of lower socioeconomic status and belonging to ethnic minorities (cf. NIMBY).

It is important to bear in mind the distinction between justice as broad sets of social institutions and their outcomes, on the one hand, and specific practices on the other. Gleeson (1996) notes the opportunity for confusion between concerns for due legal process (procedural justice; see justice, geography and) and a range of perspectives on social fairness (social justice). He argues that notions of social justice have been deeply problematized by neo-liberal and postmodern critiques, with the latter encouraging political equivocation: \'The “meta-silence” of the academy contrasts with the chorus from the global political grassroots which is proclaiming market injustice, manifested as socio-spatial polarisation and environmental degradation. … It is really postmodernism which most imperils our journey back to justice in geography.\' His attempt to provide pointers towards a meta-ethics of justice for geography underlines the importance of the search for more rigorous foundations for effective critique of local practices which invite the judgement of injustice.

Some fundamental questions are being raised in geography\'s return to social justice, more closely connected to theoretical work in philosophy than before. But there is still scope for new empirical research revealing the injustice actually experienced, by almost any notion of fairness, in such day-to-day problems as spatial access to sources of need satisfaction and unequal exposure to such hazards as environmental pollution. As market relations become almost universal in the organization of human economic and social life, it is especially important to continue to subject their outcomes to rigorous interrogation, and to deploy the discourse of social justice in devising and creating a better world. (DMS)

References Arthur, J. and Shaw, W.H., eds, 1991: Justice and economic distribution, 2nd edn. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Barry, B. 1989: Theories of justice. London: Harvester-Wheatsheaf. Black, R. 1996: Immigration and social justice: towards a progressive European immigration policy? Transactions, Institute of British Geographers NS 21: 64-75. Boyne, G. and Powell, M. 1991: Territorial justice: a review of theory and evidence. Political Geography Quarterly 10: 263-81. Boyne, G. and Powell, M. 1993: Territorial justice and Thatcherism. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy 11: 35-53. Cutter, S.L. 1995: Race, class and environmental justice. Progress in Human Geography 19: 111-22. Doyal, L. and Gough, I. 1991: A theory of human need. London: Macmillan. Gleeson, B. 1996: Justifying justice. Area 28: 229-34. Gleeson, B. 1997: Community care and disability: the limit to justice? Progress in Human Geography 21: 199-224. Harvey, D. 1973: Social justice and the city. London: Edward Arnold. Harvey, D. 1996: Justice, nature and the geography of difference. Oxford: Blackwell. Kymlicka, W. 1990: Contemporary political philosophy: an introduction. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Laws, G., ed., 1994: Special issue: Social (in)justice in the city: theory and practice two decades later. Urban Geography 15(7). Low, N. and Gleeson, B. 1998: Justice, society and nature: an exploration of political ecology. London and New York: Routledge. Nozick, R. 1974: Anarchy, state, and utopia. New York: Basic Books. Peffer, R.G. 1990: Marxism, morality, and social justice. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Rawls, J. 1971: A theory of justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Smith, D.M. 1977: Human geography: a welfare approach. London: Edward Arnold. Smith, D.M. 1994: Geography and social justice. Oxford: Blackwell. Sterba, J.P., Machan, T.R., Jagger, A.M., Galston, W.A., Gould, C.C., Fisk, M. and Solomon, R.C. 1995: Morality and social justice: point/counterpoint. London: Rowman Littlefield. Young, I.M. 1990: Justice and the politics of difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Suggested Reading Harvey (1996). Smith (1994).



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