Social Justice
eBook - ePub

Social Justice

Theories, Issues, and Movements (Revised and Expanded Edition)

Loretta Capeheart, Dragan Milovanovic

Share book
  1. English
  2. ePUB (mobile friendly)
  3. Available on iOS & Android
eBook - ePub

Social Justice

Theories, Issues, and Movements (Revised and Expanded Edition)

Loretta Capeheart, Dragan Milovanovic

Book details
Book preview
Table of contents

About This Book

An eye for an eye, the balance of the scales – for centuries, these and other traditional concepts exemplified the public's perception of justice. Today, popular culture, including television shows like Law and Order, informs the public's vision. But do age-old symbols, portrayals in the media, and existing systems truly represent justice in all of its nuanced forms, or do we need to think beyond these notions? The second edition of Social Justice: Theories, Issues, and Movements responds to the need for a comprehensive introduction to these issues.Theories of social justice are presented in an accessible fashion to encourage engagement of students, activists, and scholars with these important lines of inquiry. Issues are analyzed utilizing various theories for furthering engagement in possibilities. Struggles for justice -- from legal cases to on the ground movements -- are presented for historical context and to inform the way forward.

Frequently asked questions

How do I cancel my subscription?
Simply head over to the account section in settings and click on “Cancel Subscription” - it’s as simple as that. After you cancel, your membership will stay active for the remainder of the time you’ve paid for. Learn more here.
Can/how do I download books?
At the moment all of our mobile-responsive ePub books are available to download via the app. Most of our PDFs are also available to download and we're working on making the final remaining ones downloadable now. Learn more here.
What is the difference between the pricing plans?
Both plans give you full access to the library and all of Perlego’s features. The only differences are the price and subscription period: With the annual plan you’ll save around 30% compared to 12 months on the monthly plan.
What is Perlego?
We are an online textbook subscription service, where you can get access to an entire online library for less than the price of a single book per month. With over 1 million books across 1000+ topics, we’ve got you covered! Learn more here.
Do you support text-to-speech?
Look out for the read-aloud symbol on your next book to see if you can listen to it. The read-aloud tool reads text aloud for you, highlighting the text as it is being read. You can pause it, speed it up and slow it down. Learn more here.
Is Social Justice an online PDF/ePUB?
Yes, you can access Social Justice by Loretta Capeheart, Dragan Milovanovic in PDF and/or ePUB format, as well as other popular books in Social Sciences & Sociology. We have over one million books available in our catalogue for you to explore.





WHEN THINKING OF JUSTICE it is not uncommon that a vision of a blindfolded woman holding a set of scales will come to mind. Or the many popular television shows such as Law and Order might inform one’s vision of justice. Laws, courts, police, and other social control agents inform many of our conceptions of justice. But do the blindfolded woman, stories of crime and punishment, or social control agents truly represent justice or social justice? Do we need to think beyond these notions? What guidance exists for social justice principles? Does our understanding of justice impact our lives? Would an understanding of justice attained through inclusion and focused on meeting needs, equality, and deserts be more just than one focused on control? Does the accepted notion of justice privilege some and leave others in want? Does our current conception allow for diligence against injustices such as poverty, environmental degradation, or oppression? Can we find better conceptions of justice and move toward them? What would their criteria be? These are some of the questions we will address here as we take on the task of examining what justice is and how it may be attained.
Others might argue that justice is what a governing body, our elected officials, decides that it is, or that justice must be defined by the courts, or by scholars. We will offer a different vision, one that is informed by both activism and scholarship. This vision is necessarily global in scope. Social justice can be understood locally; however, given the current global realities, we have incorporated European, British, Canadian, Australian, indigenous, Middle Eastern, South African, Mexican, Central American, and South American understandings and struggles to advocate a move toward global social justice.


Social justice is necessarily broad and inclusive of historical and critical examinations. The study of social justice must attend to what justice may mean and whether this justice is available within a variety of social contexts. As human beings, we necessarily exist in social worlds. Discerning whether these worlds are just is a complex endeavor. At a first approximation, studying social justice must begin with an examination of: how dominant and nondominant conceptions of justice arise; how they are selectively institutionalized; how they are formally and informally applied; what persons and/or groups are being deprived of its formal mandates; and how, finally, to correct deviations so that justice is served.
And necessarily, we must examine the relationship of political economy to institutionalized conceptions of justice and do so within the context of growing disparities between the rich and the poor. For the latter, consider some evidence. Forty-five percent of all wealth in the world is held by only 1 percent of the global population while 84 percent of the world’s wealth is held by 10 percent of the population, leaving the remaining 16 percent of global wealth to be shared by 90 percent of the global population. Those living in the United States are overrepresented among the top 1 percent of wealth holders (, 2019a). This is in part due to the low tax rates paid by the wealthy in the United States. In the 1950s and 1960s, the richest Americans paid income tax rates of 91 percent; now the top income tax rate is 37 percent (, 2019b). Furthermore, CEOs at the S&P 500 companies in the United States earn 361 times as much the average U.S. worker (, 2019c).
What is justice? This is our first concern. Once we accept this as an appropriate question, we must consider who provides the definition. As we will show later in this text, definitions of justice have historically been provided by and/or for the few (elites) with little attention to the needs and desires of the majority (the rest of us). There are, however, examples of justice deriving from “below” through inclusive justice traditions and/or justice struggles. These justice developments would be in line with a more genuine form of social justice.
Theorists engaged in the examination and critique of justice have developed a range of understandings that can be applied. Activists have also provided ideas and practices to the development of social justice. No single conception or practice of justice is adequate for all points in history or for all forms of society. Rather as societies develop and change through historical and political economic processes, so too does justice. The study of these developments allows for a more complete understanding of our current notions of justice and the possibilities for a more just future.
Social justice is concerned not in the narrow focus of what is just for the individual alone but what is just for the social whole. Given the current global condition, social justice must include an understanding of the interactions within and between a multitude of peoples. This is indeed a complex and inclusive pursuit. It is also an exciting and worthy pursuit. It requires the consideration of and sensitivity to all voices and all concerns, including nonhuman forms. A challenging task before us is developing a process by which historically emergent principles of justice may find arenas for their recognition, discussion, resolution, and implementation in a changing historical order, especially the new global order, with a simultaneous sensitivity to difference and commonality, and subsequent practices that carry through what has been implemented without disenfranchising persons and/or groups.
As we shall see in the following pages, justice exists both in human thought and in our deeds. If we attend to the ideas available and study the histories of justice struggles, we can advance justice. With continued movement we can achieve justice in ever-evolving society, without, at the same time, becoming committed to a static conception. We will present a broad understanding of our main conceptions of social justice through inclusive democratic discourse, meeting needs, attaining equality, and distribution of desert. Additional conceptions include: recognition, capabilities, participation, and justification. The question of “sustainabilities” is also addressed. Accordingly, at a second approximation, the study of social justice includes developing an understanding of distributive principles (fair allocation of rewards and burdens) and retributive principles (appropriate responses to harm); how they relate to political economy and historical conditions; their local and global manifestations; the struggle for their institutionalization; how human well-being and development at the social and individual levels is enhanced by their institutionalization; and developing evaluative criteria or processes by which we may measure their effects.
We want to be clear about the distinction between “distributive justice” and “retributive justice.” Distributive justice concerns the various philosophies concerning the fair allocation of resources as well as of burdens. Retributive justice, drawing from Webster’s New International Dictionary, is “recompense … the dispensing or receiving of reward or punishment according to the deserts of the individual … that given or exacted in recompense.…” “Recompense,” in turn, is defined as: “… to give an equivalent for; to make up for as by atoning or requiting … an equivalent or return for something done, suffered … a repayment as by way of satisfaction, restitution, retribution, etc.…” Thus, retributive justice could include retribution (“an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”), but also other forms of responding to harm (i.e., rehabilitation, deterrence, social defense, family model, restorative justice, transformative justice).


There are many introductory criminal justice texts. Lacking has been a textbook focusing on introducing the reader to a critically informed social justice. This book responds to the need for a comprehensive introduction to social justice. Criminal justice texts, often, at best, have short discussions of retributive justice (deterrence, retribution, social defense, and rehabilitation). But they seldom if ever provide, additionally, in-depth understandings of distributive justice (fair allocation of rewards and burdens). Nor do they provide how both may inform decision-making at various stages of criminal justice or other forms of justice processing. We are left to read in between the lines as to what “justice” may mean, or simply to draw from preconceived notions of justice to inform our reading and practice. Here we present a variety of understandings of justice informed by theories, histories, struggles, and movements, both local and global. This unique inquiry will expand understandings of justice and further our advances toward it.
Criminal justice, as a discipline, as we saw in the preface of this book, can be traced to developments in the 1960s. In the U.S. experience, previous to the Law Enforcement and Assistant Act (LEAA, 1967) which proclaimed a “war on crime” and provided law enforcement resources (educational and hardware) toward this end, criminal justice was studied in sociology departments in colleges and universities under courses such as criminology, penology, deviance, juvenile delinquency, and social problems. In the late 1960s, criminal justice programs and departments, aided in particular by LEAA resources, began splitting off from sociology departments. Initially, the criminal justice faculty were practitioners in the field. The discipline initially took on more conservative dimensions with a primary focus on the individual offender. In the 1970s and 1980s, this trend continued, initially at community colleges with two-year associate programs, but subsequently at four-year colleges and universities. The 1990s forward, however, has witnessed many program changes away from departments of “criminal justice” toward the initiation of new programs under some variation of “social justice.”
Criminal justice has been too narrow a focus and pursuit for serious comprehensive endeavors. As we move toward the study and pursuit of social justice, we must first consider what social justice entails. Criminal justice accepts, for the most part, a politically established definition of crime (law) and focuses on process (courts) and retribution (corrections) as well as fine-tuning the machinery of criminal justice toward efficiency, speed, and finality. It has traditionally focused on these with little attention to history, political economy, culture, critique, or cross-cultural understanding of the purposes of these institutions. Social justice must consider what is just not only in reaction to “crime” but also in relation to evolving (nonstatic) society.
This book also recognizes that the study of “social justice” is intimately connected with the study of causes of harm (including officially defined crime). We recognize, equally, how unjust institutionalized principles of social justice, whether distributive or retributive, institutional arrangements, and the forms of social control that are their expression often provide the very context for harm (including crime). The two therefore must be linked. By maintaining the link between social justice and criminology, we acknowledge the institutional context of harm. Principles of distributive justice, for example, that systematically disenfranchise, discriminate, devalue, and deny self and societal development of the many, are the basis from which the motivation to resist may spring. We include in part III an orientation to students of struggles against forms of inequality and institutionalized disenfranchisement both locally and globally. We also study how dominant groups often translate resistance into legalistic categories. On the other hand, we do also see how people, subject to discriminatory forms of institutionalized conceptions of justice, may go to excesses for survival purposes or may be brutalized to the extent that their behavior will become expressive, as Marx says of the lumpen proletariat forms of crime (Tucker, 1972). This all leads to our conclusion that social justice and the generation of harm (or not) are inextricably connected.
As to retributive justice, we also link how institutionalized forms of responses to harm (including the formal workings of “criminal justice”) may discriminate, disenfranchise, and deny voice to segments of the population. This is also harm. And we should study the connective links between discriminatory forms of retributive justice and the consequent harms that it may generate. Due to space limitations this book will focus on social justice, and we do not attempt to engage in all struggles for justice but offer illustrative examples. We understand full well that much more needs to be done in coming days in establishing the connection between social justice and criminology. This book is but a step toward shedding light on more comprehensive practices for human and societal well-being.


This book provides readers the opportunity to look deeper into the meanings of justice, the forms of justice that have arisen or may arise across time and place, and alternative models of justice. We have organized the text in order to move naturally from the variety of theories of justice, to applying these understandings to issues, to examining attempts to gain justice through social movements. Progressing from ideas, to issues, to movements is, in our view, the appropriate direction. However, as the reader will find throughout the text, each of these areas informs the other. Ideas inform as well as emerge from issues and movements. Movements are informed by and inform ideas and influence both the understanding and progress of social issues. Therefore, each of the areas examined in the text informs social justice and the process of justice rendering.
Chapter 2 includes some classic theorists from antiquity to the present. From the classic period, we include the ideas of Plato, Homer, Socrates, Aristotle, and St. Thomas Aquinas. We include discussion of religion and philosophy of justice. Included are: Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, as well are more activist forms, religious socialism and liberation theology. We then move to more modern expressions in social contract theory (Hobbes, Locke, Kant, Rousseau) and social justice (Mill, Rawls, Habermas, Dworkin) including feminists (Gilligan, Clement). We continue with a discussion of theorists who were more concerned with the relation of justice to socioeconomic structure (Spencer, Smith, Kropotkin, Marx, Engels). Peacemaking justice is next developed. We conclude with an introduction to postmodern forms of justice (Nietzsche). This chapter provides a background for appreciating the complexity of meanings of justice and the historical and social conflicts apparent within the varieties of interpretation.
Chapter 3 engages distributive justice, the fair distribution of rewards and burdens. It includes the classic sociologists Durkheim, Weber, and Marx. Here we find that various conceptions of justice are very much connected with evolving societies. We highlight three traditional understandings of distributive justice: equality, merit, needs. We then move to a social justice model articulated by Miller (1999). He conceptualizes three ideal forms of justice found in three types of society. He indicates the interconnection between a form of society and the logical form of justice. Next highlighted is the capabilities approach in distributive justice, which concerns actions that enhance or diminish an agent’s status. We conclude this chapter with a summary of the debate between North American theorist Nancy Fraser and European theorist Axel Honneth on whether social justice should be conceptualized more in terms of “recognition” or whether it should be a question of redistribution of resources in a global order marked by increasing inequalities.
Chapter 4 centers on retributive justice (response to harm). A brief discussion of how we define crime introduces the chapter. We then summarize the traditional forms and justifications of punishment—de...

Table of contents