This activity aims to prepare a written work applying the concepts studied in this module. Delve further into the topic(s) discussed in this module by answering the following question:
What is the role of the Social Worker within the social justice framework?
Module 1: Lecture: Origins of Social Justice and its Historical Applications
Lecture: Origins of Social Justice and its Historical Applications
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Starting Points for Social Justice
Social justice is a concept that originates in philosophical discourse but is widely used in both ordinary language and social science, often without being clearly defined. By synthesizing the common elements of various philosophical treatments (e.g., Elster, 1992; Feinberg, 1973; Frankena, 1962; Miller, 1999; Walzer, 1983), it is possible to offer a general definition of social justice as a state of affairs (either actual or ideal) in which (a) benefits and burdens in society are dispersed following some allocation principle ( or set of principles); (b) procedures, norms, and rules that govern political and other forms of decision making preserve the basic rights, liberties, and entitlements of individuals and groups; and (c) human beings (and perhaps other species) are treated with dignity and respect not only by authorities but also by other relevant social actors, including fellow citizens.
The three aspects of our definition correspond, roughly, to distributive, procedural, and interactional justice. A theory of social justice need not address all three aspects, but it should address at least one of them. Being conceived in this way, social justice is a property of social systems or perhaps a "predicate of societies" (Frankena, 1962)-as also suggested by Rawls (1971) and Toynbee (1976). A just social system is to be contrasted with those systems that encourage arbitrary or unnecessary suffering, exploitation, abuse, tyranny, oppression, prejudice, and discrimination. The main problem for social justice scholars is that considerable disagreement persists, even after centuries of debate, concerning each of the elements incorporated in our definition (Boucher & Kelly, 1998; Campbell, 2001; Miller, 1999; Solomon & Murphy, 2000). What should be a truly fair principle for distributing benefits and burdens, and why? Is it equity, equality, need, or some other allocation principle? Similarly, what are a reasonable or appropriate set of rights, liberties, and entitlements? And what does it mean to treat others with dignity and respect? These questions have been addressed by some of the greatest minds in Western civilization, including Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Mill, and Rawls.
Social Justice Assumptions
David Miller (1995) has recently explained some of these complexities in his Principles of Social Justice. Miller only outlines how this new idea differed from earlier theories of justice. Still, he highlights three assumptions that must be considered before principles of social justice can be elaborated.
1. First, there must be a society demarcated by a given membership so that the just part of an individual can be defined concerning the actions held by other community members, and each individual within a particular distribution universe sees himself as part of the same social group. In theory and practice, he assumed that the nation-state is the most appropriate universe for social justice (Miller, 1995).
2. Second, it must be assumed that there is an identifiable institutional structure to which principles of justice can be applied and which can be modified in consonance with these ideals. On the other hand, Miller has indicated that he has in mind intellectuals developments such as the emergence of the social sciences, which allowed institutional change impact on individuals' life opportunities to be tracked with a new precision and rigor (Miller, 2003).
3. Third, it must be assumed that there is an agency, typically the state, that is capable of initiating and directing the necessary institutional changes to create social justice.
Historical Development of Social Justice
"The theory of distributive justice or social justice states – how a society or group should allocate its scarce resources or products among individuals with competing needs or claims- goes back at least two millennia. Aristotle and Plato wrote on the question, and the Talmud recommends solutions to the distribution of an estate among the deceased’s creditors" (Roemer, 1996).
In this quote, John Roemer exemplifies a generalized perception that current theories of distributive justice are the latest in a long line of deep philosophical discussions of the justice of major social institutions. According to this analysis, political philosophers from Plato to Rawls have engaged in a great debate on the perennial question: what makes a just society? Along the same line, Brian Barry, in his book titled A Treatise on Social Justice, opened with the announcement that he was addressing the question that Plato asked in The Republic a thousand years ago: What is justice? Like Plato, Barry argued, he would be considered "the central theme in any theory of justice, the defensibility of unequal relationships between people" (Barry, 1989).
The obvious starting point for the concept of Social Justice is Aristotle and his influential distinction between distributive and corrective justice. In Aristotle's opinion, distributive justice was referred to guarantee that honor, political position, and money were distributed according to merit. In contrast, corrective justice sought to rectify injuries inflicted on one person by another (Roemer, 1996). Later commentators developed the notion of corrective justice into what commutative justice became: fair exchange, with voluntary market activity, generally understood as fair or just.
Samuel Fleischacker's important book, A Short History of Distributive Justice, presents a compressed but powerful argument claiming that modern ideas about social justice are very different from earlier patterns of the concept of justice. He concludes that social justice was absent from classical political thought and that the modern ideal of justice took form for the first time in the late 18th century.
The background to the debate on poverty was the great increase in economic activity that extended from the end of the 17th century to the beginning of the 19th century and was accompanied by the recognition that European nations were becoming commercial societies exhibiting novel patterns of social and economic behavior. In the second half of the 18th century, a major change in attitude toward the poor occurs. The idea that no one deserved to be poor and the first theories about how it might be technically possible to eradicate poverty through redistribution emerged.
With most European countries experiencing an unprecedented period of internal peace and prosperity, the first observers of these new trading patterns began to detect structures that pre-existed peculiarities of temperament or behavior of particular individuals, and it significantly shaped the perspectives and resources available to different groups in society. As a result, traditional hierarchies of social status were beginning to break down, and it no longer seemed obvious that an entire class of people was destined to remain in need (Jackson, 2005).
The ethical and technical possibility of eradicating poverty was first recognized as part of modernist republicanism: an attempt to show that republican ideals of freedom and self-government can be made to work in commercial societies, the kind that Adam Smith described (Stedman Jones, 1989). Republican theorists believed that economic inequality would corrupt politics because such inequality breeds servility and promotes dependency on the poor, infringing their status as free and equal citizens. This could certainly be a question of justice since the equal citizens of an autonomous republic will be entitled to the economic resources necessary to maintain their independence (White, 2000).
The Upsurge of Social Justice
Social justice took shape at the end of the 18th century. So, when and how did it become an ample and current topic in the political debate? Even though the modern ideal of distributive justice entered political discourse in the eighteenth century, it did not become the center of mainstream political thought until well into the XX century. Part of the difficulty was that the most influential political theories of the XIX century were all, for different reasons, unwelcoming to the concept. The domination of the following theories: The Marxism, The Utilitarianism, and The Positivism, raised barriers to develop a political discourse based on justice.
Of course, there has been a lot of discussion about the complex relationship between the concept of justice and the Marxist and Utilitarian approaches. Theories established by Marx, Bentham, and Mill could not easily prioritize the specific goal of Social Justice: Marx dismissed moral language about equity, and Utilitarianism subordinated individual rights to the objective of maximizing utility. Both theories have provided the rationale for the redistributive economy. If, as suggested above, an important feature of the concept of social justice is an attempt to alleviate poverty and human need, then the Hegelian and Marxist approaches had an important role to play in developing this vision (Keane, 1995).
Philosophical Foundations of Capitalism and its Alternatives
Capitalism refers to an economic system based on trade between private individuals and corporations, also known as the free enterprise economy or a free-market economy. The means of production are privately owned. Although the United States is commonly viewed as a capitalist nation, it is a "mixed" economy with regulated markets and government ownership of some major industries. In fact, “laissez-faire capitalism,” in which markets operate without government intervention, has probably never existed (Buder, 2009).
Capitalism refers to an economic system based on trade between private individuals and corporations, also known as the free enterprise economy or a free-market economy. The means of production are privately owned. Although the United States is commonly viewed as a capitalist nation, it is a "mixed" economy with regulated markets and government ownership of some major industries. In fact, "laissez-faire capitalism," in which markets operate without government intervention, has probably never existed (Buder, 2009).
Adam Smith was one of the earliest proponents of capitalism. His seminal work, An Inquiry in the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, offers a persuasive argument that society benefits when individuals pursue their selfish interests in the market. He coined the term "invisible hand" to describe how the forces of supply and demand drive human behavior. As articulated by Smith and by the 20th-century proponents of rational choice theory, the Capitalist theory introduced the economic man or Homo economicus. According to this view, human beings rationally seek to maximize their own happiness or, as economists would say, to optimize their utility. This aims to possess as much wealth as they can accumulate with minimum labor or sacrifice.
Unlike some modern economists, Adam Smith did not believe that all or even most of human nature was encapsulated in Homo economicus. In his work less well-known, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, observed that "however selfish man may be, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which he interests the fortune of others, and make their happiness necessary to him, though he won’t derive nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.” Also, economic anthropologists, such as Karl Polanyi, emphasized behaviors that reflect more communal motivations, such as redistribution of resources and reciprocal gift-giving in traditional societies (Dalton, 1968). Several philosophical perspectives contribute to understanding the relationship between government and the market. Two of these are mentioned further on: libertarianism and liberalism.
The Role of Social Work in Advocating for Social Justice
Mark Ezell (2001) offered a useful definition of the defense of social justice when he stated that it "consists of those intentional efforts to change specific existing or proposed policies or practices on behalf of or with a specific client or group of clients." That's where social workers come in. They ensure that the voices of vulnerable groups are heard, and to do so, they must persuade. In Rhetoric, Aristotle described three components of effective persuasion: logos, reason based on content and logic; pathos, reason based on passion and emotions; and ethos, reason based on the merits and character of the speaker. Today the defense is still informed by Aristotle's views. There is a great reliance on all three components of persuasion, and any advocate would do well to use all three when presenting an argument. A healthy dose of nerves is also relied on, as the invincible is questioned and the inevitable defied. Based on assessment and analysis, defenders use a variety of tactics to achieve their goals. There are four key areas of advocacy: arguments, engagement, relationships, and coalitions. Aristotle's three components of persuasion can help in each of these areas.
Social workers rarely have the financial resources to influence policy with money. Still, their ability to build and maintain relationships can be just as effective as the benefits served by corporate lobbyists. Social exchange theory offers a useful perspective for understanding relations in the political realm. Social workers often have the opportunity to do favors, such as when a legislator asks for information or advice, a candidate asks for a contribution or endorsement, a colleague asks for moral support, or an administrator asks for a testimonial of support. These requests are opportunities to build relationships and influence those who establish and have social policies in favor of the most disadvantaged.
· J. T., & Kay, A. C. (2010). Social justice: History, theory, and research. In S. T. Fiske, D. T. Gilbert, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), Handbook of Social Psychology. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
· Pérez-Garzón, Carlos Andrés (January, 2018). Unveiling the meaning of social justice. Mexican Law Review, 10(2) 27-66.
· Thompson, N. (2002). Social movements, social justice and social work. The British Journal of Social Work, 32(6) 711–722
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