Everyone wants to end racism or child abuse or subordination of women. The search for a society which is just and equitable at all angles is a search for unanimity in society. The search for a truly democratic society with equitable social justice instilled as its norms and values has been the search for many. But it is difficult to define a truly democratic society as definition is beyond anyone’s scope as the process is dynamic and continuously undergoes change in order to redefine its struggle for liberation. So any idea of unanimity over justice needs to undergo the following scrutiny: What is social justice? How can we achieve it? What is the role of the state in attaining it? And for self reflection, where do I see myself in it? What are the problems, which I feel, of such a society? In order to attain social justice, it is important to go through the drill of answering these questions. Social justice is thought to be equitable justice for all (Pharr). So the main aim of spreading social justice is to initiate the process of social change. In this essay, I aim to initiate that change.
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This essay aims to conceptualize a theory that will bring about social justice in the society. I believe that social justice can emerge through a process of change that occurs it eh society. Keeping this belief intact I will try to demonstrate the process I believe will be a legitimate vehicle to bring about a change in the society. But before I embark on writing any further of this essay, it must make clear to the reader the plan of the essay. The essay will try to demonstrate the meaning of social justice and the requirements which academicians believe will fulfill the criteria of meeting a state of social justice. Then I will demonstrate my ideas on the area and the theory I have conceived as a source of removing social inequalities, starting the process of social change, and attaining social justice. But this process of social transformation wills not be a process devoid of difficulties which I will discuss next. In the end, I will summarize the essay with the key ideas that has been developed through it. But before all the theorizing, we need to understand what social justice actually is.
Defining Social Justice
Social justice is regarded as an equitable distribution of society’s resources, rights, and responsibilities. Discrimination is human society is nothing but a systematic process of infusing inequality in society through social and cultural discourses. What is important to attain a society which practices social justice is the absence of inequality and oppression in any form may it be gender, race, color, location, sexual; orientation, etc. As has been defined by Iris Marian Young has defined the establishment of social justice as “…not the melting away of differences, but institutions that promote reproduction of and respect for group differences without oppression.” (39)
From the above definition, it seems that social justice is a very broad subject. It requires policies to deal with the poor, the needy, the colored, or the successfully rich. It has to deal with the Enron accountants as well as the Taliban leaders and foot soldiers. The Chinese shoe plants or the chemical plants in Texas. It also deals with the children who are born or are unborn. So in a way social justice broadly states how the good and the bad things in the world can be distributed among all (Miller 1). But to certain extent, this definition seems to be constricted to the distributive nature of the definition and so we turn to another definition provided by Amartya Sen that believes that social justice is a process of distributing all the “means” for obtaining welfare for the society, rather than providing welfare (7). Clearly, Miller’s argument of social justice is less harsh as compared to that of Sen. Miller believes that in order to propagate social justice three principles must be kept in mind which is need, equality, and deserts. Miller believes these principles must be used in order to disseminate the economic and polity of social justice.
From the above discussion we can develop a working definition of social justice which would mean to provide equal treatment to people in all aspects, be it economic, social, cultural, political, etc. fields of life irrespective of their color, race, sex, gender, location, age, or religion. The idea of this definition is again distributive like Miller (1999) or Sen (1973), but not constricted to only economic or political equity.
Here it must be kept in mind that the development of a system of social justice requires creating a “liberating mind” which will enable all to ensure that they have a conscious thought process about social justice, without which the truly democratic process of producing social justice remains incomplete (Love 471). The equity that is transmitted in this aspect is more than economic or political. It is generalized and extended to all field of life. It accommodates all aspects of socialization between people. So social justice must also be able to provide undeniable authority, dignity, and freedom to all and lead to universally equal human conditions (Childs). Thus, Childs believe that social justice may emerge in a society which is diverse by thriving and encouraging diverse views (Childs 22). Thus, it must be understood that social justice cannot be achieved if any one of the oppressed or wronged group or individual is left from the process of change. The process must be inclusive of the universal set and exclude no one, but it the oppressed or the oppressor. Keeping this definition as the ideal, we will further our study to understand the process of establishing social justice.
Theorizing Social Justice
The theoretical areas as to how a social justice formula can be developed is very rarely been developed by social scientists. Childs mentions, “…there is no map to…a better world to which every step must lead” (Childs 76). Though social justice literature is abundant with ideologies presented by philosophers who recommend how our society can be made a better place to live in:
“It is not enough for philosophers to ponder what the rest of us need, or for social scientists to recommend what will make our communities a better place to live. What good is it to have an internally consistent set of principles that does not reflect the realities and desires of most people? Philosophical tenets have to be validated with the lived experience of community members.” (Prilleltensky 765)
Thus, it is necessary to provide a more practical and rational approach in establishing social justice in society. For this, I provide a theory of establishing social justice in society by liberating all the people living in it. This theory is essentially a vehicle to liberate the oppressed and make the society devoid of inequalities. So it is important to understand what liberation is. According to Pharr liberation is the process of attaining a truly democratic society which establishes social justice in it. Thus, we may state that liberation may be said to be a process by which “a struggle against discrimination based on race, class, gender, sexual identity, ableism, and age – those barriers that keep large portions of the population from having access to economic and social justice, from being able to participate fully in the decisions affecting our lives, from having a full share of both the rights and responsibilities of living in a free society” (Pharr 450). Love states that social justice is a “crucial step in developing liberatory consciousness” (470).
Establishing Social Justice
In this section, I will provide a comprehensive step by step demonstration of establishing a process of social justice. This model establishes a theory that aims at dealing with the oppression that is present in all cultural and social aspects by raising consciousness. This model heavily draws upon the work of Harro (The Cycle of Socialization; The Cycle of Liberation), Love, Childs (Transcommunality) and Pharr (Reflections from Liberation).
State 1: Identity Creation
Bobbie Harro observed that conscious appreciation of differences is a key goal of diversity has to be united to social justice by demonstrating the ways and means by which position and power are unequally distributed in society. This framework recognizes the complex framework of identifying between social and cultural identities that an individual has to compromise every day and the identities that these interactions create. Previous research has tried to rank the oppressions in terms of their degree but this, I believe, is inappropriate and makes the process of empowerment futile. So to include one process of oppression by excluding others keeps a hole in the process of social justice attainment (Pharr). This also fails to demonstrate the complex dynamics of interaction between the oppressed groups, thus dividing the oppressed population. This creates a barrier to group learning and socialization (Harro, The Cycle of Socialization) and propagating a process of collective social justice.
Here I must present a definition for social oppression, which may be defined as a systematic process of social marginalization and constraints to one social group by another group to forfeit benefit through this oppression. Thus, this process of marginalization restrains members of the oppressed group from developing completely by a process of restriction of their choices available to them (Young). So social oppression comprises of a victim group and the dominant group wherein the dominant group keeps this marginalization as a cultural construct and ideology. Young believes that marginalization is the most dangerous aspect because “a whole category of people is expelled from useful participation in social life and thus potentially subjected to severe material deprivation and even extermination” (Young 41). It must be understood here that social oppression is a dissemination of constructs through societal institutions like schools, home, legislative bodies, media, and other institutions. These institutions limit the resource availability to the oppressed or victimized group through discourse dissemination. As Harro identifies the process of social identity development, which he believes is formed through natural birth and is made stronger through a circular wheel of discourses which construct out beliefs and ideologies as the oppressor or the oppressed (Harro, The Cycle of Socialization). Harro believes that it is through our formed social identity that we try to fit in as an oppressor or a victim and play our part (Harro, The Cycle of Socialization).
So here, the need is to identify as a group and socialize. As the identity creation process is the first step towards formation of ideologies as an oppressor or oppressed and as the socialization, process has immense impact on the building of identity and thus becomes the initiator of the oppression (Harro, The Cycle of Socialization).
Stage 2: Consciousness
It must be understood in this juncture that oppressive acts are pervasive and are acted outside the boundaries of culture. Barbara Love argues that all the acts of oppressions are social constructs and are not inherently possessed in anybody when they are born. Love also believes that all human beings are willing to bring about a social change without changing their ideologies:
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“Many members of society, both those who benefit from oppression as well as those who are placed at disadvantage, want to work for social change to reduce inequality and bring about greater justice, yet continue to behave in ways that preserve and perpetuate the existing system. This happens because humans are products of their socialization and follow the habits of mind and thought that have been instilled in them. The institutions in which we live reward and reinforce behaviors that perpetuate existing systems and resist efforts towards change.” (Love 470)
Thus, through social construct and discourse oppression maintains a systematic ground within social environment. For instance, for individuals born within a specific set of social identity, like the poor/wealthy or white/black and it is trough socialization that we are constructed to be social equals or unequal as determined by the environment on the basis of our identity (Harro, The Cycle of Socialization). Throughout our growing up we are constructed by our family school, friends and others to develop our feelings towards our self and others. The difficulty in throwing away these constructs because “they are woven into every structural thread of the fabric of our culture” (Harro, The Cycle of Socialization 18). But I believe this can be done. Here the emphasis is to increase our self-awareness and directly fight against oppression in society. For instance, the black people have undergone oppression in America through ages, and probably are still marginalized, but the degree is much less than the times of the Civil War. But the feeling has changed tremendously over the years. How did that happen? Was there a forced change imposed upon Americans? I believe it was through a dissemination process that spread equality among the races and the individual consciousness which rose to fight against the oppression. The main aim to become consciousness is through “awareness, acting, and accountability/ally-ship” (Love 471). Love believes the possession of these four characters can make a liberator out of anybody (Developing Liberatory Consciousness).
Stage 3: Introspect
In this section following Harro, I will try to identify my beliefs after a process of self introspection (Harro, The Cycle of Liberation; Childs). From my experience as a volunteer teacher in my neighborhood in Chicago where I teach Hispanic children, I have gathered some understanding about the social background and the nature of oppression these children go through. Another trip to Nogales, Mexico has also demonstrated the condition of the Mexican border which is a place for immigration in the United States. As a teacher, I intend to teach them equality and develop their feeling towards unjust inequality. Both these incidents have taught us to understand that there need to enforce social justice to all who are oppressed and disseminate the culture of equality though our teachings. These occurrences in my life have made me realize the importance of reaching out and building a community with the victims in order to take them towards a road to liberation.
Stage 4: Connecting with Others
The process of connecting with others has become an integral part in the liberalization model presented by Harro. He thus states that “ the creation of an ongoing dialogue, where views are exchanged people are listened to and valued, and we begin to view each others’ points of view as making sense and having integrity, even if they are very different from our own” (Harro, The Cycle of Liberation 466). Hence, I stress as a part of my theory that in order to reach out it is necessary to experiment with the views that we express, and checking the realities, as we would try to share our ideas with others and speak up to the ideas which we do not agree to, instead of marinating silence which stagnates the process (Harro, The Cycle of Liberation; Childs). This is essential especially in developing a feeling of justice in a multicultural group. So all transcommunal activists must encourage diverse views to evolve for ea greater sense of justice:
“Consequently, for trans communal activities, diversity need not be a barrier to cooperation. Rather, diversity is absolutely essential for any effective coordinated multitude of position.” (Childs 22)
Thus, it is absolutely necessary to ensure communication is engaged in order to build a feeling of community and justice in a multicultural society. So this dialogue must comprise of the following:
“…an integral part of this dialogue is exploring our differences, clarifying them, erasing assumptions, and replacing them with firsthand contact and good listening. That means that we must talk about our differences in a civil manner.” (Harro, The Cycle of Liberation 467)
Stage 5: Initiating Change
This stage initiates the process of change in the society towards liberation and social justice. This stage is important to explain the rights and wrongs of our present conduct, and the rights and benefits we usually take for granted when actually they lead to oppression. This must be done by exemplifying our history and past. This process also must allow cooperation, collective action and support for each other to gain confidence in our endeavor for a just society (Harro, The Cycle of Liberation; Love). Though a process of renewed dissemination we need to create a “new assumptions, new structures, new roles, and new rules consistent with more socially just and equitable philosophy.” (Harro, The Cycle of Liberation 468).
A process of social transformation must follow this path of cooperation and discussion from within the groups. Any other process wherein an abrupt transformation is brought about from outside leads to a shift in power from one hand to the other (Pharr). As diversity and identity politics keeps the groups separated, it is essential to bring them together and must make the transformation process “everybody’s issue” (Pharr 456). Further, an open dialogue and introspection allows us to realize our mistakes and also allows us to internalize criticism from others, which helps us to develop a potent change in the society (Love). So through a process of constructive argument and interpersonal relation it is possible to bring trans communal societies to merge together (Childs). Further, the process of changing oneself is important to understand the changes that are required in the society (Childs). I believe following the stages as mentioned in this essay will help in developing a constructive transformation process of social justice for social change and make the process not just a distribution of social benefits (Sen) or changing of power between groups (Pharr).
Childs, John Brown. Transcommunality. New York: Temple University Press, 2003.
Harro, Bobbie. “The Cycle of Liberation.” Adams, Maurianne, et al. Readings for diversity and social justice. New York: Routledge, 2000b. 463-69.
Harro, Bobbie. “The Cycle of Socialization.” Adams, Maurianne, et al. Readings for diversity and social justice. New York: Routledge, 2000a. 15-20.
Love, Barbara. “Developing Liberatory Consciousness.” Adams, Maurianne, et al. Readings for diversity and social justice. New York: Routledge, 2000. 470-74.
Miller, David. Considering Social Justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.
Pharr, Suzanne. “Reflections from Liberation.” Adams, Maurianne, et al. Readings for diversity and social justice. New York: Routledge, 2000. 450-56.
Prilleltensky, I. “Value-based praxis in community psychology: Moving toward social justice and social action.” American Journal of Community Psychology 29(5) (2001): 747-78.
Sen, Amartya K. On Economic Inequality. New York: Norton, 1973.
Young, Iris Marian. “Five Faces of Oppression.” Adams, Maurianne, et al. Readings for diversity and social justice. New York: Routledge, 2000. 35-49.