Justice Everywhere

a blog about philosophy in public affairs

Category: Education (Page 1 of 3)

Explaining Injustice: A Symposium on Bias in Context

In this post, Erin Beeghly and Jules Holroyd introduce a recent symposium they edited in Journal of Applied Philosophy on the role of biases in oppression and injustice.


For over a century, activists and theorists have decried the role of prejudice and stereotyping in creating—and sustaining—group oppression. In an 1892 editorial, Ida B. Wells argued that white lynch mobs and their defenders seemed to believe that all black folks were “criminal, ignorant, and bestial.” In liberation movements of the mid-to-late 20th century, feminists and anti-colonial theorists likewise critiqued stereotyping and prejudice as part of their push for social equality and political self-determination. “My true wish,” writes Frantz Fanon in Black Skin, White Masks, “is to get my brother, black or white, to shake off the dust from that lamentable livery built up over centuries of incomprehension.” “Shaking off the dust” requires, in part, freeing one’s heart and mind from biases.

But how easy is it to do this, and how significant are these personal, psychological transformations to ending injustices? In the 1990s and early 2000s, psychologists increasingly began to argue that social biases had gone “underground” in our psychologies, and were therefore both widespread and particularly difficult to root out. They referred to these biases as “implicit.” Implicit bias was posited as an important cause of discrimination and exclusion, capable of explaining why social inequality could persist in the absence of ill will and explicit prejudice. Yet many objections exist to explaining injustice via prejudicial attitudes and implicit bias in particular. Some worry that attention to the role of psychological factors obscures the real causes of injustice, which are structural in nature. Others argue that implicit bias theorists downplay the existence of explicit racism, sexism, and homophobia in the 21st century. Yet others contend that the scientific quality of the research is questionable and not sufficiently predictive of real-world behaviour.

In 2016 and 2017, we—along with Alex Madva—hosted a series of four workshops to scrutinize these critiques, and explore how one might understand the role of psychology in group oppression. This post provides a brief snapshot into the conference series, as well as the symposium that emerged out of it. We outline some of the symposium’s main themes and connect these with the three articles featured in it, as we do in our introduction to the symposium.

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Should Economics be Pluralist?

Following the 2008 financial crisis, many economists, as well as many commentators and journalists, have blamed economics for its failure to explain the causes and foresee the consequences of the financial breakdown. Their core target was the dogmatic acceptance by most economists of a single theoretical framework: neo-classical economics. In (very) short, neo-classical economics is a set of theories according to which all social phenomena can be explained by appealing to the optimizing behavior of rational individuals. It also involves a heavy dose of mathematical formalization and statistical methods. In reaction to the crisis, an increasing number of students and academics started to argue for pluralism in economics, or the view that there are several possible legitimate ways of doing economics, beyond neo-classical economics. In response, some economists contended that neo-classical economics was already sufficiently pluralist. They argued that what we usually call neo-classical economics is actually made of a myriad of different (and sometimes conflicting) theories, such as game theory, public choice theory, industrial organization, social choice theory, labor economics, behavioral economics, etc.

This debate raises numerous questions. What (if anything) justifies pluralism in economics? And do we have enough of it, or do we need more? Where does pluralism stop? What does pluralism entail for individual economists? Should every economist be a pluralist? I cannot answer all these questions here. I shall only propose an answer to the first one.

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Philosophers’ Rundown on the Coronavirus Crisis

The outbreak of COVID-19 has raised several ethical and political questions. In this special edition, Aveek Bhattacharya and Fay Niker have collected brief thoughts from Justice Everywhere authors on 9 pressing questions.

Topics include: the feasibility of social justice, UBI, imagining a just society, economic precarity, education, climate change, internet access, deciding under uncertainty, and what counts as (un)acceptable risk.   

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To Strike or Disrupt?

In this post, guest contributor Liam Shields discusses an important dilemma related to the strike in UK higher education institutions.

Members of the University and College Union, the trade union that represents many lecturers and other university staff in the UK, at 60 universities will be called upon to withdraw their labour from their employers from 25th November to 4th December. However, some are on research leave, or will not be doing any teaching on some or all strike days, so their striking will go unnoticed. The question then is: should they go on strike or not?

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From the Vault: Good Reads on Justice and the Academy

While Justice Everywhere takes a break over the summer, we recall from our archives some memorable posts from our 2018-2019 season.

Here are five good reads on issues relating to justice and/in the academy that you may have missed or be interested to re-read:

Justice Everywhere will return in full swing on 2nd September with fresh weekly posts by our regular authors. If you have a suggestion for a topic or would like to contribute a guest post on a topical subject in political philosophy (broadly construed), please feel free to get in touch with us at justice.everywhere.blog@gmail.com.

Grade Inflation, Market Ideology and the Contradictions of UK Higher Education Policy

Politicians blame academics for lowering standards, but it is caused by their own ideologically driven market reforms. A version of this post was published in the Guardian on Friday 12th July. 

The Education Secretary Damian Hinds has followed in an illustrious tradition of governments’ blaming Universities for the phenomena of grade inflation. Responding to findings by the Office for Students of an 80% rise in first class degrees (that the body claimed was ‘unexplained’), Mr Hinds attributed this problem to ‘unfair practices’ by universities. It follows his comments last year that ‘institutions should be accountable for maintaining the value of the degrees they award’, with the threat of fines for institutions who fail to comply.

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“Dumbed down for the masses”? Public philosophy in different keys, and why it matters for justice

When one makes one first steps into public philosophy, one quickly encounters a challenge: as academic philosophers, we are used to writing in a slow, careful, sort-of-boring-but-at-least-precise way: to hedge our claims, to qualify the scope of our theses, etc. For public philosophy, editors want the opposite: brief, succinct sentences, never mind a bit of exaggeration and a polemical tone. And often, they request more: “We really need a concrete example here.” “This is too abstract, we’ve taken the liberty of rewriting it a bit.”  “Can you please do a photo session, for a nice picture?” For many of us, these things feel a bit awkward. Different people draw the line in different places – but it seems unavoidable to play this game, at least up to a point, if you want to reach a broader audience. And as I will argue, there is a matter of justice at stake here.

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The Philosopher Queens

Women in philosophy have been ignored. Help crowdfund The Philosopher Queens to have their voices heard.  Its editors Rebecca Buxton and Lisa Whiting tell us more about how and why this important book project has come about.  

 

When we began looking for a book on women in philosophy we were not prepared for what we found – or rather didn’t find. An afternoon in Waterstone’s, followed by a trip to Kensington library, followed by an evening of angrily searching online for something, anything on women in philosophy, had generated almost nothing. The only book we found was written by an incredible woman in philosophy herself, Mary Warnock, who wrote a book on women in philosophy over 20 years ago. 

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What, if anything, is wrong with private money in political philosophy?

Recently, there have been increasing worries about the role of private money that funds libertarian political philosophy (see e.g. here or here). The role of private money in academic research is not precisely a new problem; it has plagued other fields for decades (see e.g. here for a study of some of the more problematic forms). But it seems to be rather new for political philosophy, or at least it seems to have gone to levels it has not had in the recent past. But what exactly is wrong with it? Isn’t it simply an exercise of freedom of expression to use one’s money to sponsor scholarship one is interested in?

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Iris Young, Bad Dates and #MeToo

Can Iris Young’s analysis of structural injustice, problematic norms, individual guilt and forward-looking responsibility contribute to contemporary feminism as #MeToo broaches the subject of bad dates and male privilege?

This blog post comes with a trigger warning as it contains discussions of sexual harassment and sexual assault and controversial opinions regarding them.

Last week much of my facebook feed was again  full of discussion regarding accounts of sexual abuse  and comment regarding the #MeToo movement.

One of last week’s stories concerned the behaviour of a male celebrity who publicly endorses calls to end sexual abuse in the entertainment industry and beyond. A woman who dated the celebrity detailed to a reporter how he acted in a pushy, forceful  manner. She explained how he ignored non-verbal cues to slow down their encounter and end more overtly sexual activity, and then re-initiated sexual activity after she stated that she was feeling pressured. The woman left their date feeling violated and miserable. The report has been broadly discussed with a spectrum of opinions emerging regarding the case: some sympathetic to the celebrity, others criticising his hypocrisy and abuse and some suggesting we are reluctant to acknowledge this as abuse because we want to protect ourselves from facing the reality of the problems we have encountered in our own sex lives.

Last week also saw criticism of the #Metoo movement gain momentum. A letter was published by concerned women in the French entertainment industry who believe that the movement has gone too far and begun to stigmatise men who make clumsy and persistent advances. The letter also suggested that the movement has begun to undermine women’s power and self esteem, prohibit people’s legitimate sexuality, censor artistic expression and prevent the enjoyment of art made by perpetrators of sexual violence.   The letter too has provoked extensive discussion, clarification, criticism and response.

How should we think about these cases and positions? There are two sorts of understandings that opponents in the debate often identify each other as falling into.

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