Stream 4: On justice in social policy

Trudie Knijn and Dorota Lepianka

While social policy is a highly normative field, social policy studies – in their attempt to stay scientifically objective – tend to avoid taking a normative stance. In consequence, ethical, moral and normative questions regarding, for example, ‘justice’ are only implicitly addressed.

As social policy scholars we analyze differences in group access to public goods, public attitudes towards inequality, the extent to which needs of vulnerable groups are met and/or whether or not the perspective of vulnerable citizens is represented, but we avoid reflecting on those issues in terms of (in)justice done and/or experienced.

In the era of increasing inequality and a growing sense of insecurity the question of what is (in)just and to whom has grown in relevance. A series of crises in Europe (financial, social, refugee) and political shifts in several European states have given new impetus to exclusionary practices and the re-drawing of boundaries of belonging and deservingness.

It has also resulted in growing social polarization and radicalization, often reinforced by a deep-seated sense of injustice. Tensions between various justice claims and between justice claims of various social groups have heightened the urgency to take a new look at justice conceptions that underpin social policy and drive a variety of institutionalized and non-institutionalized struggles for justice.

In this stream we will explore how social policy, especially in the area of labour market, housing, disability, care and education, addresses the diverse justice claims of various social groups in Europe, and especially how it manages to wed the ‘majoritarian’ claims to justice with the justice claims of racial, ethnic and religious minorities.

We welcome papers that investigate (1) how different conceptions or ideals of justice are incorporated and practiced in European countries (e.g. through distinct legal systems, governance structure and operation, cultural praxis and/or dominant interpretation of belonging) and (2) how various kinds of (in)justice are present in the ‘lived experience’ of vulnerable populations. Questions to be addressed encompass:

– What conceptions of justice underpin social policies, especially those aimed at the integration and/or well-being of minority groups?

– How countries protect and balance different types of rights and/or rights of different groups?

– What categories of insiders and outsider are created and/or maintained through social policy?

– How do various vulnerable categories experience injustice?

– What forms of resistance to and struggles for justice have been mobilized and how?