'Social justice challenges require multidisciplinary collaboration' says expert Christiane Bailey
The United Nations World Day of Social Justice is February 20. To mark the occasion, Christiane Bailey from Concordia’s new Social Justice Centre discusses the need for interdisciplinary collaboration in order to understand and confront issues relating to discrimination and oppression.
The centre will officially launch in fall 2019. It is led by co-directors Katharina Nieswandt, assistant professor, and Pablo Gilabert, associate professor, both in the Department of Philosophy, and supported by Bailey, the centre’s administrator.
Their goal is to help Concordia researchers dedicate more time to social justice research by taking care of the logistics and supporting funding applications. They will also have a speaker series open to the wider public and provide an overview of social justice-related courses offered at Concordia.
Social justice is a never-ending process of caring about others
According to the United Nations, social justice is “an underlying principle for peaceful and prosperous coexistence within and among nations.” How do you define social justice?
Christiane Bailey: Defining social justice in this way raises more questions than answers. Promoting peace and economic growth will not be enough.
Instead, social justice must be connected to issues of distributive justice but also to the many forms of discrimination and oppression faced by people because of their gender, race, ethnicity, citizenship, religion, disability, age, sexual orientation or gender identity.
It might be fruitful to think of social justice less as a final state of affairs that could someday be achieved and more as a constant struggle against injustices and oppressions. As we tackle a social justice issue, new ones will arise. It is a never-ending process of caring about others and focusing on the many ways in which our institutions and social organizations can enable greater justice, equality and freedom for all.
Co-directors Katharina Nieswandt and Pablo Gilabert are both philosophy professors. How does a background in this field inform one’s approach to social justice?
CB: Katharina and Pablo both work on ethics and social and political philosophy. While they are engaged in scholarly debates surrounding theoretical justifications of human rights and equality, they are committed to the idea that philosophy should not only be about interpreting the world but changing it.
Our political imagination can often be unnecessarily limited in the name of realism and Pablo is working on ways in which we can remain idealists about principles while being realists about feasibility. He explores this combination of ethical ambition and practical feasibility in the context of specific issues of social justice and human rights — regarding, for example, the access to dignified work and robust democratic practices and institutions.
Katharina works on virtue ethics and politics, exploring things like whether rights exist by nature or convention and the relationship between the common good and the personal good. These philosophical questions can help us think about what a society oriented toward basic equality and fairness could look like.
The centre’s membership spans many areas of study. What do you think this says about the necessity of a multidisciplinary approach to social justice?
CB: Social justice issues should not be considered from a narrow angle, nor with a single method.
One problem that illustrates this is the fact that, according to the UN, food production must double by 2050 because of a global shift toward Western diets that comes with rising income, urbanization and shifting dietary preferences. This will cause a myriad of problems, including disputes over land use and environmental damage.
How can we prevent this and develop a sustainable and healthy food system able to feed nine billion people in 2050?
This requires a multidisciplinary approach that brings together economics, political science, cultural studies, psychology, sociology, fine arts and more to truly examine the many nuances involved.
In a similar way, many social justice issues, such as immigration, religious conflicts or the rise of nationalism and authoritarian political regimes worldwide, present very complex challenges that require multidisciplinary collaboration.
Is there a need, locally and nationally, to devote more resources to research on social justice?
CB: Yes and we are very glad that more and more people and institutions are recognizing the importance of focusing on social justice both from a practical and a theoretical perspective.
Higher education is about much more than preparing students for the job force. It’s about closing the gap between the world we live in and the one we want to live in by confronting our most pressing problems and searching for solutions together.