(Hi there! This is the last part (whew!) of a three part series of posts. Please check out the last two posts before reading this conclusion.)
Social Justice : Social justice is a comprehensive platform, an umbrella term for a set of ideologies and theories that have been growing and changing for a long time. The ideological/theoretical roots of modern social justice (critical theory) are well over a century old and can be traced back to Marxist critical theory. (I know, Americans hate to admit it, but it all goes back to Herr Karl.) American social justice politics might have originated with Marxist thought, but a century and a half is a long time and countless other ideologies have had a transformative effect on this broad conglomeration of ideologies. (Catholic Social Teaching, The Frankfurt School, Black Nationalism, Feminism, Postmodern Feminism, Friereian Pedagogy, Critical Race Theory, Queer Theory, the list goes on and on…) Social justice emphasizes praxis, the productive dialectic between theory and practice, in generating sustainable, transformative interventions at both the individual and systemic level.
Pros: Social justice maintains a balance between identifying the agency of individual actors to be both oppressors and/or emancipatory agents as well as the critical role that systems play in shaping the way people think and live. By engaging both individuals and systems, social justice has the advantage of demonstrating how dynamics of power, privilege and oppression function from the system-to-actor level as well as the actor-to-system level. Social justice emphasizes the integral role of community in transformational work and reminds us that justice work is both a journey and a destination (shout out to Art Munin!). Social justice has the potential to fundamentally change our world into a place where human beings can live sustainably and with full dignity.
Cons: Well…as I noted before, social justice theory has been around a long time and the revolution has not yet been televised (or Skyped or Tweeted, for that matter). As fast as social justice education can evolve its praxis, hegemonic systems seem to stay one step ahead of the game. Structurally and systemically, our society still remains fundamentally unjust. The biggest con with social justice work is that it isn’t a quick fix…
It’s a set of pragmatic tools and convictions to drive an aspirational vision.
It requires sharply critical minds and massive amounts of hope.
It requires impatience with the present as well as steadfast resolve towards a better future.
It requires unruly, free-thinkers to act with and through sustainable community.
It is this set of contradictions that makes social justice work so challenging, as well as attractive, to me.
How about you? What makes social justice work attractive to you? What do you see as the pros and cons to this framework for social change? Do you “buy” my attempt to unpack these three commonly used terms? Holler back! (This is my unsubtle attempt to get you to leave comments…come on, help a brother out!)