(Re)opening the lines of thinking about the subject of social justice

Year: 2012

Author: Gowlett, Christina, Niesche, Richard

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This paper seeks to (re)open the lines of thinking about social justice research in education. The post-structuralist and deconstructionist turn in education research has expanded the methodological tools available to scholars, yet some of the tools are often deemed incongruent with the notion of social justice and what it has come to be associated with. In this paper, we open up discussion about what the term 'social justice' means. We argue that poststructuralist discourses do offer alternatives for thinking about notions of 'justice' and 'the other'.

We specifically draw upon the work of a number of key figures in the poststructuralist movement. We use Butler's sense of agency and 'rules of intelligibility', Lyotard's   thinkings about justice and the pagan, plus Derrida's idea of justice and the other to trouble the seemingly sedimented notions of 'social' and 'justice' in circulation. By rethinking some of the key ideas and terms often used within this body of research, we make a case for reconsidering what the terms 'social', 'justice' and 'agency/resistance' can mean. In the process, we also conceptualise an affirmative politics for justice without a pre-existing prescription, ideal or principle.

This paper provides a counter understanding to the current epistemological and ontological norms surrounding social justice research in education and argues that there needs to be a decolonisation of thinking within the 'social justice' domain. Opening up dialogue about this issue is important since it provides a reflexive space for thinking about what social justice research does and aims to achieve.