Social Justice Research: Mission, Some Prospects, and Challenges
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- Cite this article as:
- Törnblom, K.Y. & Kazemi, A. Soc Just Res (2011) 24: 1. doi:10.1007/s11211-011-0128-5
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Social Justice Research (SJR) is now embarking on its 25th year, and we are pleased to have been granted the trust to contribute to its management and development during the next 5 years. It is the official journal of the International Society for Justice Research (ISJR) and was founded in 1987 by Melvin Lerner who also was its first Editor. He wanted an international multidisciplinary orientation of the journal, and we share this ambition with him as does Clara Sabbagh, the new President of the ISJR, whose ambition is an expansion of the society to include more members from countries and disciplines that are presently under-represented.
A number of outstanding scholars from different disciplines and countries have agreed to serve as Associate Editors. They are, in alphabetical order: Sarah Brosnan (Georgia State University), Jon Elster (Columbia University), Ernst Fehr (University of Zurich), Adrian Furnham (University College London), Mario Gollwitzer (Philipps-University Marburg), James Konow (Loyola Marymount University), Gerold Mikula (University of Graz), Barry Markovsky (University of South Carolina), Heather Strang (University of Cambridge and Australian National University), and Riël Vermunt (Leiden University). With these researchers the following disciplines are represented: psychology, sociology, social psychology, social neuroscience, economics, organizational science, philosophy, political science, and criminal justice/criminology. We have also updated the Editorial Board and added a number of eminent and experienced researchers who are contributing to the development of the field. The qualifications of the Associate Editors and Editorial Board members and their devotion to social justice issues guarantee high-quality, multi-disciplinary, and interesting contents of the journal.
The reader familiar with earlier issues of SJR may also have noticed its new cover design. Apart from locating the journal within its appropriate academic context, making visible the fact that the journal is the official scientific medium of the International Society for Justice Research lends legitimacy and academic weight to its contents. In line with many other journals we also believe that exposing the names of chief and associate editors up front (rather than ‘hidden’ on the inside cover) may increase the journal’s status and legitimacy. We hope that the journal is more eye-catching than previously and perhaps more visible than other journals when placed side by side with them on the library shelves.
The popularity of SJR has increased almost 11-fold from 2002 to 2010 as measured by the number of article downloads, from 2,925 to 31,829. Europe accounts for 35%, North America 33%, Asia 20%, and Australia, Africa, South America for 9, 2, and 1%, respectively. The steadily increasing interest in social justice issues and research is evident from its more frequent appearance in other journals as well, not to mention the constant flow of mass media reports about real life injustices of various kinds of magnitudes. Finally, SJR will receive its first impact factor from Thomson-Reuter’s Social Science Citation Index in June of this year.
Some Areas of Research and Future Challenges
Social Justice Research encourages the submission of a wide variety of theoretical, empirical, and applied research articles, and it welcomes contributions focusing on different topics and issues from the perspectives of different disciplines. Also, due to the over-representation of research concerned with self-reported behaviors or behavioral intentions, we encourage articles that feature actual behavior observations. Some examples of interesting research areas are suggested below, without implying any restrictions concerning the range of manuscripts we would be happy to receive.
A sad fact of life is that certain individuals and collectives—as well as animals—are excluded from our moral community. Thus, justice is considered irrelevant and not applicable to some people and in some situations and contexts which, in turn, lends legitimacy to morally unacceptable treatment and victimization of humans and other animals. Justice scholars should conduct research exposing such incidents, reveal social-structural mechanisms perpetuating injustices, and act as whistle blowers. Several prominent justice researchers have contributed valuable insights concerning the ‘scope of justice’ (notably Opotow, 1990, 1993, 1995). A thorough analysis of empirical research within this area of investigation was conducted by Hafer and Olson (2003). As moral behavior and justice are also relevant guidelines in the context of plants and non-living entities, the threats from global warming, natural resource depletion, and pollution attract much needed research within the area designated as environmental justice (see Clayton & Opotow, 2003; Clayton & Myers, 2009).
An increasingly popular line of research explores the relationship between emotions and fairness. Research shows that emotions both precede and follow from fairness assessments (e.g., Hegtvedt & Caitlin, 1999; Mullen, 2007). Different types of injustice may result in different types and magnitudes of emotions that affect and generate different conceptions regarding the most just, appropriate and efficient distributive and procedural principles to adopt as a means to establish justice, proactively or reactively. This is an interesting and important direction for future and much needed research.
Philosophical and Marxist-oriented critiques of distributive justice theories argue that resource distribution and consumption have been focused to the neglect of resource production. The mode of production of the resources is said to determine how the resources of consumption are distributed. Törnblom and Kazemi (2007) proposed the beginnings of a resource production theory of distributive justice. However, this is a much under-developed area that calls for future attention. Presumably, people’s emotional reactions to the manner in which a resource is produced influence their affective orientations toward the resource, and justice conceptions are likely affected by the manner in which a resource of allocation is produced.
A few additional areas deserving research attention may be mentioned particularly for the benefit of those whose interest in the field have only recently been aroused: Intergroup justice, justice versus other competing motives guiding behavior, the dimensionality of the justice concept, the proactive positive usage of justice to promote wellbeing, justice in the allocation of positive versus negative resources, the effect of different types of resources on justice conceptions, and theory integration. These lines of research merely exemplify the diversity of topics awaiting further theoretical and empirical research (Kazemi and Törnblom, 2008). In addition, world-wide attention is presently focused on the current events in the Middle East, events that brutally remind us that justice and conflict are closely intertwined as discussed below. Although research on justice-related conflicts and conflict resolution certainly merit increased efforts, such research is actually quite scarce and should be encouraged.
Two Parallel Research Foci: Justice and Conflict
Injustice may result in conflict, and justice sometimes emerges from conflict. Indeed, conflicts often occur due to unjust distribution of and inadequate access to, food, clean water, medical care, energy, nuclear weapons, land, and territory. Conflicts also concern rain forest depletion, air pollution, fishing quotas, climate changes, religious ideologies, political power, environmental degradation, immigration, human rights, animal rights, and a host of other issues. These and other conflicts may be interpreted as justice conflicts (Montada, 2007) that may result in crime, terrorism, social revolts, and other forms of reactions.
Feelings of injustice are a powerful driver of social change, as we are presently witnessing in the currently ongoing Middle East revolts against oppression and other injustices. Shouldering the responsibilities at this moment in history as chief editors of SJR, a journal that focuses on social justice on the micro as well as the meso- and macro-levels, we sense an acute need for a strong emphasis on theoretical and empirical research on justice-based conflict prevention and resolution. “The experience of injustice implies conflict between oneself and the violator of one’s moral norms” (Deutsch, 1985, p. 185), and “All social conflicts may be interpreted as justice conflicts” (Montada, 2007, p. 256). Thus, in the views of these scholars, conflict and injustice are intricately intertwined, and it seems that one of our duties as socially responsible justice researchers should be to devote a considerable amount of our energies and apply our knowledge about justice processes to the injustice issues that we read about in the media. Research that specifically deals with how (in)justice relates to conflict and conflict resolution is relatively scarce, and “until recently justice researchers had hardly studied conflict” (Hegtvedt, 2005, p. 38). On the other hand, an impressive amount of research certainly exists on various aspects of ‘conflict’, but most of this work is not explicitly related to distributive or procedural justice (Törnblom & Kazemi, 2011). Therefore, the publication this spring of an edited volume devoted to justice, conflict, and conflict resolution is particularly timely (Kals & Maes, 2011).
The current widespread courageous and powerful reactions to injustices in the Middle East bring to mind and make relevant issues from the past that perhaps too seldom see the light of day, namely how to awaken the sense of injustice (see Deutsch, 1985), when and why some even severe injustices are perceived as just, and why victims and observers of injustice sometimes refrain from actions that might restore or establish justice (see Barrington-Moore Jr., 1978). With the introduction of internet and social media, separate unconnected individuals’ (dormant) sense of injustice may be awakened and legitimized by the realization that one is not the only victim, disclosing the extent to which discontent and experiences and feelings of injustice is widely shared among fellow citizens. The end of ‘pluralistic ignorance’ and ‘false consciousness’ and the emergence of a collective sense of injustice are thereby facilitated, paving the way for mobilization of a large number of people for demonstrations and other actions against the causes of injustice. A new set of intriguing research questions concerning people’s tolerance levels for, and their willingness and ability to take action against, injustices certainly emerge on the basis of this technological invention. Interestingly, the importance of most of the barriers suggested by Lerner (1980) and Deutsch (1985) that may prevent people from taking action against injustices are most likely shrinking due to the introduction of these new technologies. New research in this direction should be high on our list of worthwhile research.
Some Final Thoughts on Our Mission
Given the multi-disciplinary approach of the journal, we hope that submissions from under-represented disciplines will increase. We also welcome submissions of research using different methodologies, as well as articles explicitly spelling out the practical and societal implications of the research. Further, with the relative rapid accumulation of empirical evidence in the field of justice studies, the need for theoretical integration, propositional inventories, summaries of research evidence, and meta-analyses also increases. Meta-analyses provide us with effect sizes and assist in identifying boundary conditions and directions where new research is needed. Thus, we welcome submissions of these kinds of manuscripts. We also encourage suggestions for guest-edited special issues of SJR focusing on the above mentioned topics as well as other ideas of theoretical and practical/societal interest.
In conclusion, the new editorial team and we are looking forward to working for the progress of SJR. We believe that we can contribute to the growing positive reputation and multidisciplinary breadth of the journal. However, we can at best only manage and provide some leadership in the process. We need you to contribute to the quality of the journal. We need authors to conduct rigorous research, write up their research in an efficient way and submit to SJR. Moreover, we need reviewers to assist us in making timely, constructive, and well-informed reviews. We also need support from the members of the International Society for Justice Research to succeed. We welcome all of you to join us in our collective mission to generate and spread knowledge that may enlighten individuals, organizations, and society about the importance of justice for our co-existence and preservation of our planet.