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Exploring the “Lost and Found” of Justice Theory and Research

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Scientific interest in the nature of how people think about justice and fairness began approximately 70 years ago with Stouffer’s classic study on the American soldier. Since then there have been numerous theoretical frameworks and thousands of research studies conducted on what people perceive as fair and the consequences of making a fairness judgment. The goal of this article is to dig through the “lost and found” box of justice research in an attempt to re-examine where we have been, issues and ideas we may have forgotten, and to gain insight on directions we may want to go in the future. The key rediscovery of this review is that perspective matters. Specifically, how people interpret fairness depends critically on whether they are viewing a situation in terms of their material, social, or moral needs and goals. The implications of adopting a contingent theory of how people reason about fairness are discussed.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    It should be noted that James (1890) was explicit that the spiritual self was not to be confused with religiosity. The term “spiritual” was meant to represent a more inner-directed and autonomous sense of self than either the extrinsically focused material self, or the socially constructed and focused social self, and therefore has sometimes been referred to by others as people’s sense of “personal” or “moral” self (e.g., Skitka, 2003).


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Preparation of this paper was facilitated by grant support from the National Science Foundation to the author (NSF-0518084, NSF-0530380).

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Correspondence to Linda J. Skitka.

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This article is an adaptation of remarks given as the presidential address at the 2008 International Society for Justice Research Conference in Adelaide, Australia.

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Skitka, L.J. Exploring the “Lost and Found” of Justice Theory and Research. Soc Just Res 22, 98–116 (2009).

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  • Justice
  • Fairness
  • Morality
  • Symbolic interaction