A SOCIAL THEORY OF DISTRIBUTIVE JUSTICE must engage societal and historical developments in the formation of conceptions of justice. In other words, to come to some understanding as to what is seen as just or unjust we must look to historical developments and how justice notions arrive at some general understanding and acceptance. Distributive justice has to do with notions of fairness in the distribution of benefits and burdens in a society (Miller 1999, 2). Notions of distributive justices move from the grand theoretical narratives of justice toward more concrete understandings of justice. Depending on the particular construction, ideas of fairness and benefits vary. Accordingly, our understanding of social justice includes understanding distributive principles (fair allocation of rewards and burdens) and retributive principles (appropriate responses to harm); how they relate to political economy and historical conditions; their local and global manifestations; the struggle for their institutionalization; how human well-being and development at the social and individual levels are enhanced by their institutionalization; and developing evaluative criteria or processes by which their enhancement or denial result.
Durkheim's influential writings focused on the nature of social solidarity. He found that the existing form of law was an index to the kind of solidarity in existence. He identified two forms of solidarity. These two forms of solidarity— mechanical (based on similarity) and organic (based on differences)—were situated in historical developments. He theorized that society tended to develop toward ever more differentiation. The key factor for social differentiation (e.g., division of labor in society) was moral/social density. A society, without any disturbance from external factors (political, economic, etc.), was to naturally progress from the less differentiated form (e.g., less division of labor), with a consequent premium on mechanical bonds of solidarity, to a greater differentiation and organic bonds of solidarity. This was the course of the spontaneous division of labor.