Alan Cribb and Sharon Gewirtz
Much current writing on social justice or social justice-related issues in policy sociology is based on a conception of social justice as plural. In other words social justice is viewed as having a variety of facets. For example, it is viewed as simultaneously concerning the distribution of goods and resources on the one hand and the valorisation of a range of social collectivities and cultural identities on the other. Whilst we want to welcome the use of such plural conceptions of social justice, there is, we want to suggest, a failure in much of this work to appreciate fully the implications for sociological analysis of such plural notions of justice. This is reflected in two tendencies about which we have some concern.
The first tendency is a common failure to engage adequately with the tensions that may arise between different facets of or claims to social justice (although there are, of course, exceptions, for example, Carspecken 1991). Thus, for example, participative models of education governance are often advocated concurrently with a curriculum which fosters respect for and recognition of diverse cultural identities. Yet potential conflicts between the two positions are often either ignored or glossed over so that there is a failure to address the question of what happens when, for example, participative models of governance produce curriculum policies which either fail to recognise or which disparage particular cultural identities. This is just one example of a tension that might arise between different facets of justice. There are of course many others which are similarly ignored or glossed over in many instances.
The second tendency is what we call 'critique from above'. This is the tendency to treat the work of sociological analysis as something which takes place at a distance from or above the realm of practice. From this perspective, the role of the analyst is to offer a critical account of educational policies and practices from outside the education system. In so far as such analysts view their work as informing practice, this is limited to pointing out to practitioners the social, economic and political contexts which shape or constrain their work or the mechanisms of social reproduction to which they are often presented as contributing. Those engaged in 'critique from above' do not think it is part of their job to consider how the practical difficulties that