WHEN THINKING OF JUSTICE it is not uncommon that a vision of a blindfolded woman holding a set of scales will come to mind. Or a popular television show such as Law and Order might inform one's vision of justice. Laws, courts, police, and other social control agents inform many of our conceptions of justice. But do the blind woman, stories of crime and punishment, or social control agents truly represent justice or social justice? Do we need to think beyond these notions? Does our understanding of justice impact our lives? Would an understanding of justice attained through inclusion and focused on meeting needs, equality, and deserts be more just than one focused on control? Does the accepted notion of justice privilege some and leave others in want? Does our current conception allow for diligence against injustices such as poverty, environmental degradation, or oppression? Can we find better conceptions of justice and move toward them? These are some of the questions we will address here as we take on the task of examining what justice is and how it is attained.
Others might argue that justice is what a governing body decides that it is or that justice must be defined by the courts or by scholars. We will offer a different vision, one that is informed by both activism and scholarship. This vision is necessarily global in scope. Social justice can be understood locally; however, given the current global realities, we have incorporated European, indigenous, Middle Eastern, South African, and South American understandings and struggles that advocate a move toward global social justice.
Social justice is necessarily broad and inclusive of historical and critical examinations. The study of social justice must attend to what justice may mean and whether this justice is available within a variety of social contexts. As human beings, we necessarily exist in social worlds. Discerning whether these worlds are just is a complex endeavor. At a first approximation, studying social justice must begin with an examination of how dominant and nondominant conceptions of justice arise; how they are selectively institutionalized; how they are formally and informally applied; what persons and/or groups are