Blogging for Understanding: Iris Marion Young’s _Justice and the Politics of Difference_

Iris Marion Young, writing in the late 1980’s (first published in 1990, reissued in 2011), speaks of the problems inherent to then-current theories of justice. First, they tended to rely on abstracted positions from which to reason out theories of justice, relying on the assumed virtue of impartiality, and secondly, they based their theories on a distributive paradigm, assuming that the object of justice was a thing or a collective of things. To determine whether something was just was to look at the end result of the distribution of particular things (wealth, income, jobs, etc.). Young says the distributive paradigm, even when accounting for immaterial things such as power and prestige, does not fully or adequately address the situation of justice and injustice.

Instead of beginning from a point of abstraction, Young begins from the point of view of a participant in the women’s movement and as a sympathizer and supporter of the other movements that built upon a conviction that society was unjust structurally, and that even the processes behind remedies such as redistribution were doing little to address this unjust system. The two virtues or values that many people worked towards in these movements were self-development and self-determination, that is, the ability to be free to develop one’s self by cultivating one’s gifts and interests, free to pursue meaningful work that engaged such gifts, and secondly, the ability to feel that one is an active participant in determining one’s own actions and the results of one’s actions. The flip side of both of these values is oppression and domination, respectively.

Young goes into greater detail in her second chapter on the subject of oppression, drawing from five images to provide a complex and multi-faceted understanding of what is meant by the word oppression. The five faces of oppression which Young describes in her second chapter include exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence. These I will discuss a bit more in the next blog (I hope).

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