Social Justice Usage
Source: Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment, Second Edition. Routledge, 2000, p. 114.
The insistence on Black women’s self-definitions reframes the entire dialogue from one of protesting the technical accuracy of an image—namely, refuting the Black matriarchy thesis—to one stressing the power dynamics underlying the very process of definition itself. By insisting on self-definition, Black women question not only what has been said about African-American women but the credibility and the intentions of those possessing the power to define. When Black women define ourselves, we clearly reject the assumption that those in positions granting them the authority to interpret our reality are entitled to do so. Regardless of the actual content of Black women’s self-definitions, the act of insisting on Black female self-definition validates Black women’s power as human subjects.
New Discourses Commentary
There are actually two ideas—two related but distinct entries—in this encyclopedia in terms of how adherents to Critical Social Justice and its Theory use the words (1) reality and (2) realities. This entry covers “reality,” specifically explaining Theory’s relationship to and beliefs about reality (mostly due to its postmodern influence) rather than how it uses the term “reality.” The other describes usage of the term “realities,” as in the sentence “white people can ignore the realities of racism due to their privilege.” For that, see realities.
In that it derives heavily from and relies heavily upon postmodern Theory, Critical Social Justice presents a Theory that is mostly anti-realist. What this means is that it (mostly) rejects the idea that there’s any genuine correspondence between reality (which is “out there”) and truth or knowledge (which is socially constructed and culturally contingent). This sentiment can be captured when the American postmodern philosopher Richard Rorty writes, “We need to make a distinction between the claim that the world is out there and the claim that the truth is out there.” It is also reflected in Michel Foucault’s attitude that to speak about reality, truth, or knowledge is, as has been summarized by Todd May, “meaningless.”
Viewed (in one sense rightly) as a continuation of postmodern thinking, Critical Social Justice has taken on most of this anti-realism and thus sees reality as something that mostly cannot be known about. Truth claims, or claims to knowledge, in Critical Social Justice are (mostly) therefore believed to be culturally authenticated statements that hold special status in the cultures in which they are claimed—and that status, again following Foucault, is essentially the application and applicability of political power (see also, Foucauldian, episteme, power-knowledge, biopower, and truth regime). Such statements might or might not happen to correspond with reality (as any such correspondence must be the product of happenstance under strict anti-realism), but, as Foucault said, whether they do or not misses the point that they are only able to be properly understood as being useful to those in power and as a means of asserting, maintaining, and perpetuating power. This “point” is considered of tremendous importance in both postmodern Theory and most of the Theory of Critical Social Justice.
For example, in fat studies, obesity (viewed as a health condition) is considered a healthist “medicalizing narrative,” which may or may not accurately describe some features of reality, though this would miss the relevant point. The point fat studies makes about obesity couldn’t care less about any (physical and medical) realities of obesity, because it is only interested in the “realities” of the “lived experience” of “obesity” and how it, as a socially constructed, healthist, medicalizing narrative, oppresses and marginalizes fat people. This it does specifically while generating fat stigma and fatphobia and upholding thinnormativity, healthism, and the allegedly unjust hegemony of scientific discourses. Genuinely, the only point they care about, and the only one they will allow to have relevance if they can manage it, is utterly removed from what is and is not true about obesity.
This view derives directly not just from the anti-realism of postmodern Theory but also from what postmodern Theory did with its anti-realist views. In postmodern philosophy, thus also significantly in the Theory of Critical Social Justice which makes use of it (see also, applied postmodernism), the relevant issue ceases to be reality itself and shifts to discourses, which are the valid ways to speak about things (see also, discourse analysis) or, as it has been expanded, how they are represented. Facts, say about obesity, are understood to be facts only because those in power have set up the discourses to authenticate them as facts, thus limiting other ways of knowing that might bear upon the issue (with equal or greater relevance). In particular, of course, the Theory of Critical Social Justice is almost wholly concerned with how dominant discourses create and maintain oppression, either intentionally or inadvertently (see also, internalized dominance).
Importantly, Critical Social Justice doesn’t quite present a wholly anti-realist Theory. Indeed, following the turn to what we have called “applied postmodernism” in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it has accepted that the lived experience of oppression is real, thus oppression and any factors of identity upon which someone can be oppressed are also necessarily real (even if only as social constructions, which Foucault would have said are the point). This is the epistemological rock upon which intersectionality is built, thus it is a foundation for nearly all of contemporary Critical Social Justice. As a result, “positionality must intentionally be engaged,” according to whiteness studies scholar Robin DiAngelo. One might therefore say that Critical Social Justice has a socially realist take that’s anti-realist in general. This seems to have been a mutation in postmodern Theory caused when it was picked up and applied by (ultimately Neo-Marxist) radical activists who came from the sprawling traditions of critical theories (see also, New Left, Frankfurt School, Cultural Marxism, radical feminism, black feminism, liberationism, black liberationism, liberation theology, and critical pedagogy).
In practice, truth being contingent tends to have the result that for advocates of Critical Social Justice, “reality,” thus evidence, science, logic, and reason, can generally be safely ignored or, when useful to their aims, co-opted, often lazily and inappropriately (see also, master’s tools). This gives the incorrect impression that in postmodernism more broadly and Critical Social Justice more specifically, “reality” seems to get to be whatever the Theorists and activists want it to be at any given moment. It would be more accurate, however, to recognize reality as something out there but inaccessible for the older postmodernists and, for Critical Social Justice, that which can be understood in terms of systems of power and privilege, dominance and oppression, that are maintained by language (thus knowledge), culture, and institutions (see also, systemic racism, cultural racism, and institutional racism). That is, power and its unjust applications are essentially the fabric of “reality” in Critical Social Justice.
Applied postmodernism; Biopower; Black feminism; Black liberationism; Critical; Critical pedagogy; Critical theory; Cultural Marxism; Cultural racism; Discourse; Discourse analysis; Dominance; Engagement; Episteme; Fat studies; Fatphobia; Foucauldian; Frankfurt School; Healthism; Hegemony; Identity; Injustice; Institutional racism; Internalized dominance; Internalized oppression; Intersectionality; Knowledge(s); Liberation theology; Liberationism; Lived experience; Marginalization; Master’s tools; Medicalization; Narrative; Neo-Marxism; New Left; Oppression; Positionality; Postmodernism; Power-knowledge; Privilege; Racism (systemic); Radical; Radical feminism; Realities; Representation; Science; Social construction; Social Justice; Systemic power; Theory; Thinnormativity; Truth; Truth regime; White; Whiteness studies
Source: Gottesman, Isaac. The Critical Turn in Education: From Marxist Critique to Poststructuralist Feminism to Critical Theories of Race. Routledge, 2016, p. 13.
Though participating in a revolutionary Marxist milieu, by the end of the 1960s Freire’s “critical theorizing” and more nuanced emphasis on liberation was philosophically grounded in and contributing to the critical Marxist tradition.
Following this tradition, Freire’s conceptualization of what it means to be critical emerged out of the ontological position that there is an objective reality that is created and can thus be transformed by humans: Dehumanization is not a historical fact. “Just as objective social reality exists not by chance, but as a product of human action,” wrote Freire, “so it is not transformed by chance. If humankind produce social reality (which in the ‘inversion of the praxis’ turns back upon them and conditions them) then transforming that reality is an historical task, a task for humanity” (Freire, 1970e, p. 36). Once objective reality is acknowledged, dehumanization can be recognized or unveiled, reflected upon, and acted against. This is reflected in Freire’s oft cited definition of “praxis: reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it” (p. 36).
For Freire, praxis, which he often referred to as a “critical intervention,” must take place between the oppressed and those in solidarity with the oppressed. This is because those of the oppressor class who are in solidarity with the oppressed are uniquely in a position to help the oppressed recognize the objective reality of dehumanization. Thus, although only the oppressed can most fully understand their oppression and, therefore, must be the historical force of their own liberation, dehumanization is so internalized among the oppressed through oppression that it is difficult for the oppressed to recognize that dehumanization is not an historical and unchangeable fact.
Source: Gottesman, Isaac. The Critical Turn in Education: From Marxist Critique to Poststructuralist Feminism to Critical Theories of Race. Routledge, 2016, p. 56.
Apple turned to Marx as support for his engagement with curriculum theorizing, a move that Apple knew placed him on the margins of a field that had become woefully under theorized due to its fixation on practicality and management principles. “Yet, it is crucial to remind ourselves,” wrote Apple, “that while, say, Marx felt that the ultimate task of philosophy and theory was not merely to ‘comprehend reality’ but to change it, it is also true that according to Marx revolutionizing the world has as its very foundation an adequate understanding of it” (p. 38). Apple believed, following Marx, that there is an existing “reality,” one consisting of powerful and competing ideas and institutions that must be understood before social change can occur. Those in the curriculum field, Apple’s essay thus argued, need to consider how the curriculum engages students in the shaping of a social world that is rife with injustice.
Source: Sensoy, Ozlem, and Robin DiAngelo. Is Everyone Really Equal?: An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education, second edition. Teacher’s College Press: New York, 2017, pp. 50–51.
Many influential scholars worked at the Institute, and many other influential scholars came later but worked in the Frankfurt School tradition. You may recognize the names of some of these scholars, such as Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Jürgen Habermas, Walter Benjamin, and Herbert Marcuse. Their scholarship is important because it is part of a body of knowledge that builds on other social scientists’ work: Emile Durkheim’s research questioning the infallibility of the scientific method, Karl Marx’s analyses of capitalism and social stratification, and Max Weber’s analyses of capitalism and ideology. All of these strands of thought built on one another. For example, scientific method (sometimes referred to as “positivism”—the idea that everything can be rationally observed without bias) was the dominant contribution of the 18th-century Enlightenment period in Europe. Positivism itself was a response and challenge to religious or theological explanations for “reality.” It rested on the importance of reason, principles of rational thought, the infallibility of close observation, and the discovery of natural laws and principles governing life and society. Critical Theory developed in part as a response to this presumed infallibility of scientific method, and raised questions about whose rationality and whose presumed objectivity underlies scientific methods.
Source: Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment, Second Edition. Routledge, 2000, p. 71.
Domination always involves attempts to objectify the subordinate group. “As subjects, people have the right to define their own reality, establish their own identities, name their history,” asserts bell hooks (1989, 42). “As objects, one’s reality is defined by others, one’s identity created by others, one’s history named only in ways that define one’s relationship to those who are subject” (p. 42).
Source: Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment, Second Edition. Routledge, 2000, p. 255.
Positivist approaches aim to create scientific descriptions of reality by producing objective generalizations. Because researchers have widely differing values, experiences, and emotions, genuine science is thought to be unattainable unless all human characteristics except rationality are eliminated from the research process. By following strict methodological rules, scientists aim to distance themselves from the values, vested interests, and emotions generated by their class, race, sex, or unique situation. By decontextualizing themselves, they allegedly become detached observers and manipulators of nature.
Revision date: 4/21/20